Regional Victoria reopens, $3bn support for SMEs

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The beleaguered Victoria economy is seeing its first significant reopening as the state government seeks to kick start the $45bn regional economy, although Melbourne faces another six weeks of closure.

Under fire: Vic premier Dan Andrews

The move to re-open regional Victoria – which includes major towns such as Geelong, Bendigo, and Ballarat – comes as the government pledges $3bn in support for small and medium sized business in regional and metro areas. Printers will not be eligible for the grants; they are for businesses that have been heavily restricted or closed.

Print businesses across Victoria have been able to operate through the lockdown. But, with much of the economy closed, presses have been idle around the state. The hope now is that with at least the regional economy opening up, there will be print work.

For Melbourne, the government is now talking of taking the first steps to reopening on Monday, 28 September for construction. However, the premier Daniel Andrews said that it is unlikely the rest of the metro economy will be able to re-open before October 26.

Andrews is facing a barrage of criticism from business leaders over his lockdown policy. They want a more nuanced approach to deal with Covid, which is mainly manifest in aged care homes and nursing facilities.

One frustrated print managing director told Print21 that he lives in the middle of nowhere and yet has to wear a mask to walk his dog in a field.

Federal health minster Greg Hunt and leading Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett are leading the pressure for Dan Andrews to take a different modelling approach than the current sledgehammer and nut version.

The latest $3bn package includes a grant of $20,000 for businesses with a payroll up to $10m, and $3000 for sole traders that operate from commercial premises. The government is also providing $1.7bn for business with a payroll of up to $10m to defer their payroll tax for the year. Hospitality venues will be able to claim a grant up to $30,000.

Andrew Macaulay, CEO at PVCA said, "While the support for SMEs is welcome, and we hope that it helps those in the hospitality industry to start advertising again, the reality is that what business needs is stability, continuity and freedom of movement, and instead what we have got from the state government is chaos. Small and medium sized businesses are agile, they can adapt, but they can't operate in chaos."

Kellie Northwood, CEO at Real Media Collective said, "While it is good to see regional Victoria opening, the state's manufacturung and commercial hub is in Melbourne. Another six weeks is a challenge. We are disappointed in the level of ambiguity coming from the government. It is a bit of a trend to announce a headline without much in the way of details."

Paul Guerra, CEO of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – and who last week called the Andrews roadmap a “kick in the guts” and a “roadmap to nowhere” – said, “This is what the business community has been calling for. A forward-looking announcement that provides confidence in being able to manage without cash flow for now, and how businesses can begin to reskill and recover when the virus is under control."

Bill Lang, executive director at Small Business Australia, said 300,000 small business operators – micro business with only one of at most a handful of staff, had been “left out in the cold again”.

While saying the $3bn package was an "important step forward" the Victorian Head of Ai Group, Tim Piper, said business will need significantly more help to get going again. ''He said, “We are extremely disappointed that the Government has only deferred payroll tax. It means this debt will continue to hang over businesses which may not have recovered enough by the time they need to repay the Government."

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