Victorian business owners are calling on the state and federal governments to provide more support to help them survive the impending six-week lockdown.
As retail giant Premier Investments (Jay Jays, Just Jeans and Smiggle) announced it would shut stores across 36 shopping centres for the foreseeable future, industry groups told The New Daily that businesses needed urgent help.
Tim Piper, the Victorian head of national employer association Ai Group, said the state government should waive payroll tax on the first $3 million of every company’s payroll – no matter how large their revenue.
He told The New Daily that he was particularly concerned about the state’s manufacturers, as it takes them a long time to wind down and ramp up their operations.
But he said businesses across all sectors would feel the pain – with City of Melbourne data suggesting the lockdowns could force 15 per cent of inner-city businesses to permanently shut their doors.
“And we want the government to be looking at allowing companies to open up in regional areas. We’ve got a lockdown in Melbourne. We’ve got a lockdown on our state borders and yet most of our regional areas do not have significant, and in many cases have zero, coronavirus cases,” Mr Piper said.
“But they are still not allowed to require people to go to work.
“It’s really important in regional areas – where you have social distancing, where you don’t have public transport issues, where you usually don’t have lift issues – that you get people back at work.”
In a series of TV interviews on Wednesday morning, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the federal government was preparing “another phase of income support” to be announced on July 23.
Mr Frydenberg told the Seven Network that the next round of support would be “temporary and targeted”, after telling ABC News the government recognised that “some sectors are going to recover more slowly than others”.
Elle-May Michael hopes that means JobKeeper will be extended beyond its scheduled end-date in September.
The 32-year-old owner of creative space in.cube8r in Melbourne, which allows artists and makers to rent space to show and sell their work, says her revenue dropped by almost 90 per cent because of the pandemic.
She said her business would have collapsed were it not for government support payments.
“We wouldn’t be here if the [rental eviction moratorium] didn’t happen and I’ve got two staff on JobKeeper, which has meant that even when we weren’t opening, they could help me with marketing … and update policies and all that kind of stuff,” Ms Michael told The New Daily.
“So I hope they can extend JobKeeper for Victorians – that would be a lifeline for everyone and for us especially.”
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also called for an extension to the wage subsidy scheme, having described the lockdown on Tuesday as a “last straw” for many Melbourne businesses.
Chief executive Paul Guerra said the chamber supported the lockdown “because there is no alternative”, but urged the government to do more to “get Victoria in a position to be able to reopen fully”.
“Victoria is now months behind other states in recovery and the Victorian Chamber believes JobKeeper should be extended for a period of a least two months to give our businesses the runway they need to get up and running before the scheme ends,” Mr Guerra said.
“We are also working with the State Government on additional support measures for this upcoming period.”
Regional pubs and hotels in disarray
Meanwhile, regional Victoria is bracing for a $350 million hit as a result of the six-week lockdown, according to the Accommodation Association.
The Victorian Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) estimates that Victorians travelling across their own state account for 80 per cent of regional tourism, with much of it driven by Melbourne.
The council welcomed the $5 million support package introduced by the Andrews Government to help tourism businesses after 10 Melbourne postcodes were put into lockdown.
But it said more help was needed.
“The industry certainly welcomed the announcement of $225 per booking per night to support accommodation businesses that were forced to cancel travel plans for visitors from the 10 affected postcodes,” said VTIC chief executive Felicia Mariani.
“That funding will go a long way in cushioning the blow that will undoubtedly result from this earlier move.
“The tourism and events industry fully understands the need to urgently gain control of this outbreak so we can get the state back on the pathway to recovery that other states are already moving toward.
These measures, however, are likely to be a blow that many tourism businesses across the state will simply not recover from.”
A spokesperson from the Victorian Government told The New Daily it was working with industry on further support measures to be announced soon.
“It’s clear we are on the cusp of our second wave – and we cannot let this virus cut through our communities,” the spokesperson said.
“We can’t repair our economy until we get on top of this virus – it depends on everyone playing their part.”