Bandaids won’t work: We need a national plan to support small businesses in lockdown

Ben Kearney

Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association chief executive Ben Kearney. Source: supplied.

The expectation that businesses can carry the cost of multiple government pandemic lockdown decisions that are completely out of their control without cost recovery support is irrational. 

It is unnecessarily putting thousands of businesses and their employees at risk, while debate drags on about who does what and who pays for it.

These are the same businesses and employees who pay their taxes to provide these societal supports, without which we are in trouble. The fact we are still having this type of debate more than 12 months into this pandemic is disappointing.

The view of the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association — and that of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia — is we need a consistent lockdown plan supported by all state and federal governments, like that of New Zealand’s. 

There needs to be a tiered model, including base support per day for businesses that have to be closed, and then per employee (including owners), as well as support for businesses that can remain open but are experiencing significant downturns as a result of a lockdown. Without this, businesses can never have any certainty and will see more failures through no fault of their own. 

This issue should have been resolved a long time ago so that we lock down the same way every time, consistent across all jurisdictions. Victoria could use the current lockdown to lead the way.

More broadly, we need to find more sophisticated ways to manage outbreaks to ensure we limit the effects on businesses trading and hence effects on employment. This becomes an issue of suppression versus eradication of the pandemic.

These lockdowns are an effort at eradication while vaccinations roll out, and that may be fair enough, but as we re-open our economy to the world, suppression will be the only viable option. 

This is really about harm minimisation, rather than eradicating the virus — which we need to learn to live with and to manage, post mass vaccinations. There is no other option and our businesses must be provided with the support they need to remain resilient.

A few thousand-dollar bandaids is simply not enough. We need a national plan.


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