Liberal MP Warren Entsch says many businesses will need government aid after JobKeeper
Federal Government backbencher Warren Entsch says many businesses will need financial assistance beyond March when JobKeeper ends, and he is confident more support measures will be announced.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg recently rejected calls to again extend the wage subsidy scheme, which has so far cost more than $77 billion and supported 3.6 million Australians, arguing it was always designed to be temporary.
He also pointed to millions of dollars in specific support measures for the travel sector, including a regional tourism fund and cash payments for travel agents.
Mr Entsch, the Member for Leichhardt in far north Queensland, said while it made sense not to make JobKeeper indefinite, many local businesses would need help “well in excess of March”.
“There are certainly a significant number of our tourism businesses, particularly in Cairns and Port Douglas and I suspect in Airlie Beach as well, that are going to require ongoing support, there’s no question about that,” he said.
“But we’ve got to be very targeted because we’ve got to make sure we don’t continue the situation where we have a whole lot of businesses here that are not opening.
“Not because they don’t have people to provide their service to, they’re not opening because they can’t get staff to work.”
He said he was “absolutely confident” the Government would announce more targeted assistance closer to March.
“There are a lot of businesses in North Queensland that are doing exceptionally well, so we can’t have it just all North Queensland,” he said.
“We can’t have it for just all tourism.
“We’ve got to look specifically at businesses and how they’re travelling.”
JobKeeper ‘absolutely paramount’
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Cairns has about 100 staff on JobKeeper.
General manager Richard Berman-Hardman said the industry would only stay afloat with “ongoing government support” at least until the middle of year and ideally until international visitors returned.
“The tourism industry is not a charity case,” he said.
“We’re just asking the Feds, any government in fact, just to make an investment in tourism, an investment they’ll reap the reward of in due course.”
He warned the industry may not be viable in six to 12 months should JobKeeper end.
“We’re putting our hands into what’s called working capital and burning our own cash to subsidise people’s wages, but without a reasonable income from people visiting we can only do that for so long,” he said.
“People aren’t going to hang around in the tourism industry to be paid a couple of hundred bucks’ wage.
“They’re going to start looking to other towns and it could not just impact on tourism businesses, it could actually impact on our town.”
CaPTA Group runs several tours and attractions in the Cairns area and has managed to retain about 160 of 185 eligible staff through the pandemic thanks to JobKeeper.
Sales and marketing director Ben Woodward said the payment had been “absolutely paramount”.
“I think it’s a reality that our region has been the most affected and most hit by the impact of international closures,” he said.
“We still face major challenges in our isolation and dependence on aviation. It makes it difficult to really be surviving on just that domestic market.”