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‘There’s nothing’: Government urged to mitigate coronavirus business impact


The chairman of Victoria’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce has attacked the federal government for its lack of help for small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak. 

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“The government hasn’t come up with anything,” Kee Guan-Saw told Accountants Daily. “There’s no action, only talk.”

Mr Guan-Saw added the travel ban and misleading information on social media are harming Australian SMEs, and advised those struggling to be upfront with their banks. 

The news comes as insolvency recovery firm Jirsch Sutherland launched a dedicated coronavirus helpline, manned by English and Mandarin speakers, for local businesses. 

The disease — recently renamed COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation — was first reported in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019. 

It has so far killed more than 1,000 people and infected 40,000 worldwide, with numbers already overtaking that of SARS. 

Yet despite only 15 confirmed cases in Australia, the infection has adversely affected small businesses.

Misinformation on food safety has left Chinese restaurants in Victoria empty, said Mr Guan-Saw, while an incoming travel ban means many in the tourism industry face a nervous wait to see if they can get refunds on bookings such as hotels, coach operators and attractions.

Currently, it’s a requirement that any person passing through mainland China spends 14 days outside of the country before visiting Australia. 

Kee Guan-Saw has seen the effects first-hand in his role as both honorary chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Victoria and founder of audit and accounting firm KST Partners. 

“Nobody is coming to eat because people are afraid of the virus,” Mr Guan-Saw said. “They aren’t going out and it’s having a big impact on society. Social media is having a negative impact.”

He advised SME owners in trouble to approach their bank immediately: “Tell them the situation, and, failing that, speak to an administrator.”

Mr Guan-Saw urged the federal government to take inspiration from its reaction to the bushfire crisis and set aside a fund for SMEs in trouble, adding that at the moment, “there’s nothing”.

While the WA government recently announced a $10 million support package for the state’s tourism industry in the wake of the outbreak, there has yet to be a major announcement of federal help. 

In comparison, the Australian government has announced a $2 billion support package for businesses affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis, with more expected in the annual budget. 

Bradd Morelli, national managing partner of business recovery firm Jirsch Sutherland, which set up the coronavirus helpline, encouraged SMEs to act quickly and decisively to find help. 

Mr Morelli said: “It’s not the time for complacency. There are solutions and processes that can buy a company time, and the sooner owners and directors seek these solutions, the better. It’s vital to take swift action.

“There are a number of knock-on effects: falling demand for Australian produce, such as seafood, affects food suppliers while local Asian restaurants are being shunned and some have temporarily closed.

“International university students are delaying coming back to their courses and then there’s the domino effect on landlords, restaurants and cafés.

“The anticipated downturn in revenue will have a huge impact on working capital, and those businesses without sufficient reserves may find themselves suffering cash-flow issues.”

Mr Morelli added that voluntary administration shouldn’t be discounted by SME leaders because it can be a way to buy time to “right the ship”. 

“Business operators need to take action for the short and long term.”

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