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'COVID-19 support should extend to all small businesses'

The small business ombudsman has urged the government to extend its coronavirus stimulus package to all small businesses, including sole traders.

'COVID-19 support should extend to all small businesses'
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • March 19, 2020
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The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, requesting support for Australia’s small business sector, including the nation’s 1.4 million sole traders.

“The COVID-19 driven downturn is already taking an unprecedented toll on the Australian small business community,” Ms Carnell said.

“Sole traders, which account for more than 60 per cent of Australian businesses are currently ineligible for cash flow assistance of up to $25,000 because it is only available to businesses that directly employ staff.

“Our view is that government support should be extended to small businesses, including sole traders who are facing dire circumstances amid this COVID-19 health crisis.”

The Ombudsman has suggested a suite of measures that could be implemented by the federal government to help sole traders, independent contractors and small businesses – particularly those operating in tourism, events, training, catering and hospitality industries – in the short term.

“Sole traders and independent contractors need income support right now without the administrative burden of asset testing,” Ms Carnell said.

She opined that New Zealand’s recently announced wage subsidy scheme providing eligible businesses, including sole traders and self-employed people with $585 per week (employers can receive a maximum of $150,000), for each full-time employee for a period of 12 weeks, is a model the government should consider.

“Sole traders should be eligible for immediate rebates of PAYG quarterly instalment payments paid during the 2019-20 financial year and PAYG payments on income drawn from the business,” said Ms Carnell.

“Cash flow is absolutely vital for all small businesses, including sole traders, who should be given one-off access to their superannuation at this critical time.”

Also among her recommendations is the extension of low interest loans to those small businesses and sole traders impacted by a loss of trade due to COVID-19, similar to what has been offered to bushfire affected small businesses.

“Finally, a national small business recovery program, including fast-tracked regional infrastructure projects and mandated small business supplier quotas in all government procurement is required for the nation to get back to business,” Ms Carnell said.

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