Small businesses criticise Queensland government’s COVID-19 support grant

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Queensland small- and medium-sized businesses are being offered a one-off payment of $5,000 to support them during the pandemic.

Treasurer Cameron Dick announced the $260 million support package yesterday, saying businesses would be able to apply to receive the grant in mid-August.

But the announcement has been met with a cool reception by lockdown-affected business owners and the head of a peak business group said only one in nine businesses would get to claim the grant before the cap was reached.

To be eligible, businesses must have a turnover of more than $75,000 a year and a payroll of $10 million a year or less.

“That recognises the impact that the Delta variant has had on those businesses because it’s stopped the visitors, it stopped the tourists coming from other parts of the country who are also in lockdown,” Mr Dick said.

The 2021 Business Support Grants will be offered to businesses all across the state, not just in areas that are locked down.

In mid-August, applications can be submitted online and it will take up to two weeks for the payment to come through once a business has applied.

‘Too little, too late’

Tourism operator Steve Edmondson, who owns Sailaway in Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, said the grants were “too little, too late”.

“It’s a token gesture, but the fact is, will it make any difference?” he said.

“From a public relations point of view $260 million sounds like a lot, but the reality is it’s a $5,000 one-off payment.

“Our payroll’s $30,000 a week, so a one-off payment of $5,000 doesn’t even cover me till lunchtime.”

Mr Edmondson said he does not think the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach works and wants to see more tailored support.

“It has to be proportional, even if it’s 20 per cent of your cancellations,” he said.

“We’ve had hundreds of thousands of dollars of cancellations and the same with our refunds every day.

“So yes, it’s nice to think that businesses need support, but I’d suggest it needs to be more in touch with the reality of what the costs really are, and proportional to the businesses that are able to receive them.”

‘It’s insulting’

Caterer Jerome Dalton, who has lost 20 events and more than $50,000 this week due to the extended lockdown, agreed.

“It’s insulting — it makes me really angry,” Mr Dalton said.

“What it means is that we spend 1,000 bucks on getting our financials done, employ an accountant or bookkeeper to get through the figures, and then put them in, in the hope that weeks later, we may get a grant.”

Mr Dalton said waiving taxes for businesses would be a better way to offer financial relief while they could not operate.

“We’re still paying $10,000 a month in one of our locations for rent,” he said.

“We’re paying our power, we’re paying our water bills, we’re paying our taxes.

“We’re still paying all of that, whilst our government is not allowing us to make an income.”

He said it was “a broad band-aid across the entire structure of business between those massive amounts of turnover”.

“That’s not going to work — everyone has different outgoings, everyone has different wage bills,” Mr Dalton said.

“If we’re giving everyone the same little envelope, that’s questionable — it’s not a solution.

“There’s no-one with any sort of economic sense that would say that that’s a solution.”

‘Only one in nine businesses will get to claim’

In March, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) suggested the state government offer a package of up to $25,000.

CCIQ general manager of policy and advocacy Amanda Rohan said the $5,000 Business Support Grant missed the mark.

“It’s a one-size-fits-all approach — we know many businesses are impacted in different ways,” Ms Rohan said.

“We probably would have preferred a range of up to a certain threshold, where businesses then could access a little bit more dependent on their size and their scope.”

Ms Rohan said with the support capped at $260 million, only one in nine Queensland businesses would get to claim the grant before it ran out.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see how many businesses take this up, and how quickly,” she said.

“We know that most of the grants the state government has put out recently have been exhausted within hours, so I think the appetite is there, but what is the next step if this is exhausted?”

Like Mr Dalton, Ms Rohan echoes the calls for bill relief.

“There are other levers available to government — we know last year in lockdowns we saw payroll tax deferrals, there was some form of rent relief, there were utility bill rate concessions, there was also permits and fees that were wavered or deferred,” she said.

“We are going to be looking to uplifting those types of support areas ongoing with the government and looking at what this looks like, if this lockdown now goes beyond Sunday and or if there is another lockdown into the future.”

For individuals seeking assistance, the federal government has declared the 11 locked-down local government areas (LGAs) in south-east Queensland as hotspots, unlocking the COVID-19 disaster payments for people living in those areas.

Those who have lost 20 hours of work a week or more can receive $750, while those who’ve lost from 8 to 20 hours of work will be eligible to claim $450 a week.

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By Jessica Rendall (Original ABC Article)