The $100 billion JobKeeper program will soon end. What support can SMEs expect in its wake?

Simon Birmingham

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Source: AAP/Joel Carrett.

Small businesses in industries still recovering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic can soon expect a support package to be announced, as the end of JobKeeper looms this month.

The historic $100 billion wage subsidy program, which will end on March 28, has already seen the Australian Taxation Office pay out $84 billion in JobKeeper payments to over 1 million businesses.

And, while no further relief packages have been announced to date, the federal government has hinted at more support to come.

Minister for Finance Simon Birmingham on Friday said the government is “looking at targeted types of support for different sectors that might really need it now”.

“We’re still working through analysis around precisely how best to target that. Our best target in terms of sectors, how best target it in terms of supporting the operation of a sector versus also trying to stimulate demand in the sector,” Birmingham said.

Similarly, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Canberra last week the JobKeeper program had “served its purpose” and the government was working on continued support for specific industries.

“Over the coming weeks we will have more to say on targeted support for various sectors,” Frydenberg said.

The imminent announcement of a targeted small business support package will follow persistent calls from the tourism, retail and hospitality industries for further relief, due to the challenges of ongoing travel restrictions and snap lockdowns for businesses in those sectors.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Australian small business and family enterprise ombudsman Kate Carnell says it is crucial the government announce ongoing support soon to give certainty to industries that will take longer to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Tourism, airlines, event organisers, caterers and independent theatres are some of the industries still really struggling,” Carnell says.

For some months now, Carnell has been calling on the federal government to establish a revenue-contingent loan system, which would offer low-interest loans that are paid back after a business’ turnover reaches 80% of its pre-COVID-19 levels.

Carnell says revenue-contingent loans are a safe borrowing option for businesses that would also protect them from making loan repayments during forced business closures resulting from future lockdowns.

“My understanding is that they [the federal government] are looking at it,” Carnell says.

“Whether it actually comes to pass or not, I think we’ll have to wait.”


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