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Government virus spending under microscope

Leading finance bureaucrats will face the music at a parliamentary hearing after a top economist urged the federal government to spend up big in the budget.

Finance Department bosses are set to appear before the Senate’s coronavirus inquiry on Thursday, with spending decisions under scrutiny.

As of July, the federal government had spent $289 billion on support measures since the start of the pandemic.

Deloitte Access Economics partner Chris Richardson believes the government should continue spending “hard and smart” in the October 6 budget.

He reiterated calls for a permanent rise in the unemployment benefit, along with other economic stimulus measures that would capitalise on low interest rates.

The Productivity Commission is also due to face questions over its economic reform suggestions at the Senate hearing.

Commission chair Michael Brennan has previously briefed national cabinet on cutting red tape.

Many of the measures would need state governments to look at ways to speed up investment and approvals.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is continuing to defend criticism of his government’s roadmap to lifting heavy lockdown measures.

The state recorded 51 new cases and seven deaths on Thursday, pushing the national toll to 788.

Federal Labor politicians in Victoria are beginning to fear they will wear voter backlash from the state’s ongoing restrictions.

The next federal election will take place before the next state poll.

Federal Labor frontbenchers are distancing themselves from the Victorian roadmap and hoping the exit from restrictions will be fast-tracked.

Meanwhile, one of the world’s leading vaccine candidates may have hit a stumbling block after one participant in the UK experienced a serious adverse reaction.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University suspended the late-stage tests and will investigate the cause of the unexplained illness.

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said the pause was perfectly normal and the trial could resume within days.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced it had secured 34 million doses of the drug to be distributed next year, if trials succeed.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the pause hadn’t prompted AstraZeneca to change its delivery timetables for Australia, which could still receive the drug as early as January.

“We still believe that this is a highly prospective vaccine,” he told Sky News.

“Equally we have the University of Queensland-CSL vaccine and there are other vaccines which we are currently considering.”

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