Australians get $900 cheques from government to boost spending
Australians have started receiving $900 (£444) bonus payments from the government that are aimed at boosting spending and protecting the economy from recession.
The one-off payments, which will cost the government $42bn and constitute the country's biggest cash handout in history, started in March and will trickle into millions of bank accounts by July.
Australians have been urged to spend the money on locally-owned businesses to keep their fellow citizens in employment.
The payments include a $950 back-to-school bonus aimed at helping families with school-age children and $900 for Australians earning less than $100,000 a year.
Announcing the scheme, Wayne Swan, the treasurer, said the payments would provide "vital support" to Australia's economy.
"What we've got to do now is to roll up our sleeves, get on with the job of supporting households and businesses, and above all supporting jobs," he said.
So far, the government has already hailed the payments as a big success.
Some retailers have recorded bumper sales, with shoppers choosing to spend their stimulus payments on clothing and accessories.
Retailers in Melbourne's city centre said sales had increased over the Easter weekend, with one woman buying $900 worth of clothing in one purchase.
But the payments have been criticised by the opposition as a "cash splash" that is going to the wrong people and being spent overseas.
Reports have claimed that dead people and foreigners who lived in Australia briefly before returning to their home countries have received the bonus cheques and that several people had spent the money on holidays outside of Australia.
"I'm a Canadian pensioner who worked in Australia many years ago," one man wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald. "The money has been used to take a lovely trip to Niagara Falls with my granddaughter ... Thanks again for the money."
The Australian economy is teetering on the brink of recession as a result of the global downturn, which has driven up unemployment and eroded tax receipts. Last week's budget contained a near-record deficit of A$57.6 billion, equivalent to 4.9 per cent of gross domestic product.
The government has ruled out issuing any further stimulus payments.