Victoria will gouge a further $3 (US$2.1) billion into its budget to help businesses survive COVID-19 as the state begins a slow emergence from lockdown.
The Labor government on Sept. 13 announced a suite of cash grants, payroll tax deferrals and fee waivers in a move Premier Daniel Andrews described as "the biggest package of business support in the history of this state."
The government insisted that the measures "come off the back of substantial dialogue with business across all sectors."
There will be payroll tax deferrals for up to 12 months for businesses with payroll of up to $10 million a year, which will come at a cost of some $1.7 billion to the state, Treasurer Tim Pallas said.
The latest raft of measures relies on the state's "very strong budget" and takes to $6 billion Victoria's COVID-19 economic support, the government said.
"That is more than any other state, any territory and might I say in terms of a percentage of our own sourced revenue compared to the Commonwealth, it also challenges, if it doesn't exceed Commonwealth contributions," Pallas said.
Andrews expected about 80,000 businesses to receive support and promised the money will be distributed as soon as possible, as he reconfirmed the state was expected to reach 11 percent unemployment by the end of 2020.
Elements of Victoria's strict lockdown measures will be eased in Melbourne on Sept. 14. Regional areas, where there are just 52 active cases, could return to near-normal in coming days.
The state on Sept. 13 reported 41 new cases and seven further deaths.
The statistics for the past 24 hours take the state's death toll to 723 and the national count to 810 since the start of the pandemic.
The 14-day case average for regional Victoria sits at 4.1 and in Melbourne is 56.9, inching closer to the sub-50 target.
Andrews said the figures were encouraging and aided the state's plan to ease lockdown restrictions, but he refused to rush the process.
"I can announce that we have extended the state of emergency and the state of disaster for a further four weeks," he said.
"That underpins all the different rules. It underpins taking those safe and steady steps."
Victoria's opposition leader, Michael O'Brien criticised Sunday's package, instead calling for businesses to reopen.
"Businesses don't want welfare, they just want the opportunity to safely reopen with a COVID plan—that's what they should be given," O'Brien said.
Australian Industry Group, boss Tim Piper said agreed that dipping further into the government's coffers is not the solution and suggested reassessing the COVID-19 roadmap to easing out of lockdown.
"The best thing the government can do is to remove the impossible targets it has set for restriction easing and work to get the border open with New South Wales," said Piper.
Most measures apply to businesses with annual payrolls of up to $10 million