JobKeeper, the federal government wage subsidy program, will end in September, and Ballarat businesses are demanding certainty on what happens next.
Commerce Ballarat, in partnership with the Committee for Ballarat, the City of Ballarat, and Ballarat Regional Tourism, drafted a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as well as local MPs, noting how hard the city had been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our consultation with industry has told us that the JobKeeper program has been integral to keeping people in some form of paid employment during this time," they wrote.
"With the Victorian business restriction environment likely to remain uncertain for many months ahead, it is clear there is a growing concern about the cessation of JobKeeper at the end of September.
"We strongly urge the government in the coming month to reevaluate the timing and criteria of JobKeeper to ensure the survival of industries most severely affected, allowing for a few scenarios under which businesses can continue to access this support with some certainty depending on the business restrictions of the day."
The letter is signed by the chief executive of each organisation.
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett said she was increasingly worried about many businesses that were struggling even with JobKeeper payments, and every day without certainty made a difference.
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"The statistics coming out last week around the amount of jobs lost in Ballarat, and the high level of dependence we have (on JobKeeper), makes us particularly precarious," she said.
"Businesses are only just keeping their heads above water - we know they will not be viable, at all, without support."
Ballarat's flagship attractions, like Sovereign Hill and the Ballarat Wildlife Park, reopened this month, but the city's reliance on overseas visitors will mean tourism operators will need ongoing help, according to Ballarat Regional Tourism chief executive Natalie O'Brien.
"The tourism sector has been heavily impacted by the crisis, which is amplified for those businesses geared towards the international and interstate travel market, that generally provides positive in-bound travel spending to our visitor economy. Current restrictions together with closed borders heavily impacts tourism and many other businesses across the region," she said in a statement.
"We are seeking a six-month extension (to JobKeeper), that could be longer depending on when borders and current restrictions are eased to support the industry to get back on their feet and ensure the ongoing revival of an industry that supports local jobs into the future."
The Committee for Ballarat's deputy chair Rod Walton added there are still challenges to come.
"Government support will be critical to make sure businesses can get back on their feet and recover, trading profitably both for themselves and for Ballarat as well," he said, noting the federal government could decide to modify JobKeeper's delivery after September.
"JobKeeper will evolve into (a program) more specific for the areas that will need the help, because as time goes on, some businesses are coming out quicker than others."
Statistics last week revealed the unemployment rate almost doubled in Ballarat from February to May, and hundreds of JobKeeper applications had been made.
For The Sporting Globe's franchise owner Anne Alexander, the program allowed her to keep her staff working - JobKeeper paid the wages for workers who are eligible, which allowed the business to pay for those who weren't.
"Our revenue dropped about 80 per cent (but) it allowed me to keep the kitchen open," she said.
"Come September, when everyone's mortgage payments are back, this isn't going to be the end of it - it'll be felt in our industry until the end of the year, I won't be able to keep everybody on, and it'll mean some people might be stood down."
Ballarat's Sanctuary Day Spa's Sarah Emmanuel said the payments took the stress off, which was particularly useful when juggling children learning from home as well.
"It meant when we got a week's notice to reopen we could all hit the ground running and return to our new normal efficiently," she said.
"As a business, we are in a good position to continue beyond the September cut-off, however I do see there may be industries who will need further support, such as the tourism industry."
Dylan Lesock's two businesses have both been able to weather the crisis so far.
Clarke's Clean, which looks after homes and offices, faced a dramatic downturn when every hospitality venue closed down at once - but Mr Lesock said JobKeeper enabled him to keep workers on the books, and eventually invest in new equipment to attack new markets.
He said acting quickly saved the business.
"It was only this month we caught back up, if we didn't have JobKeeper, we would have had to lay everyone off," he said.
"It was dire straits in April, but since then, it's allowed us to activate our workforce."
His other business, The Underground Movement, is a gym that recently reopened for small fitness classes after a stint online.
"We still lost 50 per cent, which is not too bad as the industry standard goes, but we wouldn't be able to deliver it without JobKeeper," he said.
"It wouldn't have been able to cover our overheads - we still ended up having to backpay a lot of rent, but JobKeeper really gave us a cash injection, it allowed us to operate with more freedom and opportunities to maintain the gym through Covid-19."
He added the program would need to be tapered and "industry-specific" as it ended.
The federal government has been wary about announcing what support will be available to businesses after the end of September - according to AAP, Mr Morrison is concerned the government is "burning through" almost $11 billion a month on JobKeeper wage subsidies.
He is looking to redirect support towards industries hardest hit by coronavirus and withdraw it from companies quicker to recover.
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"There's still a lot of work to do there and that's what we're focused on," Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
"There are many moving parts in this, this is not a simple issue."
It's understood the prime minister received a Treasury report on the coronavirus payments on Monday evening but will wait another month before making any changes.
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