Scott Morrison has raised expectations lockdowns will not be needed next year if all Australians are offered coronavirus vaccines.
The prime minister believes all people who want a jab will have the chance to receive one by year’s end, barring unforeseen circumstances.
“I would expect by Christmas we will be seeing a very different Australia to what we’re seeing now,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Around 17 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over have been fully vaccinated, leaving the nation well behind similar countries five months into the rollout.
But Mr Morrison is increasingly confident as vaccination administrations reach around one million doses a week.
The prime minister said immunisation offered governments more options despite his earlier warnings about countries with high vaccination rates recording major case numbers.
“Lockdowns become a thing of the past when you’re at that level.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said some people in the highest priority groups including aged and disability workers still hadn’t been vaccinated.
“We’re now 18 months into a pandemic. The government had two jobs to do – rolling out the vaccine and national quarantine,” he told Sky News.
“They’ve really fallen behind of both of those fundamental jobs.”
The federal government has announced coronavirus disaster support payments will be raised from $600 to $750 for people who lose more than 20 hour work because of lockdowns.
Welfare recipients, who had previously been excluded, can access $200 payments if they lose eight hours’ work.
People who lose between eight and 20 hours will receive $450, up from $375 a week.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the government had been dragged kicking and screaming into increasing disaster payments.
“For many workers living in New South Wales who lost their livelihoods more than a month ago, it’s come far too late,” she said.
“It’s also too late for workers in Victoria and South Australia affected by earlier lockdowns.”
While the expansion is designed to immediately help people in NSW, all Australians will be eligible for the new rates under future lockdowns.
But Victorian and South Australian residents who recently emerged from lockdowns were only able to access the lower rate.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the most senior Victorian in the federal government, said the increase was a result of Sydney and surrounds extending lockdown for a month.
NSW recorded 177 new local cases on Wednesday, the highest during the current outbreak.