Coronavirus Australia live update: unemployment rate falls as Victoria records 28 new Covid cases and NSW five

By Amy Remeikis

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The state emergency controllers overseeing the government’s response to Covid-19 have told the hotel quarantine inquiry that use of police and the Australian Defence Force instead of security guards could have created other problems, and may not have avoided the second wave.

The two controllers, Andrea Spiteri and Jason Helps, said that amid all the talk about the use of the ADF and police instead of security guards in hotel quarantine, it didn’t take into account that fundamentally the program was one of health and welfare, not detention.

Helps said returned travellers were Australians who had not committed any crime. He said he couldn’t be sure having police or ADF in the hotels in their uniforms would not have had a negative impact on returned travellers.

Spiteri said her own view was that given there were issues with language and compliance among some security guards, it would have been useful for a small contingent of Victoria police to be at every hotel to set an example, but not to replace security entirely.

She said in her submission:

I believe the department’s staff would have felt safer in the hotels if this had been in place, and in turn, returned travellers would not feel intimidated or alarmed by a full Victoria police presence on every floor.

A small constant police presence would take into consideration any fears or concerns that cohorts of returned travellers (including children) might have to a heavy police or uniformed presence, particularly as a result of any previous experience of trauma or war, and yet provide an added perception of safety for staff.

The inquiry also heard the Rydges on Swanston was set up as a hotel for Covid-positive people in early April after a homeless person who had tested positive for the virus needed a place to stay.

Initially the request from the Department of Health and Human Services was declined by the hotels, with no hotel set up, but a couple of days later Rydges was established as the place Covid-positive people were transferred to in the hotel quarantine program.

The Rydges on Swanston hotel

The Rydges on Swanston hotel in Melbourne. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

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The Australian Taxation Office is up before the Covid-19 committee – and Labor is probing the early superannuation release program.

They’ve discovered from the ATO’s Jeremy Hirschhorn that 1,200 people withdrew money (up to $10,000 at a time) from their superannuation and immediately deposited it back – presumably to then claim the amount they re-deposited to get a tax deduction.Hirschhorn said the ATO had wrote to those people warning them to “consider their position” – that is, that it might not be appropriate to claim that deduction.

It didn’t look like an organised rort concocted by particular tax planners, but Hirschhorn said an academic had appeared on an ABC program and suggested that as a strategy, which was “a little bit unhelpful”.In earlier evidence, ATO officials said:

  • They have received about 9,000 tipoffs about the misuse of jobkeeper
  • 55,000 applications have been stopped in the system before an application was made
  • 75,000 compliance actions have been undertaken
  • 2,200 employees have been identified as having multiple applications for payments
  • 15,000 were found to be ineligible and removed from the scheme by the ATO
  • 2,500 were partially ineligible

The ATO hasn’t issued any fines but is still looking at enforcement of breaches.

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Stephanie Dalzell (@steph_dalzell)

The ATO tells the Senate committee it's now received 9000 tip-offs about businesses or sole traders rorting the Jobkeeper wage subsidy scheme since it began in March #auspol

September 17, 2020

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