Lockdown extension a $2b blow for Victorian retailers

The Victorian government has announced a seven-day extension to lockdown measures affecting metropolitan Melbourne. Restrictions will continue until 11.59pm, Thursday June 10.

In response to today’s news, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has called for the return of a tailored federal support scheme with the extended lockdown in Melbourne set to cost more than $2 billion in lost retail trade.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra says given there have been 33 days of state-imposed lockdowns in Australia in the first half of 2021 alone, it’s clear that ongoing financial assistance is needed, starting with Victorian businesses.

“If this virus has taught us anything, it’s that our plans and progress can change very quickly with little notice,” he says.

“A week ago, our economic recovery was on track – business confidence was at record highs and the Melbourne CBD was getting its mojo back. We were starting to think that the worst of Covid was behind us.

“Sadly, that’s not the case and our thoughts are with our Victorian friends, families and the small businesses who are battling through the current lockdown. We understand and respect the importance of these health imperatives, however it’s a bitter blow for the people of Victoria who’ve suffered more than most through this pandemic.”

Similarly, National Retail Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb says that while the sector accepts the government had no choice, the extended lockdown will still prove to be a crippling blow to many retail businesses across the state.

“The government had little choice but to extend the current round of hard-line restrictions but make no mistake this will be a hammer blow to retail businesses throughout Melbourne,” she says.

“Across the entire 14-day lockdown, the NRA calculates that Victorian retail will lose a combined total of $2 billion in sales.

“We’re also concerned that even once the current restrictions are relaxed, there will continue to be a lag in economic activity due to a dent in consumer confidence. Foot traffic across major shopping precincts worsens with each lockdown, the Melbourne CBD has tracked consistently at 40% below pre-pandemic levels.”

Proposed solutions

Mr Zahra believes there is room for improvement within the vaccine rollout and the Victorian contact tracing system. The core issue, however, is helping Victorians to navigate through this fresh crisis, he says.

“While those issues are addressed, we need to work together and find a solution that supports people and businesses – and find a solution that gets our Covid recovery back on track,” says Mr Zahra.

“Victoria can’t do this alone. The federal government has done a great job to keep businesses afloat through JobKeeper and we need them to step up to the plate again.

“We believe a reintroduction of a scheme like JobKeeper, which is targeted at those most in need, would be the simplest and easiest measure to implement, given the back-end systems are already known and worked well for a year. The scheme should be targeted – just for those negatively impacted by lockdowns.

“This isn’t just about Victoria. This is about other states and territories who might have to deal with state-imposed lockdowns and restrictions, should new cases emerge in the community. A scheme like JobKeeper should be a lifeline that can be activated when it’s needed.

“We welcome the extension of the Victorian government’s businesses support grants, but more funding is desperately needed.

“This is also an ideal time for the Victorian government to reconsider the tax increases it announced in the recent state budget. Applying a payroll tax surcharge on businesses will just place them under even more pressure and will put jobs at risk.”

Ms Lamb says that in addition to the $250 million business package announced last weekend by the Victorian government, further assistance would be required.

“Retailers understand that public money doesn’t grow on trees, but without further government assistance real carnage could be inflicted on the Victorian economy,” she says.

“Each day Melbourne remains in lockdown businesses are either having revenue channels dramatically slashed or shut off all together, but still have to pay wages. If no help arrives, many affected retailers will have no choice but to shed jobs.

“The federal government’s JobKeeper program did a marvellous job in keeping businesses across all industries afloat during the height of the pandemic. But clearly hard-lockdowns are not yet a thing of the past and we strongly urge the Commonwealth to provide targeted assistance to retail businesses currently haemorrhaging during this round of heavy-handed restrictions.”

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