Criticism of the government’s coronavirus disaster payments is already streaming in as small businesses work to survive another lockdown.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the support package with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet by his side yesterday afternoon.
The prime minister said the Commonwealth Covid-19 Disaster Payment was being immediately increased from $500 to $600 for people who have lost more than 20 hours of work, and from $325 to $375 for people who have lost between eight and 20 hours.
“You can get that payment right now,” Mr Morrison said.
“You don’t have to have lost your job, you don’t have to have left your employer. It doesn’t matter who your employer is. If you are lost those hours, you can access that payment right now.”
The federal government is also offering cashflow support to affected businesses of up to $10,000 per week.
The payments are tied to 40 per cent of payroll, and range from $1500 per week for sole traders to a maximum of $10,000.
“That will come at a cost between the Commonwealth and states of around $500,000 a week, met equally by the state and the Commonwealth government,” Mr Morrison said.
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Michelle Grand-Milkovic, the co-owner of Love.Fish, a seafood restaurant in the CBD suburb of Barangaroo, told news.com.au the payments were “welcome” but not enough.
“We were eagerly awaiting the announcements today, we’ve had a very anxious three weeks,” she said.
“I don’t quite know how I feel, I’m very grateful we were offered something but I’ve gotta be really honest, I don’t think it goes far enough.”
Ms Grand-Milkovic said she was hoping the announcement would also end the ambiguity of Sydney’s lockdown but she was still waiting for some clarity.
“It’s crazy (the premier) still hasn’t announced a date, we don’t have any idea when it will end … and, when it is announced that lockdown is over, we’re going to have to scramble and get the business going in a few days, get our 30 staff ready, we don’t know how to do that,” she said.
Another ambiguous point that bothers Ms Grand-Milkovic is the types of businesses that have been allowed to stay open.
“What’s really hard in lockdown is that small businesses always bear the brunt … always to save the state, it has to be small business that has the hardest deal.
“We’re forced to close but when there’s vast sections of Sydney just going about their day, you sometimes wonder if you’re funding other services to be OK.
“It’s very distressing to see Ikea and Louis Vitton open while you’re going on zero income and depleted savings that are built on depleted savings you scraped together from last year.”
Ms Grand-Milkovic said this year felt different to 2020, when everyone was “in it together”.
“I think this lockdown is like, some of you can sacrifice everything and others can just go about their day,” she said.
“We’re happy to make sacrifices but it’s hard when you feel like small business is the only one sacrificing.”
In her speech yesterday, Premier Berejiklian said she hoped the financial assistance package will help ensure the community plays by “the rules”.
“Our intention always is to have this lockdown not go longer than it needs to but these payments will make sure whether you’re someone who rus a business or someone who’s an employee, you’ll be able to respect the rules we put in place and also have peace of mind,”she said.
While Ms Grand-Milkovic said there were “definitely some positives” in the government’s support package, her rough calculations show the new Sydney lockdown means she will once again be forced into debt.
Love.Fish sits on Sydney Harbour and is a high-end seafood restaurant, leaving Ms Grand-Milkovic with massive costs.
“We have a high payroll bill, a high rent bill, (a package) like this helps us survive but it does not at all compensate for outlay of money in this period or loss of revenue,” she said.
“The other day I got an electricity bill for $6,000. If you do not have money put aside or the ability to overdraft, you will physically not survive.”
Government services Minister Linda Reynolds hit back at suggestions the payment wasn’t enough.
“We‘re supporting small businesses to keep their staff on the payroll. We’re supporting people who have been impacted. We think this is a very good next step,” Ms Reynolds told ABC’s Afternoon Briefing.
The newly-announced payments, on Ms Grand-Milkovic’s rough calculations, will not even cover her weekly rent.
Ms Grand-Milkovic, who runs the restaurant with her husband, said she was once again back to homeschooling her two children while they struggle to keep up to 40 staff supported, keep their business afloat and continue to pay their mortgage.
“We paid our dues last year, lost a s**tload of money and went into a lot of debt … we accessed the Covid small business loan last year but we used that to pay our staff, now we’re behind again,” she said.
“They want us to keep pushing through but I don’t know where they think it’s going to come from. There’s a tipping point.
“I think (the government) thinks of it as ‘some of you will make it and some of you won’t and that’s OK’, but it’s not OK because everywhere here there are families, stories and life works.
“Small business is their entire life and people that are still getting their wage every week will not understand the pressure we are under.
“I have 30 staff that rely on me for leadership and rely on me to pay bills and two kids that I am now having to homeschool.
“It is a lot and you try and get up every day and be positive but it is hard. How do you compensate for two years of loss?”
NSW also unveiled its Covid-19 package today, offering a number of support payments.
- An extension to the previously announced business grants program. This means eligible businesses with Australian wages below $10 million can claim grants between $7500 and $15,000 to cover the first three-weeks of restrictions, and takes the potential size of the program to $2.1 billion.
- Up to $2 billion committed to the scheme to provide cashflow support to businesses to help them retain staff, to be delivered together with the Commonwealth.
- Payroll tax waivers of 25 per cent for businesses with Australian wages of between $1.2 million and $10 million that have experienced a 30 per cent decline in turnover, as well as payroll tax deferrals and interest free repayment plans.
- A new grants program for micro businesses with a turnover of between $30,000 and $75,000 which experience a decline in turnover of 30 per cent. The businesses will be eligible for a $1500 payment per fortnight of restrictions.
- A capped grant of up to $1500 for residential landlords who are not liable to pay land tax who reduce rent for tenants estimated at $210 million. Land tax relief equal to the value of rent reductions provided by commercial, retail and residential landlords to financially distressed tenants, up to 100 per cent of the 2021 land tax year liability.
- Introduction of legislative amendments to ensure a short-term eviction moratorium for rental arrears where a residential tenant suffers loss of income of 25 per cent due to Covid-19 and meets a range of criteria. No recovery of security bonds, or lockouts or evictions of impacted retail and commercial tenants prior to mediation.
- Deferral of gaming tax assessments for clubs until 21 December 2021 and hotels until 21 January 2021.
- A $75 million support package for the performing arts sector to be administered by Create NSW.
- A support package for the accommodation sector worth $26 million.
- $5.1 million in NSW funding to support mental health.