The government will provide eligible businesses with $1,500 per fortnight for each employee for six months as part of its new $130 million stimulus pledge to subsidise the wages of around 6 million people.
The $130 billion funding marks a third tranche of stimulus designed to limit the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on the country's economy.
Any company that has had a reduction in revenue of 30 per cent or more, since 1 March 2020 over a minimum one-month period, can apply for the new $1,500 "job keeper" allowance funding.
Thousands of Australians who have already lost their jobs will be eligible for the payments through their former employer.
The "job keeper" payment is technically a subsidy to businesses, aimed at keeping more people in jobs through the course of the coronavirus crisis.
The payment will be paid to employers, for up to six months, for each eligible employee that was on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer.
Where a business has stood down employees since 1 March, the payment will help them maintain connection with their employees.
Employers will receive a payment of $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee. Every eligible employee must receive at least $1,500 per fortnight from this business, before tax.
The program is effective from 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by eligible businesses in the first week of May as monthly arrears from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
Eligible businesses can begin distributing the payment immediately and will be reimbursed from the first week of May.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the six months of funding was necessary to ensure businesses were able to retain staff and were able to bounce back when the crisis had passed.
"We must have a running economy to get through this," Morrison said in a televised news conference. "This is an incentive to keep people on, doing actual work ... they can keep them on the books, on the payrolls."
The "job keeper" allowance brings the country's coronavirus-related stimulus so far to $320 billion, or about 15 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product, as it also ramps up social distancing measures in a bid to capitalise on a slowdown in the growth rate of new infections nationally.
Australia has one of the lowest numbers of coronavirus infections globally and reported that the rate of new cases has halved in the past week. Around 4,200 people have tested positive nationally, and the death toll stands at 18.
But officials have warned against complacency, and introduced new measures including restrictions to public gatherings to just two people and shutting down outside gyms and parks.
Several states are bringing in penalties from midnight, 30 March, including fines of up to $1,600 and the potential of a six month jail term for anybody found breaching the new rules.
"This is not a time to take the foot off the brake," Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.
At the country's international airports, police oversaw the transfer of Australians returning home to hotels or other facilities for monitored quarantine for 14 days. The majority of Australia's coronavirus cases have been imported.
In Western Australia state, hundreds of people were due to be taken from the Vasco da Gama cruise ship to Rottnest Island, a tourist destination near Perth, or hotels near the state capital of Perth for quarantine, ship owner Cruise & Maritime Voyages said.
The danger posed by cruise ships has loomed large in Australia after passengers who were allowed to disembark the Ruby Princess liner in Sydney without any medical checks were later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Australia's share market closed 7 per cent higher shortly before Morrison announced the package, led by a late rally in banks amid expectations the coming package would help people who lose their jobs to still pay off home loans.
Still, economists expect the country's $2 trillion economy to slip into its first recession in almost three decades because of the pandemic.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia Chief Executive Matt Comyn forecast a 10 per cent contraction in the second quarter.
"There is no question there is going to be a substantial demand shock, and you’ve seen that particularly across a number of different sectors,” Comyn told a live-streamed event.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett, Byron Kaye and Colin Packham; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jane Wardell; with ARN Staff)