Business groups are calling for urgent ACT government support to help their members stay afloat, amid growing fears that measures to slow the spread of coronavirus will result in mass closures and job losses.
The Canberra Business Chamber and Australian Hotels Association want the government to offer some form of tax relief to businesses to help reduce their overheads as they attempt to survive the inevitable economic downturn caused by the virus outbreak.
ClubsACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said "all options should be on the table" as his sector stared down an "unprecedented crisis".
Chief Minister Andrew Barr on Monday afternoon said he was considering the idea of offering businesses commercial rate relief.
It came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was preparing to roll out another round of measures to support industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After weathering Canberra's horror summer of smoke, fire and hail, local retailers, particularly those in the hospitality sector, are confronting their greatest threat yet - "social distancing".
Planned events are being cancelled en-mass after the federal government recommended against "non-essential" mass gatherings of 500-plus people from Monday. Health authorities are also advising that people keep 1.5 metres apart and don't shake hands.
"I don't think the hospitality sector has faced a challenge like this," Mr Rees said.
"My primary concern is the mass cancellation of events and function bookings, which translates to foot-traffic and revenue.
"I have large club groups reporting 20-30 per cent cancellations for events across the board and that number is increasing."
Australian Hotels Association ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said he was alarmed at how quickly the situation was deteriorating.
He wanted the ACT government to offer concessions on commercial rates and payroll tax to help businesses trade through the coming months.
There are fears within the hospitality sector that businesses could go under within weeks if support is not forthcoming.
Canberra Business Chamber interim chief executive Graham Catt was concerned that after weathering the horror summer, the coronavirus outbreak could be the final straw for some businesses.
"They [fears that businesses will close] are very real," he said. "People are holding out for things to come good and that's just not going to happen."
While the ACT has the highest payroll tax threshold in the nation, Mr Catt said the government still had room to provide more relief. He suggested the government could also place a temporary moratorium on commercial rates.
"What we're looking for is the ACT government to take swift, decisive action," he said.
Mr Barr said that any business who was dealing with immediate financial duress, or was seeking to defer any payments to the government, should contact the ACT Revenue Office.
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said the government needed to implement "real and practical" measures to support Canberra businesses.
"We know that small businesses are vital for local families and communities, not only for jobs but as a key part of the social fabric," Mr Coe said.
"We know businesses were already doing it tough and now things are going to be even harder."
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