The federal government should chip in half the funding for a package of cash support and wage subsidies for Canberra businesses affected by lockdowns in other states, ACT Senator Zed Seselja says.
Senator Seselja has written to federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, calling for Commonwealth funding for businesses in the ACT affected by lockdowns in other states.
"While Canberra is fortunate to have a large public service and government contracting sector that can withstand this economic downturn, there are still many small and medium businesses, such as in the tourism and hospitality sectors, that are being severely impacted by the cumulative effects of the current NSW lockdown and related border restrictions," Senator Seselja's letter said.
Senator Seselja noted support in other states was flowing to eligible businesses in areas outside declared hotspots, and the programs would help businesses and workers recover quickly when lockdowns end.
"I believe the ACT would benefit from a well targeted support package similar to what is available to NSW businesses, which I propose should be co-funded on a 50/50 basis with the ACT government," he wrote in the letter.
"Consistent with packages in other jurisdictions and based on the success of the previous JobKeeper package, any package for the ACT should include a wage subsidy component as well as cash grants to help with fixed costs and business cash flows."
Senator Seselja's letter, seen by The Canberra Times, came as the Legislative Assembly debated an opposition motion calling for support to businesses which have experienced revenue drops of 30 per cent or more.
Labor and the Greens combined to amend the motion, which watered down calls to introduce direct cash support instead committed the ACT government to working with stakeholders and the Commonwealth to increase support for businesses and workers across the country.
The opposition had pointed to the ACT's reportedly weak job market, where the unemployment rose from 3.6 per cent to 4.9 per cent last month, as a reason the government needed to provide support to the hospitality sector.
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But Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the monthly unemployment figures were volatile, and other data gave the government confidence the economic situation was not as dire in the ACT.
If growing unemployment numbers became a trend in the ACT, the government would work to create more jobs through spending measures in the August budget, the Chief Minister said.
Mr Barr said Canberra had recorded three of its four highest trading months in the retail and hospitality sector in 2021, with turnover sitting at $2.5 million a day in the territory's sector, higher than it was before the pandemic.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed turnover in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services in Canberra had grown a third in the past year, and was worth $79 million in June.
Meanwhile, Senator Seselja criticised the ACT government's response to the economic downturn last year, which he said was "slow out of the gate".
"There's no doubt the Sydney lockdown has had a direct impact on businesses right across the ACT. I've heard from Canberra businesses in multiple industries the impact lockdowns and restrictions across the nation have had on their bottom line," he said.
Senator Seselja said the federal government injected $2.1 billion into the ACT economy through direct business and individual pandemic support payments.
"[The ACT government has] failed yet again to step up to support Canberra businesses in response to the latest COVID developments, whilst hoping their lack of support will go unnoticed," he said.
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