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Treasurer upbeat on PM’s virus response

Just days out from his pre-election budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has reminded Australians how the government under Scott Morrison has steered the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite his government being on the nose in opinion polls and the prime minister’s popularity slumping, the treasurer believes Mr Morrison has done an “extraordinary job”.

He said just over two years ago 1.4 million Australians either lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced to zero.

“There were images of hundreds of thousands of fellow Australians lining up outside Centrelink which for many were reminiscent of scenes of the Great Depression,” he told ABC television.

But he said Australia avoided that economic abyss which many thought it would fall into and it is now enjoying one of the strongest recoveries anywhere in the world.

“With the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the world and the lowest mortality rates anywhere in the world … that’s to Scott Morrison’s and the Australian people’s credit,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Asked if the coalition can still win the election due in May, Mr Frydenberg replied: “Absolutely.”

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said Labor is sticking with its plan to provide rapid antigen tests to all Australians.

“We’ve said for some time, one of the issues was access to tests. The government’s gone part of the way to dealing with that,” he told ABC’s Insiders program.

“The situation is evolving, as is the virus and so we’ll have a responsible position on that. But we’ve said for some time that people shouldn’t be deterred from taking a test and protecting their workmates because they can’t afford one.”

Meanwhile, the federal and ACT governments have signed an agreement to invest $38 million on mental health and suicide prevention as part of the territory’s pandemic recovery.

Under the deal, the Commonwealth will spend $25.2 million and the ACT $12.9 million over the next five years.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says the agreement will ensure ACT residents have access to support when and where they need it.

“This landmark agreement will be of immense benefit to everyone in the ACT and will support our ongoing national recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said on Sunday.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr particularly welcomed additional investment in early intervention and prevention as a part of the nation’s approach to addressing mental illness.

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