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$8bn at risk as more businesses enter lockdown: Australian Retailers Association

Juliet Helmke
20 July 2021 1 minute readShare
risk as more businesses enter lockdown

As South Australia became the third state to enter lockdown on Tuesday, and Victorians saw their COVID restrictions extended, the Australian Retailers Association made clear what was at stake with more than half the population confined to their homes: $8 billion in retail trade.

Paul Zahra, Australian Retailers Association’s (ARA) CEO, called on the Australian government to reinstate a safety net program similar to, if not the same as, JobKeeper, deeming the federal government’s new funding structure inadequate for small businesses struggling to stay afloat.

“Another day, another state in a COVID lockdown. The financial pain continues to mount for small businesses who were already struggling before these latest outbreaks. The hopes for survival for many are quickly fading without adequate support measures in place,” Mr Zahra said.

“While the existing federal COVID disaster payments are certainly welcomed, they fall short of a liveable income and the arrangements that were in place under the first phase of JobKeeper. This, along with the Leasing Code of Conduct, were major factors keeping businesses alive through the initial phase of the pandemic.”

Mr Zahra said the return of robust financial support measures was “urgently” needed for businesses to weather the latest lockdowns. Roughly one in 10 Australians is employed by the retail sector.

The ARA’s statement echoed similar appeals heard around the country in recent days, as calls for the reinstatement of JobKeeper were publicly issued by federal Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen, Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp, and the retail giant Accent Group, Australia’s largest footwear seller.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg issued a firm “no” on the issue of JobKeeper’s reinstatement earlier in the month, after being approached by the treasurer of NSW with a request to reactivate the program.

In addition to stressing the importance of more stable funding for businesses grappling with restrictions, the ARA called for a standardisation of state and territory approaches to COVID lockdowns, noting that a lack of uniformity was adding to the stress placed on business owners.

“There is still no national definition on what is included in ‘essential’ retail,” Mr Zahra said. “It differs from state to state and is an absolute nightmare for businesses with a national footprint whose stores are affected in different ways depending on what city they’re in.”

In NSW, tightening restrictions at the end of the third week of Greater Sydney’s lockdown meant that non-essential businesses were required to close by Sunday, 18 July. Victoria closed non-essential services and businesses in the Greater Melbourne, Moorabool Shire, City of Greater Geelong, Borough of Queenscliff and Surf Coast Shire regions when its latest lockdown began on 16 July. South Australia’s lockdown also required non-essential retail to close.

$8bn at risk as more businesses enter lockdown: Australian Retailers Association
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Juliet Helmke

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