Great Depression II: ‘Toughest year of our lives’

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison says 2020 will be the "toughest year of our lives" as it was revealed up to a million Australians could be forced on to coronavirus welfare payments.

In another extraordinary day in Canberra, a reduced Parliament practised strict social distancing measures while pushing through two rounds of coronavirus stimulus packages worth $83.6 billion.

Budget Bills were also adjusted to put a further $40 billion into a fund to spend on emergency measures such as buying medical supplies or further financial assistance.

Thousands of newly unemployed Australians flocked to Centrelink offices after pubs and clubs were forced to close. Picture: Adam Head
Thousands of newly unemployed Australians flocked to Centrelink offices after pubs and clubs were forced to close. Picture: Adam Head

And as pubs, clubs, churches, restaurants and cafes shut their doors at noon, leaving tens of thousands unemployed, huge queues snaked outside Centrelink offices around the country while the Government's online portal was overloaded as demand spiked more than 15-fold.

It is understood there are fears Australia's unemployment rate could skyrocket to 30 per cent - a level last experienced during the Great Depression.

Mr Morrison started the day with a sombre message to Parliament, saying the country faced its biggest test since World War II while largely closed off from the world and with internal border restrictions not seen since before Federation.

"Together, and with the rest of the world we face this unprecedented challenge," he said.

"A once-in-100-year event. A global health pandemic that has fast become an economic crisis, the like of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.

"Life is changing in Australia, for every Australian, and life is going to continue to change.

"For many, young and old, 2020 will be the toughest year of our lives."



He said the images of many thousands of Australians lining up at Centrelink was "something unimaginable at this scale, only weeks ago".

"They have lost their jobs; many, and many more will," he said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was estimated up to a million extra people could end up on a special coronavirus income support payment over the next six months as the outbreak ravaged the economy.

"That's a lot of people but not everyone of those people are actually unemployed because that could mean that if you're a sole trader if your someone whose a casual whose had reduced hours you can still access this new coronavirus supplement but not effectively be unemployed," he said.

Many of those facing unemployment for the first time in their lives yesterday had the added frustration of being unable to access the government's online portal MyGov.

After originally blaming a cyber attack and saying the website had not crashed, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert backtracked in Parliament saying the system had been "overloaded".

Lines of people wait at Southport Centrelink. Picture: Adam Head
Lines of people wait at Southport Centrelink. Picture: Adam Head

He said about 95,000 concurrent users were attempting to use the system at 9.40am, triggering a denial of service alarm that "slowed the system".

The system normally caters for about 6500 users but had been boosted over the weekend to deal with the expected surge in demand.

Mr Robert said authorities were trying to expand the capacity to more than 55,000 concurrent users.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the Government should have been prepared for the surging demand for the website.

"The fact is that the minister this morning suggested that site going down was as a result of a cyber-attack," he said.



"It was in Parliament that he conceded that simply wasn't the case, that he just made it up and the fact is that this wasn't a cyber attack. It was an incompetence attack by this Government and by this minister."

Mr Albanese said Labor had some "concerns' with parts of the government's $17.6 billion stimulus package and $66 billion small business and income support package debated yesterday but would not block them.

He said it was not in the interests of workers to access their superannuation early during a "market slump" and called for direct guarantees in legislation that company's receiving payments would keep employees in a job.

"I hope that the Government see sense and support our position but if they don't, well, we're not going to stop the whole economic stimulus package because of that," he said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government was attempting to double the capacity of intensive care units, "if not more", and had ordered 1000 more invasive ventilators.



Source - World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins, other media



Originally published as Great Depression II: 'Toughest year of our lives'