In Parliament

Adjournment - Coronavirus and Economic Stimulus


Thursday, 19 March 2020

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton):

My Adjournment is to the Premier and the action I seek is for the Victorian Government to urgently announce a stimulus package that supports business and protects jobs.

We represent Victoria. We are their voices. Over recent days, Members from all sides of the Chamber have stood to acknowledge that the current health crisis (Coronavirus COVID-19) is causing a breakdown in our way of life.

Our borders have closed and we are grounded from travel. Our markets have slid to the point that required ASIC to intervene in an unprecedented way and ensure equity markets remain resilient.

In our local communities, we are seeing devastating social and economic impacts in our streets and upon our neighbours, in a way that has not been witnessed since wartime.

Before the sun rose today, there were hundreds of the most frail and disabled people in our community lining up in the cold, outside supermarkets – many of whom did not leave with the basics they desperately need.

One disabled constituent, Maya, wrote to me to say: “On behalf of many disable and elderly people….can you tell me who would be able to go to shopping at 7am? People who has carers who started working at 8 am.”

Maya’s words have been echoed by a major Bayside disability support organisation, that cares for hundreds of disabled people, who have warned me that their clients have run out of essential services and are unable to shop for themselves. They face social isolation and do not know how they will access the basic necessities they need today.

Another constituent, Bronwyn, wrote to me pleading for those missing out on essential services: “Please come up with a way of ensuring the humanity in this area can be utilised and we can really come together as a community.” And that we must: “Do something that is constructive and shows humanity in a time like this where real leaders are thin on the ground.”

The Government must urgently intervene to ensure necessary supplies are available. That will require addressing the supply chain to allow businesses to stock and ensuring that the workforce in those businesses are safe. It will also require acting on price gouging and stopping the vile minority taking advantage of this crisis. This Parliament must ensure that people have access to basic needs.

It is not only individuals that are suffering. Businesses, especially small businesses, are forecasting drastic measures in a way that this country has not seen in our lifetimes. Last week, many were reporting a thirty percent collapse in revenue. This week, some are predicting it being closer to fifty percent. Front facing business, especially in retail and hospitality, are already scaling back staff as their revenues slide well under the cost of overheads.

One small business has written to me predicting: “If the situation deteriorates further…this will be too late for myself and many others to avoid defaults on all range of obligations including to payments to our staff, landlords and suppliers on credit terms.”

Another business has said they: “simply cannot afford the lack of cash flow in the current crisis”. And that: “government must help such situations to ensure employees can remain in work.”

And yet another that: “This week I have lost over fifty percent of my regular business due to suspensions and exclusions.” And: “our casual and part time work force has now been forced into near redundancy.”

A similar sentiment is coming from larger businesses too. A significant company in its industry has written to me calling for: “Business needs payroll tax relief; we need an incentive to keep people on the payroll during the downturn. We need rate and utilities relief.”

These calls are being heard across the country. And every State Government has listened and intervened to support business and protect workers – every State Government except the Victorian Government.

When asked this week why this Government has not intervened, the Treasurer said he was “monitoring”. When asked a day later, he said businesses are facing their very “survival” and that he isn’t only “monitoring”, he is also “talking”. A day later the Premier said that government Departments are having “conversations”.

While the Premier and Treasurer monitor, talk, and have conversations, every other State has introduced targeted measures. Every other State has acted in acknowledgement that businesses are facing their very survival and many in our workforce are facing the loss of their job – every single State except our own.

The New South Wales Government has announced a $2.3 billion health boost and economic stimulus package. Elements include:

  • $700 million extra funding for New South Wales Health.
  • $450 million for the waiver of payroll tax.
  • $56 million to bring forward the next round of payroll tax cuts.
  • $80 million to waive a range of fees and charges for small businesses.

The Queensland Government has announced a $500 million loan facility, which is interest free for the first twelve months, to support businesses. That package also includes an extension of a six month payroll tax deferral to all affected businesses.

The South Australian Government has announced a $350 million package which comprises major infrastructure maintenance projects, new tourism infrastructure, and an Economic and Business Growth Fund.

The Western Australian Government’s $607 million stimulus package includes;

  • $402 million to freeze household fees and charges, which they have described as the entire ‘household basket’.
  • The freeze will apply to electricity, water, motor vehicle charges, emergency services levy, and public transport fares.
  • $114 million in additional measures to support small business.
  • A one-off grant of $17,500 to small businesses that pay payroll tax.
  • $1 million payroll tax threshold to be brought forward by six months.
  • And affected business can defer payroll tax payments.

And finally, the Tasmanian Government has prepared a $420 stimulus package comprised of household assistance, support for primary health and mental health sectors, assistance for small business, assistance for local government, and targeted industry assistance.

My concern is that this government has built our budget like a house of cards. And what we will see, is that an unforeseen economic shock, will cause that house of cards to collapse, because the budget lacks core structural integrity.

When the Quarterly Financial Report for the September 2019 quarter was released, it showed Labor’s budgetary position was already in the red, posting a $805 million deficit only three months into the financial year. The Treasurer described the budget at that time as: “holding up quite nicely” and that looking at the figures would be: “a trap for young players”.

In early March, before the second quarterly results were released the Treasurer told Victorians they had nothing to worry about. He said: “what I can say is that we’ve had some pretty solid figures.”

A week later, when the Quarterly Financial Report for the December 2019 quarter was released, the truth was exposed, when it revealed that Labor’s budgetary position was a staggering $1.1 billion dollar deficit.

It proves that Labor’s house of cards budget had collapsed before the devastating bushfires and before the current health crisis.

It concerns me that the financial controller of our State made statements in March, a week before the results were released, that could not have been made by a corporate entity to the market. Corporates are outlawed from knowingly and deliberately misleading the market.

And only today, we saw the government hide the budget, by scrapping the scheduled budget day.

We are seeing a crisis that is causing breakdown in a way that has not been witnessed since wartime. And we know that our budgetary position is built on a house of cards. But despite that, the Victorian Government must urgently announce a stimulus package that will support business and protect jobs.

Our community is desperately in need of intervention.