Australia pledges A$130 billion over six months to support jobs amid coronavirus crisis

A security guard with a face mask stands outside a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia, on March 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to spend A$130 billion (S$113 billion) over six months to safeguard jobs as the coronavirus savages the Australian economy.

The package, part of a third tranche of fiscal stimulus, will see the government pay wage subsidies of A$1,500 every two weeks per employee to help struggling businesses keep people in work, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Monday (March 30).

The government is battling to cushion the impact of the outbreak and safeguard jobs and has already passed more than A$80 billion worth of fiscal support.

The announcement brings total fiscal and monetary stimulus to buttress the economy from the outbreak to A$320 billion, or 16.4 per cent of gross domestic product

"Now is the time to dig deep," Mr Morrison said, adding that the latest measure was the nation's largest ever emergency fiscal rescue package.

"We are living in unprecedented times."

The Prime Minister said Parliament would need to be recalled to pass the package.

The virus has smashed the economy and Australia's unemployment rate could soar to 12 per cent, from 5.1 per cent in February, as potentially hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs amid the shutdown.

Fashion and homewares chain Country Road last Saturday joined a swathe of retailers closing their doors as consumer confidence slumps and people stay at home.

Mr Morrison on Sunday limited public gatherings to just two people under tighter social-distancing controls as the national death toll climbed to 16. As of 6am on Monday, there were 4,093 confirmed cases of the virus in Australia.

Australia's banks are extending a six-month deferral of loan repayments to 98 per cent of companies, the Australian Banking Association announced Monday. The support was initially extended only to small businesses.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Monday also announced tighter restrictions on foreign takeovers, ensuring all proposed overseas investment in Australian businesses will trigger government scrutiny, regardless of the value.

Under new rules announced by Mr Frydenberg, all proposed foreign investment in Australia will require scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board. The change removes thresholds for scrutiny that ranged from A$1.2 billion to A$275 million depending on the buyer or nation.

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