The double whammy of the bushfires and the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on retailers, who say they need a tax holiday and freeze on wage increases.
The double whammy of the bushfires and the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on retailers, who say they need a tax holiday and freeze on wage increases.

Coronavirus sparks call for tax ‘holiday’ and wage freeze

Coronavirus has taken a toll on an already struggling retail sector, with some precincts reporting shopper numbers down 60 per cent, the National Retailers Association has claimed.

The peak body for 28,000 retail and fast food outlets nationwide yesterday released a "Blueprint for Retail Recovery" calling for a range of assistance from different levels of government, including a 12-month payroll tax "holiday" and an exemption to increases in the national minimum wage for businesses affected by bushfires and coronavirus.

National Retailers Association CEO Dominique Lamb said retail precincts in or near suburbs with high densities of Asian Australians, such as Sunnybank in Queensland, Market City in Sydney and Box Hill in Melbourne, had been most exposed to the "coronavirus effect".

National Retail Association boss Dominique Lamb. Picture: Peter Wallis
National Retail Association boss Dominique Lamb. Picture: Peter Wallis

One bubble tea brand had reported a 66 per cent drop in sales in recent weeks, she said.

"Realistically consumers should have no concerns," she said. "People should be out and about shopping. There is really no risk of people contracting anything."

She said all three levels of government had an obligation to counter the infection fears that were causing people to stay home.

"That messaging needs to come out at all levels," she said.

While the exact impact on the sector will only be known with the release of figures for the March quarter, she said, some shopping centres were "the quietest people have ever seen them".

News Corp has contacted the federal government for a response to the NRA's request for exemptions to increases in the national minimum wage.

Payroll tax is a state government matter. In Victoria, the Andrews government has slashed payroll tax for bushfire-affected businesses to a quarter of the metropolitan rate.

Bargains galore but no customers at this store in Brisbane’s Stafford Shopping Centre. Picture: AAP Image/Attila Csaszar
Bargains galore but no customers at this store in Brisbane’s Stafford Shopping Centre. Picture: AAP Image/Attila Csaszar

Helen Sawczak, National CEO of the Australia China Business Council, which represents 1000 Australian companies working in China, said the economic impact from the coronavirus would be "profound".

Affected businesses were dealing with both staff and goods being in limbo, and in some cases trying to seek alternative markets, she said.

"The biggest thing now is the free flow of people. People are stranded between countries," she said.

"Logistics are at a standstill; there is a quagmire of exports waiting to be distributed at ports."

Despite the 2003 SARS virus having a higher fatality rate than coronavirus - some 9 per cent of people who contracted SARS died from it, compared to a little over 2 per cent for coronavirus - Ms Sawczak said the economic environment surrounding the two viruses were vastly different.

CEO of Australia-China Business Council, Helen Sawczak. Picture: Nikki Short
CEO of Australia-China Business Council, Helen Sawczak. Picture: Nikki Short

"China is much more integrated into the global economy than it was in 2003," she said. "This will hit us harder."

Nevertheless, businesses are looking to the SARS experience with some hope, she added.

"The experience of SARS in 2003 was that the warmer weather in the northern hemisphere basically stopped the virus, so we are hoping coronavirus may be curtailed in a few weeks time."


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