Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has rejected requests for extra support for small businesses on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, indicating local governments will be left to provide future assistance in response to localised coronavirus outbreaks.
Northern Beaches Councillor Sue Heins launched a petition last week calling on members of parliament, including the federal member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, to help SMEs affected by the current lockdown in NSW.
Steggall’s requests to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer were rejected on Monday in a letter signed by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Frydenberg said the government would not provide any further support to businesses in declared hotspot zones.
“I note the ability of local governments to provide targeted support for this localised outbreak that complements the extensive and substantial Commonwealth government measures already in place,” Frydenberg said.
For Councillor Heins, the Treasurer’s response is “very short-sighted”.
“I don’t think it’s a reasonable answer at all and very short-sighted of the federal government,” Heins tells SmartCompany.
“Supporting the business community for hotspot lockdowns is something the federal government can do easily and if other areas get locked down, it will give them a roadmap of how to support business communities in the future,” Heins says.
As a former president of the Warringah Chamber of Commerce, Heins is an active member of the local business community and says while small businesses have highs and lows, this downturn is different.
“This time it means the difference between their business surviving or selling houses — everything is on the line for them,” Heins says.
The lockdown of the Northern Beaches began on December 19 after a cluster of COVID-19 cases grew in Avalon.
Under the lockdown, hospitality businesses, function centres, entertainment venues, gyms and beauty salons were ordered to close, with some exceptions for takeaway food.
Heins says the NSW government will announce a financial package for businesses in the Northern Beaches shortly, with an anticipated timeline of January 26.
Meanwhile, the Northern Beaches Council already has a raft of support measures for local businesses, from outdoor dining fee waivers to ‘shop local’ initiatives and a business support hub.
“But the council cannot supply cash which is what the business community needs immediately to stay afloat,” Heins says.
Restrictions across the Northern Beaches were divided across two zones, with the northern zones experiencing the greatest number of COVID-19 cases.
On January 2, restrictions eased in the southern zone where businesses now operate under the same restrictions as Greater Sydney.
Restrictions are expected to lift in the northern zone on January 9.
Owner of Beaches Lash Co, Sophie Wilson, is still unable to open her Newport beauty salon in the northern zone during what would regularly be the busiest time of year.
“We could do some retail gift vouchers before Christmas, but it was hard to know if we could even travel to do the contactless delivery,” Wilson tells SmartCompany.
Wilson wants the government to offer cash grants to affected businesses and see more landlords offer rent relief through the state government’s land tax relief, which landlords can apply for until March 28.
Wilson says a cash grant would be ideal if the eligibility criteria was not as strict as previous coronavirus grants.
“I wasn’t eligible for a lot of the cash grants they had last time, and I know quite a few businesses in the area that weren’t eligible either,” she says.
The three-week lockdown has been a troubling time for Wilson because of the uncertainty of not knowing whether her business will survive in the long term.
“I know a lot of people have suffered mental health issues and have been quite depressed about the situation,” she says.
“But you do have to stay positive and find that balance.”