Victorian businesses ‘don’t know if they will ever be able to reopen’ after the lockdown extension. Here’s what they say they need from the government to survive.

Melbourne’s lockdown has put businesses under pressure. (Chris Putnam, Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
  • Melbourne businesses have expressed disappointment at the new ‘roadmap’ out of the strict COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Many sectors have warned it is unlikely some businesses will ever open again due to the financial cost.
  • Others have called for greater government support to see them through the tough period.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Victorian government’s extension of the state’s lockdown has left some business owners wondering how they will survive.

Prolonging Melbourne’s hard lockdown for another two-weeks, most restrictions aren’t due to ease significantly until late October in a move that will keep businesses shuttered for at least a few more weeks.

According to The Chapel Street Precinct, a retail association, that could be too late for many.

“Some of our businesses haven’t made any revenue since the first lockdown. They have been on borrowed time,” general manager Chrissie Maus said.

“A majority of our businesses acquire most of their profits in the last quarter of the year. Every day counts and that will mean this timing and extension will again be make or break for many retailers.”

The Precinct is instead urging the state government to put faith in businesses to reopen safely, by targeting restrictions rather than implementing blanket ones.

“We definitely should be putting an iron-clad protective shield around our elderly and nursing homes, and doing everything we can to protect our healthcare workers, but we need to sandbag high-risk areas and get everything else open,” Maus said.

With the initial six-week lockdown projected to cost a quarter of a million jobs, the extension has unsurprisingly been met with broad criticism from the business community.

Retailers want to follow in the steps of supermarkets

Just as Woolworths and Coles have been permitted to adopt safety measures, so too other retailers asking to take on the same responsibilities.

“An evidence-based approach should account for the fact that when retailers comply with COVIDsafe plans, shopping is one of the safest activities in a COVID world,” Australian Retail Association CEO Paul Zahra said.

“In Australia, we have very little evidence of transmissions occurring during retail-based activity and our retailers have worked extremely hard and spared no expense to create that outcome.”

Zahra criticised the current roadmap for being too prescriptive in linking case numbers to stores reopening and said further financial support would be required or claimed restrictions would “permanently wipe out a large number of small businesses”.

“There is also a safety concern around compressing this activity into a very short number of weeks ahead of Christmas. It would make more sense to have started the staged reopening earlier,” he said.

To hold on or to close up for good

Having already been shuttered for weeks at a time, and having watched spending dry up, the situation is now “dire”, according to the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell.

“Under the Victorian Government’s roadmap, many small businesses will not be able to open for another eight weeks at least and that’s only on the condition that there [are] less than five cases per day as a state-wide average,” Carnell said.

“On that basis, small businesses that were thinking this lockdown would only last for another couple of weeks, now don’t know if they will ever be able to reopen.”

Left accumulating debt without a clear line of sight on when or if they’ll be able to reopen, Carnell is calling on the government to accept the state of the local economy and facilitate business closures.

“For those struggling small businesses that know they cannot remain viable under these imposed conditions, the Victorian Government needs to step up and help them make the sensible business decision to exit,” Carnell said.

“This means the Victorian Government needs to pay for all break-lease termination fees – not just on the premises but also equipment so small business owners can walk away without further penalties.”

More government help needed

It’s not the only aid being requested, with the accommodation sector calling for the government to stump up some of its fixed costs as rooms city empty across the state.

“The Victorian Government has a moral responsibility to support accommodation businesses with a $1,000 per room monthly payment to help offset fixed costs such as electricity, water, insurance while they continue to enforce a close down on our sector,” CEO Dean Long said.

It’s not the only one to have an obligation to intervene in the lockdown, according to Long.

“We also desperately need the Federal Government to extend the cashflow boost three to at least $100,000 per Victorian business.”

Tourism industry left without visitors

The lack of visitors has left plenty of industries struggling, but none more than the state’s tourist sector.

While the opening of other states’ borders is not within the Victorian governments’ remit, the survival of the industry will again rely on greater government investment, according to the Victorian Tourism Industry Council (VTIC).

“[The roadmap] nods to at least late October, early November before we see activation of our tourism sector. This will see many tourism businesses unable to maintain staff, even with JobKeeper, given the financial impost of related on-costs with no revenue in the immediate future,” VTIC CEO Felicia Mariani said.

The peak body has called for an additional $1.3 billion in funding for the state over four years to aid its recovery while warning more than 100,000 jobs are at risk.