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Queensland businesses urged: Don't lay off your staff

Politics

Queensland’s struggling tourism and export agriculture sectors are set to benefit from the $17.9 billion Federal Government stimulus package, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison implores companies not to sack staff despite the financial downturn.

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With the coronavirus outbreak now a global pandemic, Morrison wants small and medium-sized businesses to weather the ensuing financial storm, and today offered them cash flow injections of up to $25,000, more tax and fee relief.

The Government will also pay half of the wages for certain apprentices and trainees – including about 23,000 in Queensland – for nine months.

Morrison said increasing the threshold for asset tax write-offs would help employers buy equipment, including those primary producers in Queensland who have received rain after a lengthy drought and might now be able to capitalise.

One-off bonuses of $750 will be paid to 6.5 million Australians receiving government payments – including, in Queensland, about 500,000 aged pensioners, 155,000 Disability Support Pensioners, and 155,000 people on Newstart.

There will also be a dedicated $1 billion fund to support the worst-hit regions and communities, partly through the waiver of fees and charges that apply to tourism businesses that operate in Commonwealth National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The details are yet to be finalised.

“We’re obviously concerned about the impact on places like north Queensland, for example,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra today.

Despite major events being cancelled overseas, or sports taking place without spectators, Morrison said it was too early to suggest that happen routinely in Australia and it was still unclear how long the pandemic would last.

That suggests Queensland’s hospitality and tourism sector is yet to feel the full impact of the downturn. Morrison made clear the federal Budget would present another opportunity to consider government support.

Morrison will discuss the new fund at a dinner with Premiers and Chief Ministers tonight, ahead of the Council Of Australian Governments meeting tomorrow.

The Palaszczuk government has stumped up $27 million in fee waivers and changes, tourism campaigns, targeted business support and a payroll tax holiday for qualifying businesses, which Morrison appeared to criticise. Applications also opened today for $500,000 grants for Queensland agribusiness exporters directly affected by the downturn.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had also called on Morrison to trigger disaster relief payment mechanisms.

Today, Morrison repeatedly avoided to be drawn on whether the package would be enough to keep Australia out of a recession, or whether it might generate more stimulus to do so, saying only that the response was measured and appropriate.

“Whatever we face as a country, we will always bounce back stronger,” Morrison said, ahead of a televised address to the nation tonight.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the initial $11 billion injection could add 1.5 per cent to economic growth, but would not say how much growth would be down due to pandemic-associated downturn.

Today’s package is separate to the Government’s $2.4 billion health response, where it shared additional public hospital funding with the states 50/50, which is more than it would normally contribute, but also expects the states to pay more through a 50/50 arrangement for medical expenses for aged care.

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