The $500 million restaurant voucher program designed to stimulate the pandemic-ravaged NSW economy will have its pilot program fast-tracked to include the ailing northern beaches.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet on Wednesday confirmed the extension of the pilot, describing it as an “important boost for the region after a tough Christmas.”
“The sooner we can get on top of this outbreak and ease restrictions the better it will be for the local economy,” Mr Perrottet said.
The “Dine and Discover” program was the centrepiece of the government’s November state budget, and will see every adult in NSW granted four $25 vouchers to spend on dining and entertainment.
The trial will begin in February for venues in Sydney’s CBD, The Rocks and Broken Hill, as well as the northern beaches; still reeling from the Avalon COVID-19 outbreak that forced them into lockdown during the most important earning period of the year.
The northern half of the peninsula remains in lockdown until January 9.
It is the first confirmation of targeted relief for businesses after emergency community meetings at the weekend with Mr Perrottet, Finance and Small Business Minister Damien Tudehope and local MPs.
Any support package resulting from the roundtable discussions could become the template for other areas in future lockdowns.
“This a great opportunity to start thinking about what a package might look like if further local lockdowns are required in different areas of the state over the course of the year,” said member for Pittwater Rob Stokes.
Other measures suggested by business representatives included tax rate discounts, rental relief and immediate cash grants to assist with bills and staff wages.
Also high on their wishlist was qualifying for another round of the federal JobKeeper program. However such hopes were dashed during a phone hook-up with Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Wednesday.
Business owners pitched a plan to allow them to requalify for the jobs subsidy program based on dismal December earnings in the wake of the Avalon cluster.
“When I raised this question it was a blanket ‘no’,” said Marilyn Annecchini, co-owner of Freshwater restaurant Pilu.
Ms Annecchini was among business operators that took part in the call with Mr Frydenberg and Federal Member for Mackellar Jason Falinski on Wednesday.
She acknowledged federal and state government efforts to talk with small business owners and hear their concerns, but said it was just that.
“There has been a lot of talk and not much action… to put it bluntly,” Ms Annecchini said.
“There is a lot of sympathy, but at the end of the day, the losses are the losses. No one is coming forward with any strategy for recovering any of that.”
Mr Frydenberg said the government continued to provide JobKeeper payments, including to “7000 businesses supporting around 20,000 individuals in the northern beaches in October and November.”
Mr Falinski said JobKeeper was never an instrument that could be applied on a local level to select businesses.
“We would have to legislate change which would take three months, and it would then apply to people who didn’t even go into lockdown.”
Rather, he said the federal government could explore assistance through tax concessions for local and state government grants, and the cutting of “red tape” to help small businesses access loans.
David Singer, whose Elanora Heights restaurant Frenchies Brasserie remains locked down in the northern area, said the “three golden weeks to make money” could not be replaced.
“[The government] always said, we knew there would be more outbreaks. So why did they not have a plan in place before this?” he said.
“Most small businesses are sitting on about two weeks of cash. We are on our third week [of lockdown] now. We will have to hang on… and work with landlords, suppliers, customers. But every day is a week in small business land.”
Mr Tudehope said the NSW Small Business Commissioner will begin working directly with northern beaches businesses from next week.
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