Prolonged lockdowns see industry groups call on government to bring back JobKeeper

Melbourne business support restrictions

Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market. Source: Unsplash/Linda Xu

Industry group leaders have appealed to the government for a boost in urgent support to businesses struggling under the current prolonged lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne, with calls for the return of JobKeeper, leasing support, and a stimulus package. 

Government assistance is urgently needed for businesses in NSW and Victoria, according to the National Retail Association (NRA), Franchise Council of Australia (FCA), and Australian Convenience Stores Association (AACS).

The coalition of peak industry bodies released a statement on Thursday, saying businesses in Australia’s two largest states were ‘desperate’ for additional government support. 

NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb said each week $2 billion in lost revenues were stacking up for businesses subject to lockdown restrictions. In NSW tighter restrictions on retailers were finally imposed at the weekend, when premier Gladys Berejiklian bowed to pressure to provide a clearer definition of ‘essential work’.

The new restrictions in NSW mean that unless workers fit into one of the 11 approved categories, they must stay at home. Additional restrictions apply to people who live and work in the Fairfield, Liverpool and Canterbury-Bankstown local government areas

On Thursday the state experienced its worst day of positive COVID-19 cases, with 124 locally acquired transmissions recorded in the last 24 hours; 48 of those were in the community while infectious and another 17 are still under investigation. 

Businesses in Victoria are also faltering during the state’s fifth COVID-19 lockdown, with the latest five-day lockdown extended by another week to midnight on Thursday 27 July. 

“Each week both New South Wales and Victoria remain in lockdown a combined $2 billion is being ripped from the coffers of affected retailers,” Lamb said.

“The longer these lockdowns drag on, the greater the need for more comprehensive support packages than what has been announced.

“Christmas may occur in December, but for retailers the preparation begins as early as September. If businesses and jobs fall by the wayside during the current lockdowns it will have retail in a precarious position heading into the most important time of the year.”

Many business owners in NSW and Victoria were at a crossroads as to whether to continue operating their businesses, FCA chief executive Mary Aldred said.

“New South Wales businesses have been in lockdown for close to a month, while Victoria is in its fifth round of hard-line restrictions. 

“Many businesses in these two states are facing financial and emotional devastation,” Aldred said.

“We need the respective state and federal governments to provide urgent assistance to keep people employed, manage mounting business debts and help with reduced cash flows.”

Even for those businesses who are able to continue trading during the state lockdowns, AACS chief Theo Foukkare said uncertainty in consumer spending was seriously affecting the bottom line.

“Large-scale support measures would not only help businesses survive the financial cost of the lockdowns, but would also take a massive emotional weight off the shoulders of affected small businesses,” Foukkare said. 

The NRA, FCA and AACS have called for three main support measures:

  • The reintroduction of JobKeeper to businesses;
  • Business support around leasing to manage increased small business debts; and
  • A stimulus package to address drops in cashflow.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference on Thursday afternoon that the extended lockdown of NSW was going to dent the national economy’s September quarter results. However he said no budget statement to reflect an update in the changed circumstances would be coming from treasury. 

“It is our sincere hope that we would see the lockdowns in particularly Victoria and in South Australia be brief ones.

“And the events in Sydney in particular, but as we now see has moved into some regional locations, that’s obviously far more serious. NSW is our biggest economy of the state economies,” Morrison said. 

Despite the economic pain lockdowns placed on businesses, the PM said the rebound experienced after last year’s various lockdowns had demonstrated the government knew how to manage the economic recovery during a pandemic well.

“All of the economic advice and all of the business advice that I’m getting is that lockdowns come off, the businesses come back, people go back to work,” Morrison said. 

This article was first published by The Mandarin


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