Wilmar have put measures in place to help deal with coronavirus. Image: Deborah Friend
Wilmar have put measures in place to help deal with coronavirus. Image: Deborah Friend

State Government need to ‘think outside the box’

AMID fears the coronavirus pandemic could have an ongoing affect on the Proserpine economy, a call has been made to the State Government to come up with "innovative" solutions to help businesses stay afloat.

This comes after a $500 million loan facility and an extension to the coronavirus payroll tax deferral were unveiled by the State Government on Tuesday.

The loans comprise of up to $250,000 with a 12-month interest free period aimed at keeping businesses on their feet and staff employed as coronavirus takes its toll on the region's economy.

However, Proserpine Chamber of Commerce president Bob Bogie said the local economy would benefit from other measures such as cuts to electricity prices, breaks from car registration costs and deferring rental payments.

"Anything which injects cash into the economy is good … but I don't see the benefit in Proserpine," he said.

"State Government need to think outside the box.

"We need to introduce money into the local economy but retain it locally."

Mr Bogie said coronavirus could have an ongoing effect on businesses in the long run.

To ease pressure, he suggested measures such as a break from rental payments and other outgoings.

By doing this, businesses could then focus on getting back on their feet.

"We need to work out a model where a break can be taken," he said.

"If we defer things for three months, the banks are giving businesses and households a three-month break."

In turn, Mr Bogie said money could then be injected back into the local economy where people can spend locally and support businesses in Proserpine.

"You inject some money into somebody's pocket and they might go and have an extra cup of coffee," he said.

"People should where possible shop local, it's essential people try to do that."

While he said the payroll tax deferral and loans would not necessarily benefit Proserpine business, other State Government initiatives aimed at providing an economic benefit for the tourism sector would have a positive impact.

Meanwhile, Member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan is calling for a targeted aid package for the region like the $4.8 million for international tourism promotion and other resilience measures for Tropical Far North Queensland and the Gold Coast region that was announced in February.

Mr Costigan said the region had been "snubbed" and was pushing for support after tabling a question regarding the assistance for tourism operators at state parliament this week.

"I would have thought we'd have something that was commiserate with the black hole in our economy as a result of COVID-19 in a place that is the heart of the reef and called that for a good reason," he said.

"Where's the special assistance that was forthcoming a couple of weeks ago for Cairns and the Gold Coast?

"I don't begrudge the Gold Coast and Cairns getting extra love and attention, but you can't possibly get away with not giving the Whitsundays anything over and above the standard fare, which has been brandied around that they're hoping will keep people happy."

Other businesses in the region were preparing for the impact that coronavirus could have on both cash flow and jobs.

Among them is Wilmar who said they developed guidelines to manage the risk of COVID-19, based on the latest advice from the State and Federal governments.

"We have put steps in place to help protect the health, safety and welfare of our people and their families, contractors and visitors to our sites, and our customers," a Wilmar Sugar Australia spokesman said.

"These measures include restrictions on travel, minimising external face-to-face meetings, health controls on visitors and contractors, and implementing social distancing measures at work sites.

"Wilmar employs about 240 people in the Proserpine region during the crushing season.

"We are monitoring the unfolding situation closely and continue to work towards the start of crushing in June."

Other businesses in Proserpine were calling on community support over the coming months with a push to "spend local".

Employee at Colour Me Crazy Stacey Bernett said while the business had not yet looked into state government assistance, it was something they may consider moving forward.

While the shop had been quiet Ms Bernett said she had faith the community would come together to help support the local economy.

"We need to band together as a little community," she said.

"We don't want to see shops close down."

Ms Bernett said residents could help shop owners push through this tough time by shopping locally and putting their money back into Proserpine's small businesses.

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