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Retailers welcome small-business rent relief but more targeted support needed

Retailers in Victoria and NSW have been given a much-needed boost with the extension of both the Victorian Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme and more provisions made in the NSW Leasing Code of Conduct.

Retailers welcome small-business rent relief but more targeted support needed
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Under the Victorian Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme, rent negotiation rights have been extended in Victoria through to 15 March for businesses with an annual turnover of up to $10 million, a reduction from the $50 million turnover provision previously in place. Other provisions in the scheme will continue with rent relief mandated in proportion to a business’ decline in turnover.

NSW also formalised its two-month extension of the leasing code of conduct for businesses with turnover of less than $5 million. Other codes of conduct have now expired around the country, leaving small businesses vulnerable to significant cash-flow challenges in the first quarter.

Australian Retail Association chief executive Paul Zahra said given the widescale impacts of omicron, they would like to see this extended to small businesses in every state and territory with a threshold of up to $50 million as was previously in place.

“We’ve entered unchartered territory with Omicron with small businesses struggling to keep their doors open due to tens of thousands of daily staff isolations and ever-rising supply chain costs. This is taking an enormous toll on the retail workforce and small businesses who’ve had to limit their trading hours or close altogether,” Mr Zahra said.

Mr Zahra said leasing protections should be re-enacted in other jurisdictions with small businesses struggling to keep their doors open due to staff isolations and increasing supply chain costs.

“Rent is a significant pain point for small businesses, and we thank the Victorian government on its leadership during this difficult period. Victoria has consistently offered these leasing protections through the pandemic and that has saved the lives of many hundreds of small businesses. Whilst we would like to see the scheme restored to its original 50 million turnover level, this measure will certainly go a long way in helping small businesses survive,” Mr Zahra said.

“We have not seen the pandemic impact the sector on this scale and for the first-time retailers are having to navigate these impacts with almost no support from governments. It’s clear that the impacts of Omicron will be ongoing and that targeted support packages will be needed from governments to support small businesses through this unprecedented challenge.”

Mr Zahra said the national cabinet’s decision to allow foreign students to work extra hours is also a positive step along with the extension of close contact isolation exemptions to a wider range of industries.

“Allowing foreign students to work extra hours is a positive step, but we need to get more people back to work sooner where it is safe to do so. We welcome the easing of close contact isolation requirements for essential workers along the food supply chain but we’d like to see these exemptions expanded across the supply chain and the broader retail sector to help reduce stock-outs and staffing shortages,” Mr Zahra said.

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