Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced the government’s long awaited $23 billion stimulus package, in an effort to quell public panic around the spread of coronavirus while giving local business a shot in the arm.
Through the package, Morrison promised about $6.7 billion in tax-free payments over four years for businesses earning over $50 million annually, with a minimum payment of $2000.
In doing so the government aims to support about 700,000 businesses and 7.8 million workers.
National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said the initiatives would help to buffer business from the effects on spending and consumption during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Ensuring that consumers keep spending is vital and the stimulus payments to lower income Australians will hopefully achieve that,” Lamb said, referring to a one-off payment of $750 to around 6.5 million Australians.
“The NRA has already advocated for assistance for businesses hit by the Coronavirus outbreak. Retailers in communities reliant on industries such as tourism have experienced a severe knock-on effect and we’re glad that assistance is on the way.”
In particular, Lamb said the change to the instant asset write-off threshold, from $30,000 to $150,000, would be essential to stimulate short-term business investment and economic growth.
Additionally, though short of the ACTU’s recommended two-weeks paid sick leave for casual workers, the government will allow casual workers self-isolating to claim Centrelink’s sickness payment, and will waive the waiting period.
And while some hit out at the government for offering less than was recommended by the ATCU, a few businesses took the opportunity to improve on the government’s measures.
Woolworths, Telstra and Commonwealth Bank announced on Thursday they would be introducing their own measures to support casual workers and workers without leave affected by the outbreak.
The supermarket chain said workers who are required to be absent from work shouldn’t be disadvantaged and if the situation warrants they will be paid for two-weeks based on what they would have earned.
“As Australia’s largest private employer, we recognise we have a key role to play as part of the broader public health response,” Woolworths Group chief people officer Caryn Katsikogianis said.
“We’ve made it clear to our team that we’ll look after anyone impacted by the outbreak whether they’re full-time, part-time or casual.
“This is not only the right thing to do by those team members, but also an important measure to ensure everybody in our business takes appropriate action in response to public health advice.”
Attorney-General and minister for industrial relations Christian Porter said commitments such as this are exactly the kind of response Australians expect from larger businesses.
“It is the sort of flexible response from the business sector that is best for their people and their businesses,” Porter said.
“It is likely that over the coming days and weeks as the impacts and the timing of coronavirus come to be better understood we will see similar commitments from other major businesses.”
The government’s package was revealed 3 days after the PM asked Australian businesses to shoulder some of the burden in an act of “patriotism”.
“We now have one goal together this year – to protect the health, the wellbeing, and the livelihoods of Australians through his global crisis, and to ensure that when the recovery comes – and it will – we are well-positioned to bounce back strongly on the other side,” Morrison said at the AFR Business Summit.