Victorian businesses forced to shut during the state’s fourth lockdown will be given a A$250 million lifeline, although there is no support for out-of-pocket workers, the state government announced on Sunday.
The $250 million package includes $190 million in $2500 grants for businesses, $40.7 million in $3500 grants for liquor licence and food certificate holders and $20 million for event operators.
The government expects 90,000 small to medium-sized businesses and sole traders to be eligible for the payments.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said the quarter of a billion dollar package was bigger and broader than that provided during the state’s snap lockdown in February—a strategy first adopted in communist China.
“It’s the single biggest package on a pro-rata basis that this state or any state has provided,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Treasury estimates Victoria’s seven-day lockdown will punch a $700 million hole in the economy, but Pallas would not be drawn on possibly extending the package if it drags out past Thursday.
“It is hurting businesses. It is hurting the workforce,” he said.
“We understand that we have an obligation to assist and support them. That is exactly what we are doing.”
Industry groups welcomed the package after publicly lobbying the state government for immediate support.
“Compared with the cost to business from the lockdown the relatively small amount of support offered will be quickly swallowed up if the lockdown continues beyond a week,” Australian Industry Group Group Victorian head Tim Piper said.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra added to calls for the federal government to agree to a JobKeeper-like wage subsidy after the state government announced the lockdown.
“When Australians needed support in 2020, both state and federal governments were there. Now is not the time for the feds to abandon Victorians,” he said.
Acting Premier James Merlino and Pallas both lashed the federal government for its refusal to offer support payments for the seven-day period.
“The Commonwealth’s view is that if these are short-term circuit breakers, then the states should pay for them,” Pallas said.
“Well, we are paying. We are paying very substantially, and I don’t think working people should be paying.”
But Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien criticised the tactic, accusing the state government of lobbing “verbal hand grenades” to deflect responsibility for the lockdown.
“Attacking the federal government doesn’t get Victoria reopened. It doesn’t get Victorians back to work. It doesn’t keep the virus under control,” he told reporters.
By Callum Godde