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Local News - Victoria

Business and unions to power state’s recovery through Victoria Summit


“We have the opportunity to create a bold vision for Victoria. Where does Victoria go and where will we be in 2030? … If we bring industry, universities, TAFEs, unions and government together, what can we create?”

“Our legacy should be what we did coming out of COVID, not the virus itself.”

Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari at the Victorian Trades Hall.

Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari at the Victorian Trades Hall.Credit:Patrick Scala

Plans for the summit involve a series of forums, workshops and consultations – utilising advice from thought-leaders and researchers – that would culminate in concrete proposals being put to governments. Meetings of the summit could be held as soon as December.

In the 1990s a group of disparate political, union and business figures – including Labor premier Joan Kirner, trucking magnate Lindsay Fox and Liberal figure John Elliott – developed reforms to recover from a deep recession. The plans included the redevelopment of Docklands and the introduction of Sunday trading.

Victoria’s economy has shrunk by 2.3 per cent per capita this year, the worst decline since the 1990-91 recession and 13.2 per cent of jobs have been wiped out in the CBD and surrounding suburbs, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Mr Hilakari said the summit was a “great idea” that would help make Victoria a smarter, fairer and more prosperous state. The partnership between Victoria’s peak union body and VECCI has strengthened during the pandemic after the groups jointly called for a wage subsidy before the JobKeeper scheme was created.

“It is beyond time civil society, unions and employers got together to talk about the future of this state,” Mr Hilakari said. “We think Victoria is a very special state and we get ahead by people who want to work together to make it an even better state.”

The union leader said he would use the summit to improve the industrial relations, planning and education systems. Enhancing female workforce participation and free childcare will also be in his sights.

The Trades Hall boss and Mr Guerra said it was essential for the economy that international students, who fuel consumer spending and provide labour supply, returned to Melbourne as soon as safely possible.

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Mr Guerra said restrictions on density limits should largely be lifted by January when workers return from summer holidays. City building capacity, which will be set at 25 per cent from Monday, should be doubled or even tripled, he said, and limits on event sizes should be eased in order to kickstart the lucrative event and conference sectors.

Earlier state government restrictions guidelines, which no longer provide the framework for future sets of restrictions, said Victoria would move into the “COVID-normal” phase after recording 28 days of zero cases. In this phase, no restrictions would apply to hospitality venues, household gatherings, weddings or funerals.

“We’ve got to take off these artificial controls and let businesses and citizens operate as if they’re going to be able to in a COVID-normal world,” Mr Guerra said.

“Our view would be, why are there any restrictions at all [if virus number remain at zero for months]? The restrictions should be on masks … and COVID-safe workplaces and venues.

“Even if there is a view that the virus is still out there, we’ve contained it. We can wind back more restrictions and [not increase] much risk.”

The biggest threat to Victoria’s economic recovery was the reintroduction of COVID-19 via hotel quarantine when international flights return to Melbourne on December 7, Mr Guerra said.

The Andrews government has announced few details of the revamped program that has been paused since July after the virus transmitted from a returned traveller to hotel quarantine staff who then spread it into the community.

Mr Guerra said it was logical to host people entering Melbourne in a location close to the airport or in a desolate area distant from population centres. However, he acknowledged there was a need to treat those arriving with dignity and said a CBD hotel program could be effective if solid safeguards were implemented.

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Business

Dairy farmers back Tanarra bid for Lion dairy business


He said no competition issues would arise from a successful Tanarra bid, especially in regard to milk prices paid to farmers. But he said the co-operative had ongoing concerns about the prospect of further consolidation in the Australian dairy industry, which is something that would occur if an existing dairy player such as Bega or Saputo won the battle for the Lion dairy business.

The Lion business includes long established, big-selling brands such as Dairy Farmers, Big M, Pura, Daily Juice and Berri. Lion is owned by the giant Japanese brewer and food company Kirin.

The Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative is a farmer-owned and farmer operated co-operative that supplies milk to Lion, with Mr Kebbell describing the co-operative as a “key partner” of Lion dairy and drinks.

The co-operative has over 300 members from more than 250 dairy farms in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Each year it supplies more than 230 million litres of milk to Lion.

The Australian Financial Review reported on Friday that Saputo had been knocked out of the race for the Lion business, and that Bega was ahead in the auction race.

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In August Bega chairman Barry Irvin told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that Bega could be interested in buying the Lion division.

“Of course we’re interested in dairy consolidation and we’re interested in good dairy companies,” he said.



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Business

Insurers brace for billions of dollars in COVID-19 business claims


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Public facing businesses forced to close due to lockdown restrictions, including restaurants, bars and gyms, are among those likely to have business interruption policies. A survey released in August by technology company Fivverr found one in five small businesses have lost more than $100,000 because of the pandemic.

Large businesses could also be affected, with ASX-listed entertainment group Star suing insurer Chubb over rejecting its business interruption claim. The next hearing of that case is scheduled for April next year, with Star arguing it should be covered as the abrupt change in trading conditions was out of its control.

However, the test case ruling is only relevant to policies that reference an outdated Act of Parliament. The mistake is common in policies sold by the major insurers but JP Morgan’s senior insurance analyst Siddharth Parameswaran said the exact number of policies affected had not been reported.

“They clearly didn’t intend to cover business interruption. They never charged a premium for it,” Mr Parameswaran said. “It’s the ones where they had the wordings wrong… that’s where the risks are.”

QBE said it expects each claim will be no larger than $5 million and the total payments should not exceed the group’s reinsurance cover of $500 million. Suncorp on Monday increased its provision for business interruption claims by $125 million to $195 million in the event of an unfavourable court ruling, but this provision was dependent on there not being a third wave or further lockdowns.

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Morgan Stanley told clients IAG’s strong capital position would be maintained “even if it were to incur an unlikely $2 billion of gross claims”. Few claims were lodged before the test case, “but more seem likely now”, it said.

Macquarie said it did not expect capital raises to be necessary and estimated the total exposure would be around $225 million for IAG and $250 million for Suncorp. It said between 35 to 40 per cent of business insurance packages would include a business interruption add-on and estimated total market losses of $1.25 billion.

The test case was brought by the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) to extinguish doubt that pandemic exclusions were valid after the Australian Financial Complaints Authority received a handful of complaints about denied claims.

“Obviously the insurance industry didn’t expect to lose it. Now, it looks like there certainly will be some claims that they may not have been expecting that they’ll have to pay out on,” Mr Parameswaran said.

Maurice Blackburn insurance lawyer Josh Mennen said the court’s ruling was “totally unsurprising”.

“As a consumer lawyer, we see insurers rely on the plain black letter wording of their own policies to deny claims all the time,” he said. “Insurers have an obligation to ensure that their products are up to date with the existing legislation. If they fail to do that and it’s to their own disadvantage, that’s too bad. They’re stuck with the consequences of their error.”

The ICA said it would consider an appeal as well as a second test case to “explore outstanding policy matters” including proximity and prevention of access. “The Insurance Council will continue to work with all stakeholders and government to provide clarity for all parties and the industry.”

Mr Mennen called on policyholders to make a claim as soon as possible. “If it turns out that insurers ultimately are liable, the claimants who have made claims may well be entitled to interest and consequential losses for the delay.”

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Business calls on all Victorians not to flout COVID-safe rules


Premier Daniel Andrews said people who saw something wrong should complain to the coronavirus hotline, and it would be referred to the most appropriate agency among Victoria Police, WorkSafe or Health Department authorised officers. A complaint about a hairdresser, for instance, would be treated differently to a call about an abattoir.

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“It is important to acknowledge that some things in this are simple and others are not simple,” Mr Andrews said. “By their very nature, they must be complex because what we are up against is complex.”

When asked directly whether Victoria Police would enforce social distancing at cafes and pubs, the Premier said: “It is difficult to give you a blanket answer, that is what I say … Sometimes it is a matter for the police and other times it will not be.”

Blurred lines of responsibility between government agencies in Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program have been cited as a key contributor to its failure, which resulted in the state’s catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus. In NSW police deal with breaches in non-licensed venues such as hairdressers, while Liquor & Gaming NSW oversaw enforcement in licensed premises, a spokeswoman said.

The government said DHHS authorised officers and Victoria Police were conducting random checks on businesses, which can be fined up to $9913 for refusing or failing to comply with public health directions.

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Around Melbourne on Wednesday night and Thursday, some people were seen in pubs sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and not social distancing.

Katey Randall, who works for a company that helps businesses become COVID compliant, said she had visited a hairdresser and beauty salon in a private capacity on Wednesday morning and had not been asked to provide any details for contact tracing.

“I think it’s one thing that should be highlighted [to the government]. Where’s the contact tracing?” she said.

The Restaurant and Catering Industry Association and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce warned businesses they must follow rules that are “non-negotiable”.

Last month – with the government under pressure to relax the lockdown – the VCCI assured authorities that businesses would “take every precaution to prevent” a third wave, and that the hospitality industry should be “trusted” to operate safely.

On Thursday, the chamber’s chief executive Paul Guerra said businesses and customers had a responsibility to follow the rules and return to a COVID-normal economy.

“Our call is to every business owner to take COVID-safe plans seriously and put them in place,” Mr Guerra said.

“Because if they continue to exploit the rules, not only would they be outed on social media, they can expect their customers to drop, and worse they can expect relevant authorities to [enforce the rules].

“No one wants to envisage a third wave, and the only way we can protect against that, is businesses and everyday Victorians doing the right thing.”

Foot traffic through some Melbourne CBD streets was back to 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels on Wednesday as shops, cafes and restaurants were allowed to reopen.

Premier Daniel Andrews urged anyone who witnessed businesses flouting the rules to contact the coronavirus hotline.

Premier Daniel Andrews urged anyone who witnessed businesses flouting the rules to contact the coronavirus hotline. Credit:Simon Schluter

Wes Lambert, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, said it was “super important” that as customer numbers increased, businesses implemented their COVID-safe plans.

“We call upon the owners and the industry to ensure they are following COVID-safe guidelines so that the industry can stand out as the most COVID-safe, can stand out as a leader in keeping case numbers down, and ensuring there is not a third wave,” Mr Lambert said.

Mr Andrews urged anyone who spotted businesses not following the rules to phone the coronavirus hotline, saying “it’s everybody’s business”.

Victoria recorded three new cases on Thursday, including a young girl connected to a coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

But Mr Andrews said it may turn out to be a one-case day as the two other positive tests may be instances of viral shedding from old infections.

Mr Andrews also reiterated his comments from the previous day that Victoria was creating a tailored QR check-in tool – either an app or a website – that will operate within the state’s existing digitised contact tracing software developed by US tech firm Salesforce.

The ACT Health Department had offered Victoria its existing app, but Mr Andrews said his government had opted to design a system that worked in co-ordination with the state’s existing software rather than use an off-the-shelf product that might add another layer of software to contact tracing.

In NSW, a number of government agencies have also been appointed to enforce COVID-19 Public Health Orders including NSW Health, NSW Police, NSW Food Authority, Liquor & Gaming NSW, SafeWork NSW and NSW Fair Trading.

  • The coronavirus hotline is 1800 675 398, WorkSafe’s advisory line is 1800 136 089 and the Victoria Police Assistance Line is 131 444

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Local News - Victoria

What the latest restrictions for Melbourne mean for business


Hospitality

From 11.59pm on Tuesday, October 27:

  • Preparation for opening (staff can enter the premises to prepare for opening but must not serve customers): customer-facing facilities including hospitality, retail and entertainment that are reopening may return to work following announcement (26 October)
  • Food and drink facilities: open for seated indoor and outdoor service (both food and/or drink): Maximum 10 people per group, seated 1.5m from other groups
  • For indoor space: open with a cap of 10 persons per indoor space, with a maximum of 20 patrons per venue indoors, subject to density requirements (1 per 4 square metres)
  • For outdoor space: Open with cap of 50 patrons per venue outdoors subject to density requirements (1 per 2 square metres). Live music permitted outdoors only with band included in venue limit, members must be at least two metres apart, wear a face mask (except limited exemptions). Other requirements apply

From 11.59 on Sunday, November 8:

  • Food and drink facilities: open for seated indoor and outdoor service (both food and/or drink): No change to most restrictions
  • Indoor: group and space limit of 10 and seated service, cap of 40 patrons subject to density quotient
  • Outdoor: Increasing to a patron cap of 70 patrons per venue outdoors subject to the outdoor density quotient. Live music no change.

Retail

From 11.59pm on Tuesday, October 27:

  • Preparation for opening – staff can enter the premises to prepare for opening: customer-facing facilities including hospitality, retail and entertainment may return from 26 October;
  • Hairdressing, beauty and personal care services: open with requirement that only services where the client can wear a face covering are permitted (e.g. manicures, pedicures, body waxing, tattooing);
  • Market stalls: open;
  • Auction houses: open; and
  • Other retail: open

From 11.59 on Sunday, November 8:

Entertainment

From 11.59pm on Tuesday, October 27:

  • Preparation for opening – staff can enter the premises to prepare for opening: customer-facing facilities including hospitality, retail and entertainment may return from 26 October
  • Indoor venues: Theatre, cinema, auditorium, gallery, museum, arena, stadium, open for broadcast only
  • Non-seated outdoor spaces, excluding events: outdoor spaces open with density quotient; indoor spaces closed AND requirement for COVIDSafe Plan and venues with 500 or more capacity at one time must publish their COVID Safe Plan online prior to opening;
  • Seated outdoor spaces with fixed or allocated seated spaces/zones: Outdoor spaces open with a maximum 10 people per group, groups must be 1.5m apart from each other and seated: If fixed seating a patron cap of 50 people or 25 per cent of the venue’s fixed seat capacity, whichever is lower OR if no fixed seating but allocated seated spaces/zones: density quotient and maximum of 50 patrons at the venue;
  • Drive-in cinemas: outdoor space open, no seating outside vehicles permitted;
  • Arenas and stadiums: can operate for exclusive use by a single school at any one time for education purposes, for professional sport or broadcast;
  • Retail betting venue: If wholly contained within a licensed premise: open, subject to licensed venue and retail restrictions OR if not wholly contained within a licensed premise the can open subject to retail restrictions; and
  • No change for arcade, amusement park, escape room, casino, gaming machine area, bingo centre, brothels, sex on premises venues.

From 11.59 on Sunday, November 8:

  • Electronic gaming can return when Melbourne aligns with regional Victoria on 8 November 2020;
  • Venues may open gaming rooms to 25 per cent of indoor hospitality patron cap – i.e. 10 of the max 40 subject to density quotient; and
  • Otherwise no change.

Accomodation

From 11.59pm on Tuesday, October 27:

From 11.59 on Sunday, November 8:

  • Accommodation: open BUT each group booking is restricted to only members of a single household OR only intimate partners OR only members of a single household and two adults and any of their dependent children or dependents; and
  • Members of separately booked groups do not share bedrooms at the facility.

Industry, construction and offices

From 11.59pm on Tuesday, October 27:

  • Work: work from home if you can;
  • COVIDSafe Plan: no change;
  • Manufacturing, wholesale, medical, pharmaceutical and PPE supply: 100% workforce capacity. Other additional obligations remain in place;
  • Poultry processing facilities: no change;
  • Abattoirs and meat processing facilities: no change;
  • Seafood processing facilities: no change; and
  • Construction: 100 per cent workforce capacity. Site visit limit on specialist contractors removed. Other additional obligations remain in place.

From 11.59 on Sunday, November 8:

Real Estate

From 11.59pm on Tuesday, October 27:

  • Real estate inspections: allowed in accordance with record keeping requirements and density quotients, up to a maximum of 10 people from two households excluding the real estate agent; and
  • Real estate auctions: can be conducted outdoors and in accordance with up to 10 members of the public, plus the minimum number of people required to conduct the auction and the owners and/or residents of the property.

From 11.59 on Sunday, November 8:

  • Real estate inspections: increase limit to 10 people from any number of households, subject to density quotient and COVIDSafe requirements.

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The disappointment and suffering in the business community is palpable


Fashion designer Lisa Barron.

Fashion designer Lisa Barron.Credit:Craig Sillitoe

Then, after extensive deliberation by the Victorian government, a state rent moratorium was introduced. This is one of the most important measures to assist small business in the negotiations with landlords. Without the moratorium, the likelihood of landlords reducing rent in line with turnover drop would have been unlikely.

While in lockdown we set to work adapting and evolving a brand that usually flourishes with face to face, sensory experiences to an online presence only. A couple of friends/clients had the brilliant idea of hosting a virtual autumn/winter runway launch.

So my team set to work bringing this idea to life whilst faced with huge limitations due to the pandemic. The show was finally streamed with commentary to our clients on Zoom. The sales that ensued were helpful to keep us going until we came out of lockdown in the following few weeks. We were full of optimism, looking to the future. Thinking the worst was over, I invested in the next collection for summer.

Then the hotel quarantine outbreak started. It was like reliving the first shock all over again. All of the easing of restrictions tightened back up. People who had started to venture out retreated again.

So, again, we went into survival mode. We reached out to our customers in new ways. We were raw and honest, sharing stories of the brand and its life behind closed doors. The creative process of putting an Australian made collection together, the fabric sourcing, the design timeline, the love, the passion and the reason the label exists.

And with the response to our marketing, on September 23 (nearly eight weeks after the second lockdown ) we were able to host our second online show, to double the number of guests.

So once more we were filled with anticipation for lockdown release for the retail sector on October 2; it was extended to October 19, now extended again to November 2. The disappointment and suffering in the business community is palpable. There needs to be prudent planning, compensation and extensions of support if such decisions are made.

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The financial aid thus far has been essential in our survival, but we are still faced with the the rent moratorium ending on December 31 and full pre-COVID-19 rents will begin again. The streets and the economy will definitely not be back to pre-COVID-19 buoyancy.

The Victorian government needs to urgently extend the current rent moratorium to March 2021 in line with the JobKeeper to give us a fighting chance.

It is now more important than ever for the public to consciously buy local and support your favourite suppliers, restaurants, designers, musicians and artists. We will have a very boring world if we lose our artisans. Victoria was a proud and fertile ground for entrepreneurs; we need to keep it that way.

Lisa Barron is a fashion designer, retailer and manufacturer.

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Deloitte Business Outlook report: Qld gets mojo back


Queenslanders are getting their mojo back when it comes to spending, but the economy will continue to struggle until state and international border bans are lifted.

That’s the prediction from Deloitte Access Economics, which released its quarterly Business Outlook on Monday.

It found the sunshine state had been hit harder than some other jurisdictions due to its reliance on tourism and hospitality.

Queensland has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, behind Victoria.

“The closure of international borders have ground the state’s normally bustling international tourism sector to a halt,” the report stated.

“Where domestic tourism may have been able to fill some of that void, the closure of state borders has made that all but impossible for most of this year.”

Queensland’s economy has been further hampered by reduced demand for coal and Australia’s trade tensions with China.

“In response to these fears (and the great unknown of COVID), confidence has taken a battering,” the report stated.

“Businesses aren’t spending, and it’ll take a good jolt to change that.

RELATED: Border closures and COVID-19 costing tourism $10b per month

“That’s particularly true for the businesses tied to tourism and hospitality — you can’t invest if you don’t know when you’ll have a market for your services.”

However, it’s not all bad news.

The Deloitte Access Economics report praised the state government for its health and economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

It also found Queensland consumers were getting their “mojo” back.

“With the state’s domestic borders beginning to re-open, pent-up demand is expected to accelerate the recovery, driven by those wanting to visit friends and relatives following the ‘Great Lockdown’,” it stated.

“Assuming state borders open before international ones, there’s also the potential for Australians to redirect some of their plans to travel overseas to domestic locations, which would bode well for the sunshine state.”

But the report found the state’s full economic recovery hinged on the reopening of state and international borders.

“Until then, the Queensland economy will struggle to get out of third gear,” it stated.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday said an announcement about borders would be made at the end of October.

Despite ongoing pressure to reopen, the state remains closed to NSW and Victoria.



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Business groups and epidemiologists critical at Daniel Andrews’ cautious approach to reopening Melbourne


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has urged Melburnians to stay put a while longer -- including on grand final day.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has urged Melburnians to stay put a while longer — including on grand final day.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Mr Andrews expressed confidence that Melbourne’s restrictions would further ease by November 2 and potentially, a week earlier, with the reopening of retail and limited indoor dining. At that time, households will be able to receive visits from up to two adults and their dependants.

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An immediate, further easing of restrictions was announced for regional Victoria, with pubs and restaurants allowed to seat up 40 people inside and 70 outside, and people can invite visitors in small numbers to their homes.

“There is some optimism, a confidence even, that if things continue this week the way they have the last five days, we may be able to bring that forward,” Mr Andrews said. “No rules, no restrictions will be on longer than they need to be. I know it is frustrating, I know there is a lot of pain out there in the community.”

He said raw case numbers were less important as infections declined, with the emphasis shifting to the types of cases, how they were contracted, and how many were “mystery” cases. Only three new COVID-19 cases in as many days have been recorded in Victoria.

Business groups expressed disappointment at the limited changes announced on Sunday, warning more businesses would fail.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said: “This is an inexplicable and unacceptable delay for Victorians and small businesses who are hanging on by a day, not a week.”

“There is no sound reason to continue the restrictions on business, especially with case numbers clearly on a downward trajectory. People desperately need the ability now to get on with their lives and businesses.”

Tim Piper, the Victorian chief of the Australian Industry Group, a peak national employer organisation, described Sunday’s measures as “plodding steps’’ in the right direction.

The chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Paul Guerra, welcomed the “good news” about a timetable for restrictions to be eased, but warned that “as every day goes by that they are closed, more business owners will not recover for business”.

The provisional reopening date for retail was welcomed by Australian Retailers Association chief Paul Zahra. “Whilst this date is many weeks later than we would have hoped, it is just in time for the official start of the Christmas shopping period and a very welcome news for retailers who have been desperately seeking clarity for months,” he said.

The boss of one of the nation’s largest retailers, Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott, questioned the logic of some of the changes.

“It’s still difficult to understand the rationale for some of the changes and ongoing business restrictions, from a public health and wellbeing perspective. For example, you can go to the hairdresser or a skate park and have more freedom to travel, but you can’t go to your local Bunnings Warehouse.'” Wesfarmers owns Bunnings stores.

With people still required to only leave home for permitted reasons, Mr Andrews urged everyone to watch Saturday’s AFL grand final between Richmond and Geelong from their own loungerooms.

Richmond fans celebrated with their team in Adelaide.

Richmond fans celebrated with their team in Adelaide.Credit:Getty Images

“As important as it is, in a cultural sense, in a very passionate way, for every single football fan across our state, it is not worth risking all that we have done, all that we have built, all that we can do in just a few days’ time by having gatherings that are unsafe.”

Aside from a reopening from today of hairdressing salons and some small-scale industries such as car washing and pet grooming and the return of real estate auctions, there is no change to the restrictions on retail, hospitality and other industries.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said Sunday’s announcement should have gone further. “I think at some point the Premier does have to learn to trust the people of this state instead of just trying to impose rules on us and treat us like children all the time,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a joint statement issued with Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, welcomed the reduced COVID-19 caseload in Victoria but said the lockdown had come at a heavy cost.

“We understand and sympathise with the frustration and concern expressed by businesses about the ongoing cost and impact on their jobs and livelihoods of this second wave,'” they said.

“The continued health, mental health and financial impacts of these restrictions will be profound on many Victorians. That is why we encourage Victoria to move safely and quickly towards the NSW model of strong contact tracing and a COVID-safe but predominantly open economy.”

University of Melbourne mental health expert Patrick McGorry said the “small doses of hope'” offered by the government’s announcements would lift the mood of a pandemic-weary state. “All the pleasurable activities, all the ways people maintain a normal life and find purpose in life have been removed,” he said.

Professor Patrick McGorry said the "small doses of hope'' offered by Sunday's announcements would help Victoria's mental health.

Professor Patrick McGorry said the “small doses of hope” offered by Sunday’s announcements would help Victoria’s mental health.Credit:Eddie Jim

“There’s a sense of relief now.”

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said the Premier had provided “some certainty” to city traders. “We have saved lives – now we need to save livelihoods,”’ she said. “Businesses across our city are prepared to re-open in a COVID safe way.’”

The response from restaurant and cafe owners was less positive. Under the adjusted road map, restaurants which reopen in two week’s time will be limited to 10 patrons per indoor dining area. Leading restaurateur Chris Lucas said this would make it uneconomical for most eateries to trade.

Chris Lucas, pictured here in his Melbourne CBD restaurant Chin Chin, says it won't be viable for most restaurants to reopen under the Victorian government's 10-patron cap.

Chris Lucas, pictured here in his Melbourne CBD restaurant Chin Chin, says it won’t be viable for most restaurants to reopen under the Victorian government’s 10-patron cap.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

“It doesn’t take into account the commercial requirements,” Mr Lucas told The Age. “Based on the information we have been given today the majority of restaurants in the Melbourne metropolitan area will not be opening.”

Restaurant & Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said the contrast in NSW, where restaurants can seat up to 300 people indoors and daily COVID-19 case numbers were tracking above those in Victoria, was now stark.

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“I have spoken to many restaurateurs and they are angry but optimistic,” he said. “They are angry that metropolitan Melbourne is not opening tomorrow as the case numbers are lower than NSW, which has a nearly fully reopened hospitality industry. They are hopeful and optimistic that the date is going to be brought forward.”

NSW, which has a less centralised public health response, has managed to contain outbreaks since lifting its lockdown in May. Social and economic life in Sydney has reached COVID-normal, with few restrictions remaining in place.

Mr Hunt tweeted shortly before Sunday’s announcement that Victoria’s low daily case numbers provided the necessary conditions for it to move safely in line with NSW. Mr Andrews said while his decisions were based on public health advice, Mr Hunt’s intervention was driven by politics.

“I don’t accept that anybody has a more complete picture of what this virus is doing in Victoria than the Victorian Chief Health Officer, the Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer, the Victorian Health Minister and the Victorian Premier and a cast of many hundreds of other experts and people who are dedicated to this task,” Mr Andrews said.

He said further announcements would be made about the Melbourne Cup, but sources familiar with the matter said it was likely any crowd at Flemington would be limited to jockeys, trainers and owners of the horses.

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Buy From the Bush saves Australian small business and creates new work


Buy From the Bush (BFTB) founder Grace Brennan says land in Warren, NSW, looks a little different these days. But while drought-devastated, fire-ravaged communities across Australia rebound with “hope and energy” after decent rainfall, the economic wipe-out of COVID means their efforts must redouble.

“Small businesses across the globe are dealing with financial insecurity and the added element of social isolation,” Ms Brennan said.

“Rural communities have been experiencing (these challenges) for a long time … so there’s this weird universality as a result of COVID and possibly a greater connection between city and bush than I ever could have imagined.”

Consumer appetite for Australian made is not new, but the launch of BFTB a year ago immediately focused national goodwill. AlphaBeta’s June evaluation of BFTB’s economic impact found businesses on average experienced a 300 per cent sales uplift within a month of being featured.

The evaluation also found a staggering 97 per cent of BFTB businesses are female-owned, with 81 per cent run as a side venture – telling insights into the contribution of enterprising rural women and what Ms Brennan calls, “the incredible hustle of the lean times.”

Perhaps most significant in an economic climate that sees Australia clawing its way out of a deep COVID-shaped hole is that a full 21 per cent of featured businesses hired new staff.

“We clearly branded, ‘If you support these businesses, you will be supporting a small-business owner in a rural community who is Australian’. They’re employing locally and they’re all injecting (into the economy).

“It’s all sorts of interesting, innovative, creative people working really hard and trying to navigate really uncertain times. In the last year, that has become a pretty universal experience, not just in the bush,” Ms Brennan said.

After a year of reckoning like no other, BFTB and sister site Stay in the Bush have become beacons for what buying Australian means to fellow citizens, and what can be achieved by consciously choosing Australian goods, services and experiences.

“In the wake of COVID, bushfires and drought, Australians are more aware of the power of their choices around what they buy, the services they employ and where they travel – consumers and travellers can make conscious investments in the future,” Ms Brennan said. “Cash-flow is generated that flows back into local coffee shops, post offices and

supermarkets. Contractors are employed to paint shopfronts, design websites, print marketing materials. People are employed. Confidence is gained.”



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NAB exec says JobKeeper cuts could lead to business closures


Ms Motton said government subsidies were just one factor that would determine the viability of businesses going forward and welcomed moves towards deregulating the economy, including changes to responsible lending and insolvency laws.

NAB has approved around 40,000 business loan deferrals, Ms Motton said, and has guaranteed 6087 government-backed business support loans.

Around 15 per cent of NAB customers who had applied for loan deferrals had now started to make repayments, and the bank was routinely reaching out to affected customers to offer restructured or interest-only loan deals.

NAB has offered an additional four-month deferral extension to customers struggling with repayments, but Ms Motton said it was inevitable there would be further closures.

“Every year some small businesses don’t survive,” Ms Motton said. “The probability of that being more pronounced now with the pandemic, I think the answer is yes.”

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The comments come as NAB announced it will partner with UK-based fintech Pollinate to roll out software for its merchant customers that will give business owners greater access to sales data analytics, including average transaction values and payment types.

NAB’s group executive for business and private banking, Andrew Irvine, said the technology would give small businesses the information needed to improve operations and grow sales.

“Real-time data that delivers greater insights into what customers want, when and how they want it, can be transformative to a small business,” Mr Irvine said.

NAB will take a minority share in the company as the software is offered to its 73,000 merchant customers free of charge from early 2021.

NAB business customers will also benefit from the roll out of a 1.15 per cent flat fee for card transactions, that will replace the existing 10 pricing plans that include charges as high as 1.5 per cent.

Mr Irvine said more than 400,000 tap-and-go payments were made each day in Australia and the simplification of these fees would help businesses stay afloat.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy – Australia must do everything it can to support and strengthen businesses right now, making it easier for them to thrive and grow.”

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