By Colin MacGillivray
MEMBER for Euroa Steph Ryan has slammed the State Government for refusing to offer financial aid to small businesses and sole traders not registered to pay GST during Victoria’s recent COVID-19 lockdown.
The government announced a $250 million assistance package for businesses affected by the lockdown at the end of May, followed by a further $209 million when the lockdown was extended, but eligibility criteria stipulated businesses had to be registered to pay GST to receive payments.
Businesses are only required to pay GST if they earn more than $75,000 annually, meaning many small businesses and sole traders are not registered.
Ms Ryan said the decision had hurt some of the people struggling most during the pandemic.
“If you don’t make $75,000 a year, clearly you’re not on the gravy train,” she said.
“Why is the government refusing to pay support for small businesses that are at the smaller end of the scale? Those people still have families to feed and kids to send to school. They are still paying taxes and contributing to the economy.”
Ms Ryan said the government had failed to justify why businesses not registered for the GST were excluded.
“We asked the government about it in Parliament, and [Acting Premier] James Merlino’s response was that the government can’t assess whether businesses are valid or not if they’re not registered for GST. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason,” she said.
“There are lots of ways you can determine whether a business is active and operating. Someone can show you their bank statements.
“It’s not good enough to say you have to be registered for the GST for the government to determine whether you exist as a business or not.”
Broadford accountant Scott McDougall said he had dealt with several businesses that had discovered they were ineligible for assistance.
“Many of my clients have had to close their business over the lockdown and have not received any other forms of income or compensation to cover the losses they have incurred,” he said.
“I understand that there must be some restrictions in place for the process, however, some seem to be completely biased against sole traders.
“It doesn’t seem logical or fair that these people are victimised because of the amount of income that they earn from their ventures.”
Wandong mobile paintless dent removal technician Shawn Cody said he registered to receive government assistance but was told he was ineligible because his business industry code was not listed as eligible.
He said while other workers in his industry had been deemed essential and allowed to work throughout the lockdown, he had been prevented from doing so.
“Because I fall under the same code as a spray painter or a panel beater, they were essential and able to work, but I work on site. That means going to people’s homes, which was a no-go,” he said.
“I’m regional but I would say 85 per cent of my work is in the metro area, so I just couldn’t work.”
Mr Cody said he had received the now-discontinued federal JobKeeper payment during Victoria’s months-long 2020 lockdown, but now had no support from either the state or federal governments.
“I was eligible for JobKeeper last year, but now they’ve abolished that there’s no support. If we have another lockdown next week or the week after or in another few months, I’ll have no income again,” he said.
“There are plenty of other people who need the money more than I do, I just want to make a point that it should be fair for everyone.”
Ms Ryan said business support was the state’s responsibility, not the Federal Government.
“I never understood why the State Government wasn’t providing support to sole traders from the very start,” she said.
“The treasurer and Acting Premier very clearly stated two weeks ago that business support is the responsibility of the State Government.
“I think it was good that people got JobKeeper, but the State Government can’t just say that because the Federal Government funded them last time, it’s their responsibility again. They should have been providing assistance from the start.”