Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services has relinquished administration of the state’s $1,500 hardship payment aimed at encouraging workers to follow self-isolation directions following a large backlog of applications.
The potentially costly delays appear to have been cleared by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR), which quietly took over responsibility for the scheme in the past week.
A DJPR spokesman told Guardian Australia on Tuesday: “The $1,500 Worker Support Payment has received 2,647 applications, providing payments to 1,099 workers, totalling $1.65m.”
It is a large increase on the 100 payments health and human services authorities had paid out between 20 June and 10 July, when Guardian Australia reported the low takeup of what Daniel Andrews had earlier called a “no questions asked hardship payment”.
Asked on Tuesday if DHHS had given up control of the $1,500 payment due to the delays, a spokesperson said: “DJPR are the appropriate agency to manage Victorian workers.”
The DJPR did not respond to questions about why it had taken over administration of the scheme.
The state government created the $1,500 worker support payment after the commonwealth dismissed calls from unions to establish national paid pandemic leave throughout June.
Scott Morrison finally sought to address the issue on Monday, establishing a $1,500 disaster payment for Victorian workers that will be administered by Services Australia.
But in the intervening weeks, the Victorian scheme has appeared plagued by issues around takeup and eligibility, as well as processing delays.
That occurred as active cases soared across Melbourne, particularly in industries renowned for insecure work, such as aged care and factory work.
When the Age reported that only 182 payments had been made up to 23 July, of more than 1,000 applications, active cases had soared to 3,630 across Victoria. On Tuesday, Victoria had 6,706 active cases, according to DHHS.
Andrews and Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, have both said community transmission was in part being driven by workers failing to self-isolate and cited the $1,500 payment as a key tool to prevent this community spread.
The $1,500 one-off payment is available to Victorian workers who have exhausted leave entitlements and must not attend work because they have tested positive to Covid-19 or are a close contact.
While the payment was intended to prevent people failing to self-isolate after getting tested, it was only available to people contacted by health authorities, which occurs after test results are delivered.
One month later, the government introduced a new $300 payment in acknowledgement of the problem.
Takeup and processing of the $300 payment, which was immediately placed under DJPR’s control, has been much quicker. The government, which has been reluctant to provide statistics on the larger payment, has more readily provided these figures.
4,200 people have claimed our $300 support payment so they can stay home while they wait for their test results.— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) July 31, 2020
That's 4,200 Victorians who aren't at work, and aren't potentially spreading this virus.
And I want to thank them for doing the right thing by our state.
A DJPR spokesman said on Tuesday it had received 9,700 applications for the $300 payments, with payments to 6,650 workers to date, totalling $2m.
Godfrey Moase, the executive director of the United Workers Union, defended the Victorian government’s efforts to “patch a glaring gap”, though said the state scheme had suffered awareness and trust issues among workers.
Moase said visa holders in insecure work in particularly had “rightfully” assumed they were not eligible for government schemes, while some had trust issues about the reliability of the payment.
“Am I going to be paid quickly? How does it work?” Moase said. “That lack of certainty … impairs the policy goal. Ultimately you need the federal government saying everyone is getting pandemic leave.”
On Tuesday, Labor described the federal government’s $1,500 disaster payment – which it has labelled paid pandemic leave – as just a rebadged version of the state’s scheme.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Monday the commonwealth would cover the costs of disaster payments for Australian citizens and residents, while Victoria would fund visa holders who were expected to be the majority of recipients.
Morrison also suggested the two schemes might eventually be consolidated.
Workers will not be able to access both the Victorian scheme and the federal payment, although the commonwealth’s program can be paid out multiple times.
Andrews noted the federal commitment on Tuesday as he announced workers who fail to self-isolate when directed could face a $5,000 fine.
“If there are any insecure work issues, if there are financial issues, then there is that $300 payment,” he said.
“There is the federal government who are now working with us to pay the $1,500 for those in insecure work.
“All of these measures are designed to support people to make the best choices for their family, for every family, for public health and to get us to the other side of this as quickly as possible.”