The global impact of COVID-19 has already had an unprecedented effect on businesses and communities in Australia, and right around the world.

The sheer number of individuals directly impacted by the virus continues to grow every hour. For up to the minute reliable global data on the spread of the virus, visit the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre.


Private capital firms are already planning for a potential market correction and the opportunities it might afford

EY: As consensus grows regarding the lateness of the current macro cycle, PE firms are already planning for a potential market correction and the opportunities it might afford. With valuations for PE deals exceeding the peak of the Great Financial Crisis for the last several years, the investment decision itself has become more comprehensive in its risk considerations, read more.

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6 Key Actions for PE Fund Managers

MinterEllison: has outlined six steps for fund managers to take into account during the COVID-19 pandemic. From considering equity funding, recapitalisation and capital calls, to utilising credit lines and draw down facilities. The steps also outlines a number of tax relief measures, the consideration of rent relief, understanding safe harbour and a review of staffing arrangements and employer obligations, read more.

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Open access to select supply chain technology 

SAP: is currently offering a suite of products to assist businesses facing the unprecedented challenges right now as the impact on the global economy continues. Among the products available are Remote Work Pulse, facilitating organisations supporting their employees with new work environments; SAP Ariba Discovery, helping buyers and suppliers connect quickly and SAP Litmos, inclusive of video based courses designed to help establish best practices for remote work, read more.

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Guidance for employers on privacy obligations

Gilbert and Tobin: has released an overview of the statement by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) outlining privacy guidelines that assist government agencies and private sector employers, on how to keep workplaces safe and handle personal information appropriately as part of the COVID-19 response, read more.

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Banks to Help Commercial Landlords Who Help Tenants through COVID-19

Australia's banks will extend the six month deferral of loans to 30,000 more businesses across the country. This support now extends to 98% of all businesses with a loan from an Australian bank. Businesses with total business loan facilities of up to $10 million (up from the $3 million small business threshold) will now be able to defer repayments for loans attached to their business for six months, read more.

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ACCC chair outlines how competition will rebuild the economy

In a special webcast edition of the Australian Financial Review’s Banking and Wealth Summit Crisis Briefing, Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Mr Rod Sims, outlined how competition will help kick-start Australia’s economy post the COVID-19 crisis.
 
When asked if competition will survive the current crisis, the ACCC chair responded: “It must, and it will.
 
“It must because an open, market economy is essential to the prosperity of all Australians, and such an economy depends for its success on robust competition,” read more.

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Australian businesses report widespread impacts from COVID-19 in March

Australian Bureau of Statistics: In the first of a series of upcoming surveys, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that approximately half of the Australian businesses surveyed (49%) had experienced an adverse impact as a result of COVID-19 during the mid-March data collection period and 86% of businesses expected to be impacted in future months. The collection period pre-dated the Australian Government’s announcement of Phase 1 Social Distancing Measures.
 
Adverse impacts were most prevalent in Accommodation & food services with over three quarters of businesses (78%) already reporting impacts and (96%) of businesses reporting that they expected impacts in coming months. Businesses in professional, scientific & technical services (21%), electricity, gas and water supply (34%) and businesses in mining (37%) were the least likely to have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 in the collection period, read more.

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What does COVID-19 mean for the PE & VC Industry?

Over the past few weeks, the COVID-19 global pandemic has put immense stress on every government and business around the world. Public markets have been subjected to extreme volatility as a result of a significant downturn in the economic outlook for most developed markets, including here in Australia.

According to Pitchbook, it is projected that many PE firms globally will have to step-in and prop-up their portfolio companies through the injection of more liquidity, and by reducing exposure to debt where possible. It’s also projected that some firms will be in a position to underwrite deals with lower returns, which may lead to a slow-down in the pipeline of investment opportunities in the short-term.

Expectations have also risen that investors may increase holding periods and retain struggling assets over the medium term through a re-building phase. In all likelihood, exit markets are expected to be quite passive particularly across M&A and IPO channels.

Pitchbook expects that VC firms will be primed to capitalise on current market opportunities with the prediction that VC fundraising will remain strong in the period ahead. A number of LPs have under allocated to VC, which may help in building resilience for this segment of the private capital market. The main issue affecting the completion of fundraising and deals in the current environment is the constraint around in-person meetings, which is crucial to confirming a fund commitment, according to Pitchbook.

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Tips for working remotely

With the number of Australian businesses now enforcing mandatory work-from-home directives for their staff, many are adapting to the reality of remote working for an extended, and unknown, period of time. Listed below are some useful tips to help ensure that your business and your staff are working effectively and productively from home for an extended period.

  • Communication – the biggest and most important action is communication. It’s best to over communicate than under communicate. For managers this can include always checking in with your team to see how they’re going, it doesn’t have to be work related discussion, even ask your team what new developments they have heard on the news or what they are planning for dinner. The single most important thing is to maintain a human connection.
  • Goals – throughout the day, ensure you have a clear set of goals and action items, this gives them direction, purpose and maintains a level of trust between the team.
  • Status updates – ensure you set boundaries when you are working, set your notifications off during the hours you are not, and use platforms to show your status updates to show if you are busy, available or offline.
  • Compassion – don’t forget these are unprecedented times for everyone, we are all learning how to adapt in ever changing situations. Maintaining a level head and where possible, use technology to communicate and collaborate, so you can maintain some form of routine and keep fulfilling our day jobs.
  • Manage expectations – it’s wise to discuss with your manager what your priorities are and how tasks will be carried out if they require external logistics.
  • Know thy self – it can be hard to draw a distinction between home and office when you’re at home, but to any extent possible, create a space at home that looks and feels like your office to you.
  • Breaks – ensure you do take a break from where you are working, set a timer for your lunch break and turn off your work notifications. Productivity is increased by having breaks, or even go for a short walk. Try to maintain normal work hours, and shut down things when you normally would leave the office.

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Adversity builds innovation

Some companies are already discovering unique ways to adapt their products and services as they adjust to the new world under COVID-19. In the coming weeks we will be publishing a series of blogs that look at how companies are finding innovation in the midst of adversity, read more.

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Free access given to small businesses

Atlassian: Responding to the sizeable increase of Australians now working from home and the surge of remote working tools, Atlassian has announced teams of up to 10 people will now be able to access Jira and Confluence free, in a bid to help ease the pressure on the small business community.

In addition Atlassian have also compiled a remote work hub which collates tools like Slack and GSuite to help businesses work remotely, encouraging the new norm to be more efficient by using the right products and practices.

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Tech sector launches business continuity portal

The Australian Industry Information Association (AIIA): has launched an online resource giving free access to business services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The landing page provides information for Australians on services available to meet their specific remote working needs.

The teleworking technologies offered are significant tools for business and government that enable tele and video conferencing, virtual meetings and events.  Free offers available on the site include: Telstra, Google, ServiceNow, Cisco, Facebook, Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce and SAP, read more.

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Bain Risk Assessment of COVID-19 and Actions to Mitigate

Bain & Company: have developed a questionnaire, which includes general business questions (e.g. size, industry, geographic focus) and 12 questions specifically on the COVID-19 risks businesses are facing. After completing the assessment Bain provides a list of mitigating actions generated based on data input, read more.

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Cyber security for startups and small businesses with remote working

AustCyber: When staff are working remotely, it’s critical organisations are protected from a cyber attack. Having the means to manage cyber risks, and ensuring suppliers and partners are not exposed is vital. AustCyber has outlined security controls such as multi-factor authentication, automatic updates, backing up, how to stay smart online and a cyber fitness fitness online program, read more.

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Measuring Fair Value in Times of Significant Uncertainty

Duff and Phelps: Alternative asset managers (GPs) and their investors (LPs) have financial reporting requirements, internal management needs (asset allocation, incentive compensation, portfolio construction, etc.) and a fiduciary duty to measure and report investments at “fair value.” Fair value is defined as the “price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.”(FASB ASC Topic 820/IFRS 13)

The first quarter public market sell-off and the expanding uncertainty and unknown impact of the coronavirus create a situation where it is more difficult to apply judgment in determining fair value. Yet, fair value must be determined and determined consistently and objectively even in a highly subjective and changing environment, read more.

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IPEV Board, Special Valuation Guidance

The International Private Equity & Venture Capital Board have released Valuation Guidelines providing the framework for delivering LPs the fair value information they need. Given the magnitude of the current crisis accompanied by significant uncertainty, the board highlights what is needed for all managers and investors applying the IPEV Valuation Guidelines (“the Guidelines”) at 31 March 2020, read more.

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Tax and business relief in response to COVID-19

Deloitte: The Australian Government has released various economic stimulus packages and other support measures, this has lead Deloitte to develop Tax Insights, a document designed to provide businesses with a consolidated view of all the relevant government tax and business reliefs introduced to help Australian taxpayers. It also includes the ATO’s administrative positions in respect of certain tax issues that have emerged to date, read more.

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How to help clients in financial distress

The Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association (ARITA): has released a special guide for accountants in public practice that provides a framework which can be used to assist businesses going through financial hardship.

The guide explores the options available for businesses depending on their solvency status and where to go for specific solvency and turnaround advice. Importantly, the guide also provides advice on how to navigate the ‘safe harbour’ laws designed to protect company directors.

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How PE firms can tackle the uncharted territory

McKinsey: A crisis is not necessarily foreign to experienced investors, however the outbreak of COVD-19 is without question an ‘out of the ordinary’ situation. The following section includes some helpful tips compiled by McKinsey for businesses about how they can move through these ever-changing times.

  • Take care of employees – firms need to take the health of their employees as priority. Many firms are looking into expanding remote technology with increased sophistication to VPN and longer help desk technology availability. Firms are also looking into providing training for employees to ensure they’re comfortable with the new offsite operating work model.
  • Maintain the continuation of critical processes – PE firms should continue to review their investment pipeline, organise committee discussions and ensure essential processes continue with the use of video conferencing.
  • Prioritise the portfolio – Firms are encouraged to focus on the portfolios that need the most urgent support. Some portfolio companies in healthcare and retail are part of the frontline response, providing critical products and services, thus ensuring their supply chains are operating at peak performance is imperative. Firms with international supply chains are increasingly looking at domestic or regional suppliers for critical parts to continue smooth operations.
  • Assess investment strategy – The current market conditions have unquestionably created potential investments for firms with dry powder, however it is difficult to determine which of these will be actionable, also as debt finance for buyouts could be challenging.
  • Support your limited partners and stakeholders – Insights are craved by limited partners during uncertain times so it’s important for general partners to maintain a high level of communication, give updates on relevant topics and ensure the credibility and value of risk management processes are in place.

Although it may appear to be too far over the horizon at the moment, once the peak of the crisis has passed and steps have been taken to stabilise businesses, portfolio companies can prepare themselves for growth once more. In previous downturns, many portfolio companies that prepared for the upturn had success by investing at greater rates than their competitors once the low point had passed.

Portfolio companies should also look to prepare for M&A. McKinsey research shows that public companies that outperformed coming out of the last recession divested underperforming businesses faster than others did and made acquisitions earlier to facilitate future growth.

The extent of economic damage from COVID-19 is uncertain at this point. It’s prudent for firms to move quickly and decisively on new strategies to help alleviate the affects and prepare for recovery in the months ahead, read more

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Government Announcements - relevant to the private capital industry and portfolio companies


Information for employers on accessing the JobKeeper payment    
30 March

The government has released guidance for employers on how to access the JobKeeper payment announced as part of its $130 billion package that will give six million Australians access to a fortnightly wage subsidy of $1,500 over the next six months.

To receive the JobKeeper Payment, employers must:

  • Register an intention to apply on the ATO website and assess that they have or will experience the required turnover decline of 30%.
  • Provide information to the ATO on eligible employees. This includes information on the number of eligible employees engaged at 1 March 2020 and who are currently employed by the business (including those stood down or rehired)....continued


Treasurer announces changes to the Foreign Investment Framework 
 
 
29 March

The Federal Treasurer has announced temporary changes to the foreign investment framework which will require all proposed foreign investments into Australia that fall under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (the Act) will require approval, regardless of their value or the nature of the foreign investor. 

The new threshold amount of $0 will apply to all foreign investment into Australia made on or after 10:30 pm (AEDT) Sunday, 29 March 2020, read more.

The Australian Investment Council is working through the details of the new framework and is seeking further clarity from the Government on the practical implementation of the new proposals. We will keep you updated as further details emerge.

  

Government announces new restrictions on exported goods 
29 March
 
The government has announced new restrictions on the exportation of equipment such as disposable face masks, gowns and gloves that, when worn, can limit the transmission of organisms to humans.  Hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes are also on the new list of prohibited exports.
 
Some exemptions apply such as where the items are carried in person and are for personal use, read more.  
 

Prime Minister Announces Further Measures on Corona Virus   
25 March

Prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced further measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in an announcement on 24 March.

“We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives, allow Australia to keep functioning and keep Australians in jobs,” the Prime Minister said in his statement, read more.

 

ATO launches consumer resources page for COVID-19    
25 March 

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has launched a Coronavirus page on its website which provides detailed information on how Australians can access the tax or superannuation measures announced by the Government as part of its economic response to COVID-19.
 
The measures include:
providing early access to superannuation
helping employers through cash flow assistance
increasing the instant asset write-off to make more businesses eligible
backing business investment by accelerating depreciation deductions.
 
Further details are available on the ATO’s website. Those requiring immediate assistance can contact the ATO’s Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218.

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Fiscal and Monetary Announcements

To date, fiscal and monetary initiatives of over $200 billion have been announced. These have largely focused on supporting SMEs. The main business focused initiatives at the Federal level are:

Further details on these initiatives, and state and territory announcements, are provided below.

In addition to these, the government has announced a temporary increase to the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company, from $2,000 to $20,000, and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive. This includes temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent. (Government Factsheet)

On 20 March, the Federal Government announced the delay of the Federal Budget from 12 May to 6 October. This delay is due to it being “extremely difficult to formulate reliable economic and fiscal estimates over the next few months” (Federal Treasurer, 20 March). Some states and territories have also delayed their budgets. Without the need to develop and cost budgets, governments (and government agencies) should have greater capacity to develop and implement policy responses.

Parliament will not sit again until 11 August 2020. However, the Coalition and Labor have worked together to make available an extra $40 billion which can be spent without parliamentary approval; the typical 'allowance' is $1 billion.

Federal Initiatives

The Federal Government has announced a $189 billion package. Parts of this package will not officially come into effect until new laws are passed.  

Increasing the instant write-off threshold to $150,000

The government is increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanding access to include businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million).

Timing : This proposal applies from 12 March 2020 until 30 June 2020, for new or second-hand assets first used, or installed ready for use in this timeframe.

Applying a 50% deduction upon installation for other assets

The government is introducing a time limited 15-month investment incentive whereby a deduction of 50% of the cost of an eligible asset on installation will apply, with existing depreciation rules applying to the balance of the asset’s cost. This initiative has been termed ’Backing Businesses Investment’ or BBI.

Eligibility : Businesses with aggregated turnover below $500 million.

Timing : Assets acquired after announcement and first used or installed by 30 June 2021.

$100,000 payment for SMEs and not-for-profits

The Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure will provide up to $100,000 (tax free) back to business.

Eligibility : SMEs with aggregated annual turnover under $50 million and that employ workers will be eligible. Eligibility will generally be based on prior year turnover.

Eligible businesses that withhold tax to the ATO on their employees’ salary and wages will receive a payment equal to 100% of the amount withheld, up to a maximum payment of $100,000.

Eligible businesses that pay salary and wages will receive a minimum payment of $20,000, even if they are not required to withhold tax.

Timing : The payment will be available from 28 April 2020. The ATO will deliver the payment as a credit to the business upon lodgement of their activity statements. Where this places the business in a refund position, the ATO will deliver the refund within 14 days.

Quarterly lodgers will be eligible to receive the payment for the quarters ending March 2020 and June 2020.

SME Guarantee Scheme

The Government will establish the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme which will guarantee 50 per cent of new loans issued by eligible lenders to SMEs.

The Government will provide eligible lenders with a guarantee for loans with the following terms:

  • Maximum total size of loans of $250,000 per borrower.
  • The loans will be up to three years, with an initial six month repayment holiday.
  • The loans will be in the form of unsecured finance, meaning that borrowers will not have to provide an asset as security for the loan.

The Government will guarantee up to $20 billion to support $40 billion in SME loans.

Eligibility : SMEs with a turnover of up to $50 million will be eligible to receive these loans.

Timing : Details on timing has not been provided at this stage.

$15 billion support for non-ADI and small ADI lenders

The Government is providing the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) with $15 billion to invest in structured finance markets used by smaller lenders, including non‑Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions (Non-ADI) and smaller Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions (ADI). This support will be provided by making direct investments in primary market securitisations by these lenders and in warehouse facilities.

AOFM’s investment will not be limited to residential mortgage backed securities. AOFM will also be purchasing assets that support small business (unsecured and secured loans) and consumer lending (including credit cards, automobiles and personal loans).

Wage subsidy of up to $21,000 per apprentice and trainee

Employers of an apprentice or trainee may be eligible for a wage subsidy of 50% of their wage paid from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020, up to $21,000. Employers will be reimbursed up to a maximum of $21,000, per eligible apprentice or trainee ($7,000 per quarter).

Eligibility : The subsidy will be available to small businesses employing fewer than 20 full‑time employees who retain an apprentice or trainee.

Employers of any size and Group Training Organisations that re‑engage an eligible out‑of‑trade apprentice or trainee will be eligible for the subsidy. The apprentice or trainee must have been in training with a small business as at 1 March 2020.

Timing : Employers can register for the subsidy from early April 2020. Final claims for payment must be lodged by 31 December 2020.

$1 billion for affected regions and communities

The Government has set aside an initial $1 billion allocation to support those regions and communities that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the Coronavirus, including those heavily reliant on industries such as:

  • tourism
  • agriculture
  • education

The $1 billion will be provided through existing or newly established Government programs.

Eligibility : The Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment will work with affected industries and communities to develop recovery plans and measures.

Timing : The $1 billion will be available for distribution through existing or new mechanisms as soon as practicable.

Additional information is available via the relevant government department and agencies with consolidated information available via the following links:

Monetary policy

Reduced interest rates and increasing system liquidity

The RBA twice reduced the official interest rate this month. First on 3 March to 0.50% , then again at an ‘emergency meeting’ on 19 March to 0.25%. These both represent historical lows for Australia.

On 19 March, the RBA also announced initiatives to support system liquidity and pricing. These were the purchase of government securities (Australian, state and territory) and the implementation of a Term Funding Facility. The facility ”will provide funding to ADIs at an interest rate of 25 basis points, fixed for the term of the funding” (RBA, 19 March). This has been implemented with the aim of:

1) “…reducing the funding costs of ADIs and in turn helping to reduce interest rates for borrowers”; and

2) Encouraging ADIs to lend “to all businesses, although the incentives are stronger for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).”

This has been supported by an announcement by APRA on 19 March ‘adjusting’ its expectations of ADIs capital – essentially allowing ADIs to reduce their “substantial capital buffers” through increasing(/maintaining) their lending.

These initiatives should allow ADIs to maintain their lending to Australian businesses and households, and at a reduced interest rates. Some banks have already implemented interest rate cuts (larger than 0.25%) with a focus on reducing business lending rates.

State initiatives

All state and territory governments have announced stimulus packages supplementary to the Federal package.

Queensland

The Queensland government initiatives total $4 billion. Only some details of the planned spending have been released. Detail to date indicate:

  • $500 million for interest free loans of up to $250,000 per business
  • Two-month refund on payroll tax for small, medium and large businesses
  • Three-month payroll tax break
  • Six-month payroll tax deferral
  • Liquor licensing fees waived for venues forced to close
  • $500 rebate on power for sole traders and small to medium businesses.

New South Wales

The NSW government has announced a $3.3 billion package, including:

  • A $1 billion 'Working for NSW' fund, which includes $250 million to employ more cleaners in schools
  • $750 million for capital works and maintenance of public assets
  • $700 million for health services
  • $450 million waiver/deferral of payroll tax
  • All businesses will receive a three month payroll tax deferral
  • Businesses with payrolls of $10 million or less will also received a 3 month waiver
  • $80 million waiver of fee and charges for cafes and restaurants
  • Deferral of rents for six months for commercial tenants with less than 20 employees in all Government-owned properties

Victoria

The last state government to announce its package, the Victorian government has focused initiatives on injecting funds into the Victorian economy largely via SMEs. Initiatives include:

  • $750 million to pay all outstanding supplier invoices within five business days
  • $550 million for full payroll tax refunds for the 2019-20 financial year to SMEs with payroll of less than $3 million
  • $500 million to establish a Business Support Fund which will support the “hardest hit sectors, including hospitality, tourism, accommodation, arts and entertainment, and retail”.
  • $500 million Working for Victoria Fund will “help workers who have lost their jobs find new opportunities, including work cleaning public infrastructure or delivering food”
  • Deferring any payroll tax for the first three months of the 2020/21 financial year until 1 January 2021 for the same SME with payroll of less than $3 million
  • Waiving liquor licensing fees for 2020 for affected venues and small businesses.

Western Australia

The Western Australian government has announced a $1.6 billion in initiatives, including:

  • $502 million for small businesses including a reduction in electricity bills, licences fees waived and additional payroll tax relief
  • A one-off cash payment of $17,500 to support the retention of workers
  • Raising of the payroll tax threshold to $1 million
  • The deferral of payroll tax liabilities until the beginning of next financial year.

South Australia

The South Australian government has announced $1 billion in economic support initiatives and set up a 14 member Industry Response and Support Council. The Council includes representatives from business, property, retail, construction and housing to tourism, primary industries, food, wine and hospitality. Details on the $1 billion package remain thin but include:

  • A $650 million Jobs Rescue Package
  • $350 million focused on 'shovel-ready' infrastructure maintenance

Tasmania

The Tasmanian government has announced a $985 million stimulus package, with many initiatives targeting specific industry or sectors. including:

  • Payroll tax liabilities will be waived for hospitality, tourism and seafood industry businesses and for Tasmanian businesses with payrolls less than $5 million
  • $50 million in interest free loans for businesses with turnovers less than $10 million
  • $50 million allocated to fast track maintenance on public buildings over the next 12 months
  • $5,000 grant for businesses that hire an apprentice or trainee in the tourism, hospitality, building and construction, and manufacturing industries.
 ACT

The ACT government’s $137 million initiatives include:

  • Deferring payroll tax for 12 months on businesses with a turnover under $10 million
  • $20 million for basic public building infrastructure maintenance
  • $750 power bill rebate for small businesses
  • $622 credit on their commercial rates
  • Food and liquor licence fees waived
  • Financial support for clubs to retain casual staff.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory government announced a $60 million stimulus package including a $30 million 'Home Improvement Scheme' and a $20 million 'Business Improvement Scheme'. This includes:

  • $6,000 grants for homeowner renovations if they spend $2,000
  • $20,000 for businesses if they spend $10,000 of their own.

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Additional Industry Related Content

GPs ponder early repayments for credit lines as coronavirus threatens liquidity click here.

COVID-19 - Are first time funds off the table? click here.

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