Victorian acting premier James Merlino on Sunday revealed a $250 million targeted business support package which will include $2,500 grants to assist small businesses with payrolls less than $10 million, as well as $3,500 venue grants for hospitality businesses holding an eligible liquor licence and food certificate.
“This is a bigger and broader package than the one we delivered through the circuit-breaker lockdown back in February and it’s made up of a few elements,” Mr Merlino said.
The package is split into two categories. The first of which is the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund worth $40.7 million. The package is aimed at providing businesses with an eligible liquor licence and food certificate with a $3,500 grant per premises.
The second is a Business Costs Assistance Program, which will see eligible employing and non-employing businesses in “sectors most impacted” offered one-off grants worth $2,500. It is set to cover businesses operating in an industry that cannot operate under the state’s lockdown conditions nor work remotely.
Both categories of the state’s package will be open for applications from 2 June, and will remain so for three weeks. However, details of each fund’s eligibility criteria have yet to be released.
The announcement of Victoria’s support package follows outcry over the damage the state’s fourth lockdown would cause businesses.
It’s a measure leaders from across the accounting industry, and the broader business community, last week declared necessary, along with an expedited vaccine rollout and a competent, federalised hotel quarantine scheme.
CPA Australia’s senior manager of business and investment policy, Gavin Ord, said that while it’s pleasing to see the government compensate businesses for some of their lockdown losses, the fund’s eligibility criteria should by now include far more detail, and be flexible enough to capture businesses indirectly affected by the state’s lockdown measures.
“It’s unacceptable that the support package wasn’t communicated with the lockdown announcement and that the eligibility criteria are still shrouded in darkness,” Mr Ord said. “The eligibility requirements must be flexible.
“Previously, businesses outside eligible sectors were excluded despite being heavily impacted. Some businesses are able to trade; however, because they’re in the CBD or a tourist town, they’re indirectly impacted. These businesses also need assistance and should not be excluded.”
Mr Ord also pointed to what should be considered an insufficient application window, as accountants — who are likely to play a pivotal role in securing support for their clients — face mounting pressures in the lead-up to tax time.
“The three-week application period is too short,” he said. “Many businesses will seek professional advice to determine if they’re eligible and complete the application. Accountants are under significant pressure to meet tax lodgements at this time of year.
“Arbitrary and unnecessary time frames like this make it harder for businesses to access support, which is the very opposite of what the government should be doing.”
It’s a sentiment which was shared by Susan Franks, senior tax advocate at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, who said blanket — or longer — lodgement deadline extensions should be considered to ease the burden.
“The package applications will be open for the next three weeks, which means Victorian accountants are facing a brand-new deadline on top of a usually busy month for clients and businesses as they approach financial year-end,” Ms Franks said.
“Accountants are key to supporting business, especially small business. Some Victorian businesses are experiencing their fourth lockdown, and survival through accessing government assistance packages is key for many of them.
“Depending on how long this lockdown continues, blanket or longer extensions of lodgement deadlines for affected areas may help ease the stress on both affected accountants and businesses.”
John Buckley is a journalist at Accountants Daily.
Before joining the team in 2021, John worked at The Sydney Morning Herald. His reporting has featured in a range of outlets including The Washington Post, The Age, and The Saturday Paper.