Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (16:26): I rise to speak on Mr Davis’s motion for small business support, motion 507. The coronavirus pandemic has been the most challenging health crisis in a generation and the most challenging economic crisis since the global financial crisis. We recognise that time is of the essence for those businesses most affected by COVID-19. We are aware of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small retail and other businesses in strip shopping centres in metropolitan Melbourne and, in particular, in central Melbourne. The Andrews Labor government has provided more than $6 billion in direct financial assistance to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the dedicated Melbourne City Recovery Fund in partnership with the City of Melbourne.
We know the CBD has been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Right now people are not coming back to the city to work, to study or to enjoy one of its many attractions. We also realise that until we get a vaccine and are vaccinated we need to find a COVID normal, and that means doing things differently. That is why in partnership with the City of Melbourne we have established the $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund to help the city shift outdoors, whether it be our cafes and restaurants or arts and cultural events. That means we need to have the infrastructure to make that happen, and we need to support businesses to make the transition too.
This government has consulted widely with business, including small business, throughout the pandemic. More than 270 round tables have been held with various industry sectors since 3 August 2020. Our message to Victorians and Victorian businesses is that we are with you in this struggle. We know it is hard, but the Andrews government is backing you to get through this. The Victorian government has pumped billions of dollars into the economy to help Victorian businesses and workers survive the impacts of coronavirus.
Through three rounds of the Business Support Fund more than 134 000 individual businesses have received at least one government payment. This is $2.6 billion in cash grants paid to businesses since the start of the pandemic from the Business Support Fund alone, and we would not be in a position to commence economic recovery and return to core government functions if it were not for the industry support work and programs we have provided throughout this pandemic.
Prior to the Victorian budget 2020–21 we provided more than $4 billion of tax and fee relief and deferrals to Victorian businesses, households and property owners. We refunded and waived 2019–20 payroll tax for businesses with payrolls less than $3 million, providing cash back in the bank accounts of more than 20 000 businesses when they needed it most, and we deferred payroll tax for 2020–21 for businesses with payrolls up to $10 million, providing a $1.7 billion cash-flow boost.
The government also understands that with borders closed and travel restricted many properties may have been vacant this year that would never have been without coronavirus. That is why we will waive vacant residential land tax for absences in 2020, saving taxpayers a combined $6 million.
We are also supporting Victorians struggling with the cost of living during this coronavirus pandemic. On 5 May 2020 the Victorian government announced $491 million in tax and fee relief to release the financial burden on Victorian businesses, workers and families. This included freezing a host of fees, charges and levies at the current levels, including car registrations, traffic infringements, court-imposed penalties and permit fees.
The Andrews government jobs plan, announced as part of the 2020–21 budget, is dedicated to getting more Victorians back to work while at the same time building an economy that is fairer and more inclusive for everyone. The jobs plan supports workers through various initiatives. There is a whole list of initiatives that are part of the jobs plan, and it includes $1 billion of investment in TAFE and training to give Victorians the skills to get back to work, including providing up to 80 000 new training places over four years.
The Victorian government’s Working for Victoria Fund has created more than 12 000 jobs for people who have lost their jobs, while delivering a valuable community service. The fund is delivering support across the state, including youth employment programs and jobs for young Victorians across seven government departments and agencies, helping to support Victorians aged between 17 and 29 in kickstarting their career.
The Andrews government announced the commercial tenancy relief scheme in April 2020 to support small and medium businesses dealing with financial hardship from COVID-19. The Victorian government understands the unprecedented pressures that many small businesses have faced as a result of the impact of COVID-19. The Victorian government has extended the commercial tenancy relief scheme and made some changes to help our small businesses through this difficult time.
The small business digital adaptation program is a key part of the Victorian government’s commitment to help businesses build their digital capability. Our $15.7 million export recovery package will help businesses address the significant impacts of the pandemic on their exports. As part of this package, businesses will be connected to international markets through virtual trade missions and receive assistance to adapt their export strategies to the rapidly changing global market.
The pandemic has meant our hospitality industry has had to close its doors, depriving us of the way of life that we love so much about this state, but Victorians have embraced a new way of gathering together with outdoor eating and entertainment. Pubs, restaurants and cafes across Victoria were backed to reinvent the way they do business as part of an $87.5 million outdoor eating and entertainment package to support businesses to bring about changes to make widespread outdoor dining safe and practical.
On Sunday, 21 February 2021, the Minister for Industry Support and Recovery and the Minister for Small Business announced an additional $143 million circuit-breaker action business support package, which is expected to help more than 50 000 Victorian businesses, including restaurants, florists, hairdressers, accommodation providers, musicians and performers. The business costs assistance program was open for applications on Tuesday, 23 February, and offers grants of $2000 for eligible businesses who incurred costs, such as the loss of perishable goods, cancelled gigs and forgone trading.
The $3000 Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund circuit-breaker payments will give previous recipients of this grant an automatic one-off $3000 per premises payment. The Victorian accommodation support program is also open for applications. This program provides two tiers of support to accommodation providers who were impacted by cancellations during the circuit-breaker action.
The $3 million Neighbourhood Activity Centre Renewal Fund was developed in 2020 as part of the COVID-19 response supporting the economic and social activation of local shopping strips across Melbourne. The program is being delivered on the ground now, in partnership with local government.
I would like to conclude and say that throughout this period we have been leading extensive industry consultation to provide businesses with certainty, transparency of process and practical support as we adapt to our new normal.