Albo sticks with Labor mate Andrews on COVID recovery
Anthony Albanese has claimed Victoria's coronavirus contact tracing system is as good as NSW, appearing to disregard health data in favour of "blindly" backing a fellow Labor leader.
The Opposition leader conceded Victoria had issues with its hotel quarantine system, but rushed to Premier Daniel Andrews' defence on COVID-19 testing and tracing on Sunday.
"The (testing) numbers for Victoria as a proportion are about the same as NSW," he told the ABC.
When pushed, Mr Albanese said there was "no problem" in Victoria, again saying the state's system was proportionately similar to NSW.
But The Daily Telegraph can reveal Victoria is still failing key contact tracing measures, even after the state's system was bolstered by dozens of NSW Health officials and the Australian Defence Force.
A shocking 10 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 positive patients in Victoria were still waiting for a contact tracing interview 24 hours after being diagnosed in the week to August 27, according to the Department of Health. Over the same period in NSW there were zero cases awaiting an interview after one day.
Last week 10 Victorians who were close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case were not told of the connection within 48 hours, compared to zero in NSW.
Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg said it was clear Mr Albanese had an "enormous blind spot" when it came to Victoria's failings.
"The idea that there is any equivalence between NSW and Victoria is ridiculous; the hotel quarantine disaster in Victoria was worsened by inadequate contact tracing," he said.
"It's a contact tracing fail that has not been represented in my state (NSW) … Victoria lost control as their contact system was 'cactus'."
Victoria reported 114 new cases and 11 deaths on Sunday while NSW recorded seven new cases. Among the new cases is a student at St Paul's Catholic College Greystanes who attended school while infectious. Five of the new cases are linked to the Sydney CBD cluster, which has grown to 28.
Two people linked to the CBD cluster travelled on the X39 bus from Pitt St to the eastern suburbs at 6.08pm on August 20, prompting NSW Health to issue an isolation alert to all passengers.
VICTORIA HINDERING NATIONAL RECOVERY
Victoria is dragging down the rest of nation's economy with more of the state expected to be on welfare by the end of the year than the rest of Australia combined.
The dire outlook for the southern state as it continues to suffer through a deadly second wave of COVID-19 is expected to have a lasting impact on the national economy with new Treasury estimates showing a stark contrast to NSW.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said restrictions imposed by the Victorian Government have had a "devastating impact".
"As we have seen in other states, if you can successfully suppress the virus jobs will return," he said.
"In July the effective unemployment rate in Victoria, before the stage four lockdown, was around 10.5 per cent, while it was around 8.5 per cent in NSW where they are managing the virus and have reopened their economy."
Mr Frydenberg said the accommodation and hospitality sector had "borne the brunt of the restriction," with spending significantly down and job losses severe.
"The number of Victorians on unemployment benefits has significantly increased with the impost of restrictions while numbers in other states have declined," he said.
"At the same time household spending in Victoria is down more than 30 per cent through the year while the rest of Australia is only down around 3 per cent."
COVID DRIVES SMALL BUSINESS TO THE WALL
Hundreds of small businesses are on the brink of collapse with no cash flow to cover their expenses while waiting for larger companies to pay their bills.
Small and medium business operators are twice as likely to expect difficulties meeting financial commitments over the next three months compared to large ones, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Labor's small business spokesman Brendan O'Connor says the figures are "not surprising" given "shocking examples" of large companies telling small suppliers payment terms are being blown out as much as six months.
"For small businesses this is just not sustainable, particularly as they face unprecedented cash flow problems," he said.
Mr O'Connor said while he welcomed the government legislation to improve payment times for small businesses, the "light touch" reforms - including a register outing large companies with a poor record - did not go far enough.
He said Labor would introduce a "failsafe" amendment as an option if the government's scheme did not broadly improve payment times to small businesses to 30 days or less.
"The failsafe mechanism can be triggered after three years of the scheme operating and will allow the regulator to force large businesses not paying small businesses on time to pay them within 30 days or face hefty fines," he said.
A spokesman for Small and Family Business Minister Michaelia Cash said the government's scheme would require large businesses with more than $100m in annual turnover to publish information on how and when they pay small business suppliers.
She said experience showed that mandating a 30-day deadline would not provide the promised benefits for small businesses.
MINISTERS TO CALL FOR BORDER BANS TO BE SCRAPPED
Farcical restrictions preventing Victorian farm workers crossing the border need to be scrapped in order to keep food on the nation's tables, the NSW Agriculture Minister said.
After The Daily Telegraph's Bush Summit called for agricultural workers to be allowed to travel freely across state lines, Adam Marshall and Deputy Premier John Barilaro on Monday are to break ranks to call for a national code to give farm workers unrestricted movement.
Mr Marshall's push to scrap agricultural restrictions is a major win for the Bush Summit, which on Friday listed free movement of farm workers as a priority.
As part of a plan that Mr Marshall will put to a meeting of his state counterparts on Tuesday, farm workers would have unrestricted access across state boundaries after accessing a permit, provided they meet certain conditions.
Employers would need to have a COVID safe plan and contract workers would need to self isolate while not working.
The Agricultural Workers Code would mirror rules for freight workers, which sees truckies permitted to travel across state lines to ship goods across the country.
Mr Marshall said the agriculture sector "needs to be treated in exactly the same way" as freight.
"Just like the freight industry is crucial, the agricultural sector, and the work that it does, is vital," he said.
Continued restrictions on farm workers would, Mr Marshall said, "cost the economy and the agricultural sector tens of millions of dollars at a time where everyone is looking to the regions to spearhead the economic bounce-back from COVID".
"I'll push pretty hard with my state colleagues to have a clear, concise, unambiguous code about what critical agricultural workers are," he said.
Mr Marshall wants National Cabinet to agree to the code at its next meeting on Friday.
With recent rains bringing the first good crop in years, Mr Marshall said "the stakes could not be higher" for the agriculture sector.
Harsh penalties would ensure people did not break the rules, and workers from hot spots, such as Melbourne, could also be prohibited from getting a permit under the proposed code.
Mr Marshall said Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard would "find it hard to argue against" allowing free movement of farm workers.
Mr Barilaro said the code would be a "real test" of the National Cabinet.
"If the premiers can't agree on Friday, I think they should all hang their heads in shame," Mr Barilaro said. "The Bush Summit on Friday made this absolutely clear as a priority."
He said he was "confident" Ms Berejiklian understood the importance of reducing restrictions on farm workers.
Andrew Rolfe, a seventh generation farmer who attended the Bush Summit, said the push to lift restrictions would be a "huge" help to farmers straddling state lines.
He said a lot of farms on the NSW-Victorian border relied on interstate contract workers at harvest time, and restrictions on workers coming into NSW was "quite costly".
"With a huge crop coming up this year and a large harvest, anything that impacts that can really affect people's bottom lines," he said.
Originally published as Albo sticks with Labor mate Andrews on COVID recovery