Owner of Fish D'Vine Kevin Collins says a JobKeeper extension is vital for Whitsunday businesses. Picture: Laura Thomas
Owner of Fish D'Vine Kevin Collins says a JobKeeper extension is vital for Whitsunday businesses. Picture: Laura Thomas

‘It’s the difference between staying afloat and going under’

CALLS to extend the "absolutely critical" JobKeeper payments may be answered this week in a move a Whitsunday business owner says will mark the "difference between staying afloat and going under" for many of the region's businesses.

The Courier Mail today reported that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will unveil an extension to the JobKeeper payment on Thursday.

The new assessment-based scheme was predicted to take into account those in industries that have been hit the hardest such as tourism and hospitality.

While full details won't be revealed until Thursday, Mr Frydenberg said the government had been considering a "sliding scale" payment scheme that would give more money to those worst affected.

The announcement comes as new data revealed the number of residents in the Airlie-Whitsunday area on JobKeeper payments had more than tripled from December to May.

 

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is set to announce changes to the JobKeeper scheme on Thursday. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is set to announce changes to the JobKeeper scheme on Thursday. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Fish D'Vine owner Kevin Collins said the JobKeeper scheme had been "an absolute game changer" for his business and hoped a targeted extension would provide much-needed assistance for the whole region.

In the early stages of the pandemic, Mr Collins had to cut staff back to just four employees.

However, JobKeeper allowed him to re-engage 17 staff and keep them working ahead of the restaurant's reopening in its new location.

Mr Collins said an extension of the payment would be critical in allowing restaurants to maintain quality and service as they grapple with limits on capacity.

"At the moment what's happening is that we're operating on reduced capacity, so instead of being able to seat 170 guests at once, we're only able to seat 80 at once," he said.

"As a consequence of that we're under-utilising all our capacity and facilities.

"Funnily enough, it doesn't take many more staff to serve 170 people as it does to serve 80.

"What JobKeeper is doing is allowing us to operate with a degree of wage subsidy, which offsets the loss in capacity we have.

"While social distancing restrictions are in place in the restaurant, cafe and pub industry, JobKeeper needs to stay in place because unfortunately it's the difference between staying afloat and going under."

Fish D'Vine owner Kevin Collins says JobKeeper is crucial as businesses deal with reduced capacity because of coronavirus. Picture: Deborah Friend
Fish D'Vine owner Kevin Collins says JobKeeper is crucial as businesses deal with reduced capacity because of coronavirus. Picture: Deborah Friend

Mr Collins said it was even more important for a region like the Whitsundays where the economy relies on tourism.

He said removing the payment could force businesses to either reduce staff or reduce quality, which would then lead to unsatisfied visitors.

"It is that critical and we're a relatively large operation, but without it we certainly couldn't provide anything like the level of service we're trying to provide," he said.

"We'd have to scale back massively on our quality of offering to tourists and guests.

"That does nobody any good if the restaurants in town that are operating are operating on such tight margins that they have to either increase their costs or decrease their quality of food or decrease their service standards.

"JobKeeper is absolutely helping not only keep people employed, it's allowing those businesses that are open to maintain their standards."

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The JobKeeper scheme was announced on March 30 and was originally set to end in September.

However, pressure from operators and politicians has forced the government to reconsider the end date with some operators saying it could cause the "mass death of small business" in the Whitsundays.

The payment provides employees of businesses with a turnover of less than $1 billion that had lost 30 per cent of their income with a $1500 fortnightly payment.

Dawson MP George Christensen said while there was "a lot of speculation" surrounding the new scheme, he hoped it would provide support for businesses in the Whitsundays.

"I think that there has been enough information presented, enough lobbying that's been done, including by myself, of the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and every other cabinet minister, around the need for a continuation of JobKeeper," he said.

"Particularly for regions that are feeling it tough and doing it tough.

"That includes the tourism sector, that includes hospitality, that includes the Whitsundays.

"If the announcement is that affected businesses will keep JobKeeper and perhaps they'll look at that on a month-by-month basis as a continuation, that would probably satisfy me and satisfy a lot of the businesses and workers in this region.

Dawson MP George Christensen hopes the payment will be extended to help Whitsunday businesses in need. Picture: Melanie Whiting
Dawson MP George Christensen hopes the payment will be extended to help Whitsunday businesses in need. Picture: Melanie Whiting

"The best case scenario would be a continuation of JobKeeper for businesses that have a downturn of 30 per cent or more and that going on at least until the end of the year, and I think beyond that it should certainly be a month-by-month, case-by-case basis.

"At the bare minimum I would expect there would be a continuation of sorts for tourism and hospitality businesses."

Mr Christensen has previously called for an extension to the payment, saying there was a "strong moral argument" for the government to extend a lifeline to those in need.


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