Tax relief and better loans access promised for small businesses hit by bushfires and coronavirus

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Picture: AAP
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Picture: AAP

Small businesses affected by the coronavirus will be able to defer tax debts in the same way as firms hit by the summer bushfires, under a government plan to formalise eight-week deferrals for the business activity statements of companies squeezed for cash.

Scott Morrison has also asked for access to small business loans and grants to be “rephrased and reviewed” to improve delivery of financial help to small firms suffering as a result of the bushfires.

Josh Frydenberg is expected to reassure small businesses already feeling the impact of interruption to supply chains and falling tourism that the Australian Taxation Office will respond to requests for deferring quarterly payments.

In January, the Treasurer extended an eight-week stay on tax debts to the ATO put in place in November and December for quarterly business activity statements for small businesses struggling with cashflows.

Ahead of a Council of Small Business Australia coronavirus crisis meeting on Wednesday, chief executive Peter Strong told The Australian the bushfire tax deferrals had been effective and a stay of payments to small businesses affected by the coronavirus was also a worthwhile initiative.

“It is good but there needs to be more done to stop businesses failing and laying off workers,” Mr Strong said.

“Falling tourism is already hitting small businesses and there are concerns quarantine measures, sick workers and transport restrictions would hit them harder.

“To protect jobs and continue government revenue, it may be necessary to ultimately forgive payroll and BAS tax debts as well as supplying “easy get” $50,000 loans over 10 years with low interest to keep people in work.”

Anthony Albanese also called on the government to “do more for struggling small businesses in bushfire-affected areas by offering a targeted program of wage assistance for employers”.

“Small businesses in fire-devastated areas around the country are desperate for financial help right now,” the Opposition Leader said.

“Concern is mounting that the Morrison government’s small business package is not getting to businesses that need it most, nor having the desired result.

“These small businesses in fire-affected areas are facing a cashflow crisis.

“While shopfronts are still standing, many have lost their livelihoods due to the bushfires and are facing continued economic uncertainty, severely impacting their ability to employ staff,” he said.

In parliament, Mike Kelly, the Labor MP for Eden-Monaro on the NSW south coast, which was savaged by bushfires, asked the Prime Minister why businesses in his electorate “felt left behind”.

After a series of meetings last week with the head of the national bushfire recovery agency, Andrew Colvin, NSW MPs and the Minister for Emergency Management, David Littleproud, Mr Morrison said he was looking “at some important suggestions that can increase the access to the small business grants”.

“I look forward to us being able to deliver a better program … We will be doing that to ensure that we’re backing those businesses,” Mr Morrison said.