Leading retail groups and the federal opposition have doubled down on their calls for a JobKeeper wage subsidy revival, after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his department will “continue to examine” the level of taxpayer support provided to businesses rocked by coronavirus lockdowns.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, the Australian Retailers Association, the National Retail Association, and the SDA union, which represents retail and warehousing workers, urged the federal government to revive the program.
Their calls for additional support arrived on the same day New South Wales counted 172 new cases of COVID-19 in the community, increasing the likelihood of a significant extension of the Greater Sydney lockdown past its current July 30 end-date.
“Retail is one of Australia’s most important sectors and significant job losses are inevitable if further assistance is not granted to businesses in lockdown locations,” National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb said.
Federal Labor has also issued its clearest backing yet for a return to the scheme, which wound up in March with a total cost of $90 billion.
“Sydney has been in lockdown for four weeks,” Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese tweeted on Tuesday. “[Prime Minister Scott Morrison] must bring back JobKeeper.”
“The tourism industry will continue to suffer severe economic impacts unless JobKeeper is reinstated or something like it introduced,” announced Shadow Minister for Sport and Tourism Don Farrell.
Shadow Minister Andrew Leigh — who has long criticised the federal government’s oversight of the original JobKeeper scheme and the companies which held onto that taxpayer support after posting profits — on Friday told ABC Radio it should be reintroduced “without the rorts.”
The ACTU has long called for a “JobKeeper 2.0”, while social services advocates have campaigned for additional levels of financial support.
The federal government has long dismissed calls to reinstate the program, saying the new tranche of Commonwealth and state funding is more agile, targeted, and appropriate for shorter industry disruptions than those experienced in 2020.
The COVID-19 emergency payment offers $375 a week to those who have lost between eight and 19 hours of work a week due to COVID-19 closures, and $600 for those who have lost 20 hours or more.
The maximum payment is equivalent to $200 a fortnight more than the final iteration of JobKeeper, which provided eligible workplaces with $1,000 a fortnight for each eligible employee.
Unlike JobKeeper, the payment is also available to casual workers who have been with their employer under 12 months, and temporary visa holders impacted by the lockdowns.
The current system’s flexibility and speed of implementation has been praised by industry players like the Australian Venue Co., whose circumstances were cited by Frydenberg during a Monday doorstop interview.
“Because their turnover has not declined by more than 50 per cent nationally, they said they would not be eligible for JobKeeper today, so their 2,000 staff in those states in lockdown would not be eligible for JobKeeper today,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
The current regime is “significant and substantive,” Frydenberg added. “They’re comprehensive and they are going to provide welcome relief to people in need.”
Yet critics are concerned the new payments are insufficient to support businesses outside of the locked-down regions which are still feeling the impact of those restrictions, and will ignore businesses once the harshest restrictions ease off.
“Even when the current lockdowns end, there will still be pain for many businesses,” Lamb said.
“It’s not like flicking a switch and the day after restrictions are eased the business landscape just reverts to normal.”
The new payments also have their own barriers to entry, as the COVID-19 emergency payment is not available to those who already claim another form of government support, like JobSeeker.
Separately, the industry groups have called for the return of other 2020-era guardrails, like mandated rent relief protections and tweaked insolvency laws.
The ACTU has also criticised the implementation of other support measures, like business grants which require eligible firms not to reduce their headcount, but do not ensure those payments wind up in the pockets of employees.
The Australian Financial Review reports the Morrison government is again reconsidering the level of taxpayer support, given the likelihood of a long, harsh lockdown for the Greater Sydney region.
Frydenberg yesterday downlayed the likelihood of a JobKeeper revival, saying “the economy is in a different position” than when JobKeeper was introduced.
“But, as I said, we continue to examine this particular issue,” he added.