The Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association, Russell Zimmerman, has lauded the $1.7bn package announced today by the Victorian government amid recession fears stoked by the Coronavirus pandemic, saying the plan offered “major and welcome relief” to retailers and other businesses grappling with unprecedented existential challenges.
Speaking as the plan was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews, Mr Zimmerman said the package – designed to shield small business from a Coronavirus-induced recession – set an example to other states considering business assistance.
“The ARA welcomes the Victorian initiative, and I’d like to thank the Premier on behalf of retailers,” Mr Zimmerman said.
Mr Zimmerman said the package – which will refund payroll tax on payrolls of less than $3 million for the first three quarters of the 2019-20 financial year, waive it for the fourth quarter, and defer the due date for the first quarter of 2020-21 until January 2021 – would give small and medium businesses a fighting chance of remaining open in the event of a recession.
“The COVID-19 outbreak will impose unprecedented and perhaps existential challenges on small and medium retail businesses; the measures the Premier has announced this morning bring major and welcome relief to our sector,” he said.
Mr Zimmerman said the Victorian government’s plan to pay all government invoices from suppliers within five days would provide stability around commercial cashflows, and was a proven strategy to deliver a shot in the arm to business.
“The Kennett government did this back in 1992, as it attempted to get Melbourne and Victoria moving again at the end of the last recession. It worked then and there’s every reason to believe it should work again now,” he said.
Mr Zimmerman noted other measures announced by Premier Andrews included a rent holiday for commercial tenants in government-owned buildings, and he challenged private sector landlords to step up to the plate and follow suit.
“One of the biggest issues facing ARA members – whether in shopping centres or in High Street retail precincts – is rents, which were already at historic highs before anyone had ever heard of Coronavirus,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“I call on private sector landlords to match this measure: foregoing some rental income now is better than refusing and ending up with no tenant later – and that’s what’ll happen if businesses fail because they can’t pay their bills,” he added.
Mr Zimmerman reiterated his previous calls for the public not to panic over Coronavirus, and said even if the pandemic induced a recession, he was satisfied governments and other stakeholders were doing all they could to mitigate the fallout.
“Almost every government, industry group, and most major businesses in Australia are exploring ways to minimise job losses and keep businesses open. The plan announced by Daniel Andrews and his government today will go some way toward achieving that,” Mr Zimmerman concluded.