A recent pledge by the Western Australia (WA) Government to provide lockdown assistance payouts to small businesses has left industry stunned after those signing up to the scheme discovered it would not, in fact, be granted to low-earning small businesses.
The state’s snap 4-day lockdown following the discovery of three cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus last month drained $245 million out of the state, with almost one in ten small businesses in the region forced to close their doors for good.
The state’s peak industry association, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA (CCIWA), expressed a bittersweet welcoming to the $3,000 “Small Business Lockdown Assistance Grants,” which it helped lobby for.
CCIWA said they were disappointed that WA’s smallest and most vulnerable businesses—those earning less than $75,000 (US$55,000) per year—would not actually benefit from the program.
The industry body was also concerned that the only businesses eligible were those specifically nominated by the state government, and did not include a range of sectors ranging from start-ups and sole traders to massage clinics and health professionals.
Furthermore, CCIWA said that the WA Government did not outline these conditions when the scheme was initially announced.
“These criteria were not made clear to the business community before the applications opened,” CCIWA said. “There is no evident need for excluding these types of businesses.”
According to WAtoday, the state had already experienced an estimated $500 million loss in its hospitality industry alone following a five-day lockdown in January after discovering one locally acquired case of the COVID-19.
Minister of Small Business Reece Whitby told reporters that the $75,000 threshold was necessary to avoid excessive use of taxpayer funds. The program itself has already siphoned $41.5 million (US$30.4 million) out of the state’s budget.
“It’s regrettable,” Whitby said (audio). “I’d like to be able to support every small business, but we’re dealing with taxpayers money. There’s not a bottomless pit of money.”
Whitby said that the best the government could do for small businesses was to ensure quicker and shorter lockdowns, comparing WA’s snap closures to the current devastating lockdown in New South Wales (NSW).
NSW’s lockdown is close to reaching the one-month mark after it held off on initiating business-closing shutdowns, resulting in hundreds of cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant and leading to a total of five deaths.
“In New South Wales, we’re seeing week, after week, after week of closures for business. That is a disaster,” Whitby said.
“The very best thing we can do for small business is to ensure we have a short, sharp lockdown that is there for a minimum amount of time, and we can get the doors of businesses open as soon as possible.”