Category Archives: COVID-19

Federal Budget 2020 update

In the ACT there are 30,000 businesses who provide two thirds of Canberra’s jobs. The 2020 Federal budget recognises that supporting those businesses, and particularly small business – the engine room of the economy – is critical to jobs and our economic recovery.

The Budget includes a number of new, extended and existing measures to support business:

Asset investments: Almost all ACT businesses will be able to write off the full value of any eligible asset purchased, which means businesses can more easily buy equipment and take a risk in order to grow.

Business tax losses: Allowing companies to offset losses against prior year profits will also help a range of local companies who have been unable to operate profitably as a result of COVID19, unlocking much-needed funds and providing immediate financial support.

New JobMaker credit scheme: This will provide an incentive for business to hire young people, and the 50% wage subsidy for new apprentices and trainees is welcome news. It will help to turn around a decline in apprenticeship numbers, and comes on the heels of the government committing to growth in the overall investment in vocational education and training.

Income tax: Personal income tax cuts will be backdated to 1 July 2020. This will let households keep more of their own money to spend, and that money should find its way into our local economy and businesses.

Fringe benefit tax improvements for small business: There are 3 main changes for businesses turning over less than $50m a year. As from next April 2021, small businesses will be to provide FBT-exempt car parking, and multiple work-related electronic devices (mobile phones, laptops, etc) to their employees (currently this is limited to only one device of its kind each FBT year). The need to keep travel diaries and declarations may be replaced by existing company records. There are also new training and reskilling FBT exemptions. These are welcome moves.

Mental health: There is a national $4.26 million budget commitment to roll out a new mental health program for small business owners. The NewAccess for Small Business service will provide small business owners with access to free one-on-one telehealth sessions with specially trained mental health coaches

What’s missing?  For the ACT economy there are some notable omissions, including infrastructure investment in social housing and support for the university sector. We also need to continue to lift interstate and international border restrictions to encourage people to travel and move to the ACT.

As with any budget, talk to your accountant to find out more about what your own business can claim. If you’re looking for an accountant, the Chamber can provide you with a list of local accounting firms that are also Chamber members.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has completed their budget analysis.  Both the Budget in Brief and Budget in Depth analysis are attached.

Singapore Airlines Withdrawal A Canary In A Coalmine

Singapore Airlines’ decision today to permanently withdraw flights between Canberra and Singapore is indicative of the large and growing challenges the ACT faces, local business groups have warned today. They have called for political leaders to commit to appointing a Minister for Business.

In the wake of the airlines’ announcement, business leaders have urged all sides of politics to get on with the task of protecting the local economy. They say more needs to be done, and done now.

“There are mounting warning signs now taking place that the ACT economy is heading into long-term damage,” Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt said today. “Singapore Airlines have withdrawn from Canberra. We now have the 3rd highest rate of payroll job unemployment in the country. And last week international ratings agency Standard & Poor’s supported Master Builders concerns that the ACT government will probably fail to deliver about 20 per cent of its projected infrastructure work. These are all lead indicators of looming long-term problems. The canary in the coalmine is singing loud and clear.”

Australian Hotels Associations CEO Anthony Brierley echoed these concerns. “We are now being hit by major shocks that are threatening both large and small businesses across the city. Jobs are being lost and existing support measures are insufficient. Government processes and decisions are not delivering results. The result? Jobs are being lost and businesses are being damaged severely. Long-term investment by private firms now risks becoming pointless.”

Business leaders are calling for a number of immediate actions. “If we had a single Business Minister devoted full-time to the business of promoting business in the ACT, that would help,” Property Council of Australia (ACT division) Executive Director Adina Cirson said. “One person leading a team of dedicated government officials focussed solely on assisting businesses, and available every day to talk to the business community. We don’t have that at present, and no party seems to be offering it.”

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkin said, “We need the next ACT Government to engage closely with industry and community stakeholders to urgently address this problem. We are competing globally for scarce private sector investment, and the ACT Government should be prioritising local job creation in the post-COVID economic recovery.”

“Recover, Re-Energise and Reform.” Business Chamber Launches Election Manifesto

Download the Election Manifesto pdf

Canberra Business Chamber has called on the ACT’s political leaders to commit to a 20-point program that will drive economic recovery, upskill and provide jobs for Canberrans, and, and make it easier for ACT businesses to start, grow and compete.

Launching the Chamber’s priorities for the October 17th poll, Chamber CEO Graham Catt said that the private sector that can now provide the pathway to economic recovery, deliver jobs and create new opportunities after the impact of Covid.

“This year’s elections are the opportunity for parties to demonstrate their commitment to local businesses and to creating local jobs.”

Amongst the twenty points, the Chamber is calling for:

  • A comprehensive economic recovery plan
  • More support for new and emerging industry sectors, like cyber security
  • Major infrastructure investments and local precinct improvements
  • Clear future population targets and a skills strategy
  • A Minister for Business within Cabinet
  • A freeze on any increases in commercial rates
  • Changes to making it easier for local business to procure ACT Government contracts
  • More small business programs to improve digital skills, provide business advisors, and support business owners’ mental health and well-being

“While last week’s announcement by the Chief Minister partially addresses some of these issues, much, much more needs to be done.

“Our ideas have been drawn up after extensive consultation with businesses, community groups, and industry bodies over the past three months. Our policies are based on those discussions, and we’re now working closely with other business groups and community groups to ensure they are implemented.”

Mr Catt urged all Canberrans to think carefully as they marked their ballot papers. “Two thirds of working Canberrans are employed by the private sector. Will our government for the next four years help small business, create real jobs, and diversify our economy for the future? Think about it before you vote.”

The full election manifesto document can be downloaded here.

Time to return to the office

Canberra businesses are calling out for ACT office workers to go back to their city offices.

As Covid restrictions are eased in Canberra, business leaders say that it’s time for more workers to head back to office to support small business and the economy. ACT public servants can lead the way by working once more from their offices in Civic, Belconnen and other parts of the city.

“Getting back into the office is a simple yet powerful way to help local business across the ACT,” Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt said today.

“The best way to support business is through genuine demand for goods and services. When public servants and others are in the office, their daily spending provides an important boost to local cafes shops, restaurants, retail stores, transport providers and many other businesses.”

Australian Hotels Association CEO Anthony Brierley echoed the call. “While employees may enjoy the flexibility of working from home, the reality is that these arrangements are a drag on the local economy and on struggling small businesses.  Continuing a broad-brush working-from-home policy jeopardises the ability of the daytime hospitality industry to work at all.

“Returning to offices would provide a powerful economic boost for our city, and comes without any expense to the ACT Government.”

The Property Council recently surveyed its members and estimated that just over 40% of offices are occupied at the moment.  “This low rate of workers back in the city is significantly impacting many of the businesses on ground floors of office buildings, in particular those who rely on public servants for trade.  With many of our landlords giving significant rent abatement to these small businesses, the broad brush approach to remain working from home is taking money out of the economy and affecting everyone,” ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia, Adina Cirson, said.

The Master Builders Association also backed the call. “Canberra’s jobs now and in the future are in the private sector,” Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said, “so we need to ensure that they are strongly supported wherever practical by our territory government. This is a simple, safe measure which will help many of our businesses to survive, and to keep employing other Canberrans in jobs.”

JobKeeper Amendment Rules Issued

Following ACCI’s circular on 11 August 2020 regarding the announced changes to employee eligibility under JobKeeper including the extension of the employment reference date to 1 July 2020, the legislative instrument with respect to such changes has now been registered.

The changes to the reference date have retrospective application and take effect from the JobKeeper fortnights commencing 3 August 2020. The extension of the employment reference date means that an existing JobKeeper employer will need to review their employee records to identify any ‘newly eligible’ employees. Newly eligible employees are in essence, employees who did not satisfy the basic employee eligibility criteria at 1 March 2020 but do satisfy the criteria as amended under the changed rules (including re-qualifying and re-nominating employees).

The explanatory statement to the legislative instrument is clear – the one-in all-in principle applies and employers currently enrolled in JobKeeper do not have a choice as to whether they extend the JobKeeper Payment to newly eligible employees or not. A JobKeeper employer who does not identify newly eligible employees, provide them with a nomination notice by 21 August 2020 and make any necessary ‘top-up’ payments by 31 August 2020 will be in breach of the JobKeeper rules and may face penalties.

The changes, whilst simple in theory, are complex to apply from an administrative perspective and will require careful consideration and application by employers and their advisers.

Attached to this circular is an updated version of the Employer Guide to JobKeeper, Edition 9 which has been updated to include these changes in both track (in red), as well as a clean copy.

Due to the imminent nature of these changes and the administrative complexity we have also put together an Information Sheet which provides a high-level summary of the changes with suggested actions to be taken by businesses to make sure they meet a number of upcoming deadlines and do not fall foul of the JobKeeper rules and face penalties.

Growing Unemployment Leads to Business Groups’ Call for a COVID Economic Recovery Plan

Growing Unemployment Leads to Business Groups’ Call for a COVID Economic Recovery Plan

ABS Labour Force data released today reveals the extent of the ACT’s growing unemployment crisis, with 11,228 Canberrans now unemployed.

ABS Labour force data shows that July’s unemployment rate for July 2020 is 4.6% compared with 3.5% in July 2019.

In response, four leading Canberra business groups, who collectively represent the employers of 235,000 Canberrans, have today written to the Chief Minister, calling on him to outline an economic recovery plan in his upcoming ACT economic statement later this month.

Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt said, “Today’s ABS data shows that the ACT’s unemployment rate in July 2020 is 4.6%, which is 1.1% higher than twelve months ago.”

“With around two thirds of Canberrans working in the private sector, the greatest economic impact of the COVID recession is on the ACT’s 30,000 small and family businesses,” he said.

Mr Catt said, “Adding to the stress on local business owners is uncertainty about the ACT Government’s economic recovery plan.”

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said, “Since 14 March around 1,000 Canberran’s have lost their jobs in the construction sector, which is Canberra’s second largest private sector employer.”

“A long-term capital works plan which boosts local construction jobs and provides infrastructure to support our long-term growth is urgently needed,” he said.
Property Council ACT Executive Director Adina Cirson said, “The property and construction sector contributes around 60% of Territory taxes and charges. Without a clear economic plan, which prioritises planning reform, tax relief and a plan for population growth, jobs will be lost and the Territory’s revenue source will continue to decline, leading to a long term financial crisis for the next Territory Government.”

Australian Hotels Association ACT Executive Director Anthony Brierley said, “Our members are suffering more than most at the moment with ACT restrictions hitting our industry hard.”

“The Government needs to develop a strategic plan for economic recovery so that the hospitality industry can bring back stood-down workers, and come to acceptable agreements with banks, finance providers and landlords,” he said.

Mr Catt said, “At the core of our request is the need for a business-friendly government which supports a private sector led economic recovery for the ACT.”
“We consistently hear from local businesses about the difficulty of running a small business in Canberra, which has been made more difficult for many COVID recession,” he said.

“Business-friendly policies which support job creation, infrastructure spending, tax reform, targeted population growth, planning reform, direct subsidies and industrial relations reform need to be urgently prioritised.”

Canberra businesses return to COVID-safe networking

MEDIA RELEASE

Friday, 31 July 2020


Canberra businesses return to COVID-safe networking

Canberra’s business community has welcomed a return to business networking, after a 4-month hiatus due to COVID-19.

The Canberra Business Chamber and Canberra Southern Cross Club worked together to develop a model that allows businesspeople to interact while following strict COVID safety measures.

80 Canberra Business Chamber members attended the sold-out Business After Business Networking on Thursday evening.

Chamber CEO, Graham Catt said that “networking is, and will always be, an important way for businesses of all types to build their supply chains and customer base.”

“We’ve learned how to leverage technology so that people can interact, but we know that the safe return of face-to-face networking is a priority for many in business. In fact, a recent chamber poll showed that over 90% of our members had a strong desire to return to face-to-face business events.”

The event followed strict COVID safety rules and regulations. Guests could only consume food and drink while seated, and mingled at a safe 1.5 metre distance by using “discussion pods” and rotating “speed dating style” regularly throughout the evening.

Chamber member, Canberra Southern Cross Club, hosted the event in their newly refurbished “Top of the Cross” event space – their first event post COVID-19.

Ian Mackay, CEO of the Canberra Southern Cross Club said, “we were delighted to host the Business Chamber in our newly refurbished function space. Whilst zoom and other video conferencing has been useful, there is nothing like the opportunity to interact with friends and colleagues in the same room.”

“Our COVID safety plan was meticulously developed to help ensure the safety of our guests and included temperature checks on entry, recording of customer details for contact tracing and appropriate social distancing measures. We were fortunate our large spaces and well-developed Club procedures allowed us to bring the Canberra Business Chamber back together.”

JobKeeper 2.0: Extension to March 2021 welcomed

Yesterday, the Federal Government announced an extension to the JobKeeper wage subsidy program. This is in response to calls from Canberra Business Chamber, through the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI) and other industry groups, for the continuation of the subsidy. JobKeeper has been an important lifeline to businesses during the COVID crisis, and the extension will give businesses greater certainty to plan for the end of this income support. It will hopefully also lift confidence, which has been impacted by the reintroduction of lockdowns in Victoria and the emergence of COVID clusters in NSW.

Key changes to the program include:

  • A second phase of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs which will continue post September 2020 until 28 March 2021;
  • JobKeeper eligibility will be re-tested in October and early January 2021;
  • The eligibility criteria for ongoing support will be based on turnover decline (50% for turnover over $1 billion, 30% for turnover under $1 billion and 15% for charities and not-for-profits);
  • Two tiers of JobKeeper will be introduced, based on hours employees worked in February 2020: $1200 per fortnight for those employees who averaged more than 20 hours per week and $750 per fortnight for employees who averaged less than 20 hours per week.

View the Federal Government’s JobKeeper Factsheet for more details

View ACCI’s Media Release

View ACCI’s Updated JobKeeper Guide for Employers

COVID-19 award variations extended

The variation to the Clerks Award extends the operation of Schedule I to 30 September 2020.

The Schedule permits:

  • employees to work ordinary hours from home pursuant to an expanded spread of hours (6am to 10pm);
  • employers to request the taking of annual leave (which employees cannot unreasonably refuse) provided employees retain a balance of two weeks annual leave;
  • a reduction of employee hours by up to 25% for those employers who availed themselves of this provision before 1 July 2020.

These provisions are subject to additional safeguards, including that:

  • any direction or request made under the Schedule cannot be unreasonable in the circumstances;
  • to implement any arrangements under the Schedule, employers must consent to the Commission arbitrating any dispute that might arise about the Schedule’s operation (if a dispute is raised).

Schedule X 

The Commission has extended the operation of Schedule X in many modern Awards for a variety of periods.

Schedule X entitles:

  • any employee to take up to two weeks’ unpaid leave if the employee is required by government or medical authorities or on the advice of a medical practitioner to self-isolate and is consequently prevented from working; and
  • agreement to be reached for an employee taking double annual leave on half pay, provided that the agreement is recorded in writing.

New end dates can be found here.

Fair Work Commission orders 1.75% increase to minimum wage

The Fair Work Commission has handed down their 2020 annual wage review decision, with increases beginning from 1 July for certain industries.

This will be staged between 1 July 2020 and 1 February 2021, with the date it comes into effect being determined by award coverage. This will bring the national minimum wage up to $753.80 per week and $19.84 per hour (a $13 weekly increase).

Through the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we argued for wages to remain at their current levels, based on the current economic climate which has seen many businesses suffer extreme hardship.

This wage increase will affect all modern awards. Being a member of the Chamber gets you access to the most up to date wage sheets and awards applicable to your business, plus access to the workplace relations advice line for assistance with interpreting modern awards, advice on managing staff, access to policy templates and procedures, and more.

Contact wradvice@canberrabusiness.com for more information.

Post-COVID cyber hygiene key for business

cyber security - laptop
cyber security - laptop

Thursday, 11 June 2020

MEDIA RELEASE

Post-COVID cyber hygiene key for business

ACT businesses are gathering today for a virtual workshop on the critical issue of cyber security, delivered in partnership by the Canberra Business Chamber and AustCyber.

The new business landscape, after a large-scale transition to remote working, incorporates new work practices and greater reliance on digital infrastructure. The importance of maintaining business cyber hygiene, especially in terms of up-skilling staff and data management and protection, is greater than ever.

“As businesses grapple with post-COVID realities, the focus is shifting from access to support and survival to mitigating the risks attached to new business models and ways of working,” said Canberra Business Chamber CEO Graham Catt.

“So many people moved rapidly to working at home, and also to socialising online, often using the same devices and accessing a number of software platforms without formal training” Mr Catt said. “Small to medium businesses are now actively looking for support so that they can better understand and manage their risks.”

AustCyber CEO, Michelle Price said malicious cyber activity is a complex challenge for Australian business and having good cyber security practices is key to manages the risks – and by being a more trusted organisation, business can underscore future growth opportunities.

“Today’s workshop is a practical way for Canberra business to make a start on improving their cyber security and connect with experts in the field. Having the means to manage cyber risks in your organisation, and ensure your suppliers and partners are not exposing you to unnecessary cyber risk, is critical.

“When you have staff working remotely, or in a hybrid arrangement between the office and home, protecting your organisation and people from cyber attack is more important than ever.”

Featuring local expert presenters from Terra Schwartz, FifthDomain, Ionize and Cybermerc, the workshop will provide crucial information and guide businesses through this accelerated digital transformation, whether they operate locally or internationally.

Using virtual breakout room technology, the workshop will feature three streams to give businesses the tools they need to become cyber secure:

  • Cyber Health 101 – Active discussion on what to do to increase your business cyber resilience with simple practical actions
  • Cyber Skills Uplift – How to recognise cyber threats, maintain cyber resilience and upskill your employees
  • Threat Protection – Defensive and offensive strategies for having a more robust, cyber resilient business

Media Contacts:

  • Graham Catt, CEO, Canberra Business Chamber | E: ceo@canberrabusiness.com | T: 02 6247 4199
  • Tom Finnigan, Media, Public Relations and Engagement Manager, AustCyber | E: tom@austcyber.com | M: 0408 867 367

Canberra businesses map out a post-COVID future

Road
Road

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

MEDIA RELEASE

Canberra businesses map out a post-COVID future

Canberra businesses are meeting over the next two weeks to map out the shape of the local economy in the post-COVID era.

The Canberra Business Chamber is convening a series of in-depth forums with the Territory’s other major industry associations – the first one commencing last Friday, 5 June.

“It’s clear that the future recovery of the ACT economy is going to have to be private sector led,” Chamber CEO Graham Catt said today. “Governments around the country are now heavily indebted and have limited capacity to spend their way out in the long term. Many jobs have already been lost. If we want to have full employment in the ACT, it’s now going to have to come from private enterprise.

“To do that, we need to identify both the current blockers and the future engines of growth, and work with the ACT government and industry groups on these. That’s what our forums will be doing,” said Mr Catt

Key issues raised within the first forum included the need for ongoing cashflow for businesses to survive in the post-COVID environment, JobKeeper continuation, ensuring the ACT economy remains competitive, and more support for startups and innovation, as well as the ACT tourism sector. A consistent theme has been the risk for many businesses of “falling off a cliff” when support runs out and they are left without a viable operation.

The results will be collated and presented to the business community and the ACT Government in the coming weeks.

Individual businesses that want to have their say can also email the chamber directly at info@canberrabusiness.com.

Media Contact:

Graham Catt, CEO, Canberra Business Chamber T: 02 6247 4199