Victoria pledges $196.6 million construction aid for COVID-19 lockdown, treasurer denounces lack of Commonwealth aid

Victoria’s treasurer has launched an attack on the federal government over what he called an “unfair” lack of financial support for the state’s closed construction industry.

Treasurer Tim Pallas today announced a $196.6 million package in one-time payments to eligible construction companies affected by industry shutdowns in Melbourne, Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.

All construction work, with the exception of a very select few urgent projects, was halted for a fortnight from September 21 and will resume on October 4.

The shutdown was announced due to an increase in transmission at construction sites and what the government said was a lack of compliance within the industry.

It has been dubbed the day when protests against an industry vaccine mandate turned violent outside the CFMEU’s union offices in Melbourne, leading to days of other rallies.

Mr. Pallas said unemployed sole proprietors would receive a one-time payment of $2,000, increasing to $2,800 for companies with annual payrolls of up to $650,000.

A $5,600 grant would be available to companies with $650,000 to $3 million payroll, and an $8,400 stipend for $3 million to $10 million payroll.

Personnel and sole proprietorships not registered for GST would be eligible for the Commonwealth’s contingency payment.

Unlike previous shutdowns, where funding for business support grants has been split equally between the state and the Commonwealth, the grants will come entirely from the state coffers.

Pallas said the state was “very, very unhappy that the Commonwealth government broke with its practice of co-financing business support packages in Victoria and refused to contribute to this industry”.

Prior to closing in late September, construction had remained open for much of Victoria’s lockdown periods, with capacity caps.

Mr Pallas said his federal counterpart, Josh Frydenberg, told the state that because construction was not on the previously agreed list of industries, it would not be eligible for aid during the two-week shutdown.

Mr Pallas said this was “the only excuse that” [Mr Frydenberg] gave me, and it makes no sense”.

“If a government, in accordance with public health advice, tries to manage those industries that can remain open or have restrictions on their trade… chiseled in granite and you must not respond to the threat to public health as it arises,” he said.

“Now that is not only irresponsible, it is also dangerous from a public health point of view.”

In New South Wales, construction has been on the shutdown list since the start of the lockdown and was eligible for Commonwealth support when it was unable to operate.

However, Pallas said it was “blatantly favorable treatment for New South Wales as we were not sent back to Victoria when we were faced with the exact same situation as New South Wales”.

He said recent data has shown that New South Wales has received more disaster payments than Victoria since the scheme started.

However, when insisted that this was due to New South Wales having a much longer lockdown and larger population, Mr Pallas declined, calling Victorian businesses “more resilient”.

In a statement, Mr Frydenberg rejected claims that the Commonwealth was not providing enough support.

Pointing to the $50.2 billion that Victoria has received over the course of the pandemic, he said “the Morrison government is currently providing about twice as much economic support to Victorian households and businesses as the state government”.

“The Morrison government has paid $2.8 billion to approximately 700,000 Victorians through the COVID disaster payout,” he said.

“It is a demand-driven programme. Victoria’s recent lockdown is just over eight weeks ago, while NSW has been in lockdown for over 13 weeks.

“Employees, including construction workers, will continue to have access to the COVID disaster compensation.”

It’s not the first time Mr. Pallas has used a corporate support announcement to target the Commonwealth.

In May, he said he was angry and disappointed with the support measures during the state’s fourth lockdown.

Not long after, the Commonwealth announced its disaster payment scheme to replace JobKeeper and began dividing the cost of business support payments with the states.

That contingency payments will be rolled back once each state and territory has reached 70 percent and 80 percent vaccination rates for their population aged 16 and over.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Commonwealth had “cash-filled states when it comes to the health system, to support them through COVID, when it comes to supporting their industries and economies, whether it’s JobKeeper.” or the more recent economic aid or the COVID disaster payment”.

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