By Meg Hill
The CBD’s community and economy are, like the rest of the world, wading through an unprecedented experience.
CBD jobs have been lost, meaning CBD workers are unemployed. Foot traffic is down, and sales are plummeting. On Sunday, March 22 Premier Daniel Andrews announced all non-essential services would be shut down in the following 48 hours, for an indefinite period.
Here’s how events and impacts unfolded in the CBD up to that point.
Government and business
Amid announcements of federal and state government stimulus packages, the City of Melbourne passed its own stimulus valued at more than $10 million on March 17.
The package focused on small businesses in the municipality and included:
A virtual business support summit at Melbourne Town Hall;
Suspending fees for Food Act (1984) registrations and street trading permits for three months;
Halving rent for eligible tenants in Council-owned buildings for three months;
Opportunities to deploy casual and part-time staff to enhance city cleanliness and amenity; and
Developing a Rates Hardship Policy for consideration by the end of March.
Councillors stressed the stimulus was only a beginning and more measures would likely be announced in “the coming weeks”.
“We recognise that cash flow management will be a pressing issue for small businesses in the coming weeks and months,” Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said.
“We’re developing an investment package to provide direct support to businesses. This will include up to $1 million for training and support and up to $500,000 in grants to support businesses to develop e-commerce and online services.”
“We will also implement a business concierge service that will provide one-on-one advice and support to Melbourne businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19.”
The business support summit, proposed by Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, is a partnership with the state and federal governments, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the package would support businesses affected by the state-wide emergency measures announced on Monday, March 23 which include social distancing to prioritise health and safety.
“The economic impacts from this virus will be significant and we’re encouraging everybody to support local businesses wherever they can,” the Lord Mayor said.
“In partnership with Spotless Services, we will also provide cross training and employment for approximately 200 affected casual staff to be redeployed to work on improving city cleanliness and presentation.”
The Council will also work with the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) management to provide appropriate support to traders.
“We’re doing everything we can to help businesses stay open and keep Melburnians in jobs,” the Lord Mayor said.
The City of Melbourne’s business concierge can now be accessed here: melbourne.vic.gov.au/business
On March 19, Luke Harris, President of the Collins Street Precinct
Group (CPSG), told the CBD business community it was “more important than ever that we band together as businesses to support each other”.
“We are currently working closely with our marketing agency Kreate, the City of Melbourne and our other key partners to do whatever we can to support you during this time.”
Mr Harris suggested some initial ideas to “promote your business during this time and into the future” which included online opportunities, takeaway and delivery services and gift vouchers.
The Victorian Government’s relief package announced on March 21 included:
Payroll tax telief for businesses with payroll under $3 million. Refund of payroll tax paid by eligible businesses backdated to July 1, 2019 and deferral of future tax for the current financial year.
Cash allocations of $113,000, with an average payment of $24,000, to 24,000 small to medium businesses who together employ over 400,000 people in Victoria (eligibility criteria to be determined).
$500 million Business Support Package for industries hardest hit by the impacts of coronavirus – namely tourism, hospitality, accommodation, events and the arts.
$500 million to look after displaced workers and workers that have been stood down.
The state government has also introduced a register to match the skills of displaced workers with other businesses, which can be accessed here: vic.gov.au/workingforvictoria.
$100 million has also been allocated to remove rent obligations for commercial businesses that operate in government properties, while liquor licensing fees have also been waived.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said that all invoices due to businesses for services provided to government agencies would be paid within five days of the announcement to improve cash flow.
The government will also provide land tax relief for land holdings of less than $1 million, providing a reprieve on payments for this year and a liability deferral out to 2021.
At the time of publishing, the federal government had also announced two stimulus packages valued at $17.6 and $66 billion for impacted individuals and businesses. Further details of what these include can be found here: treasury.gov.au/coronavirus.
Cr Rohan Leppert, chair of the City of Melbourne’s Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio, said some of the most immediate impacts were felt in the arts sector.
“One after the other creative directors and CEOs are calling me and saying we’re about to cancel or defer our upcoming festival,” he said.
“The arts ecosystem is very deep and very broad, and like other sectors the City of Melbourne is overexposed, so there’s a lot of independent contractors and casual workers.”
Representatives of the arts and culture sector addressed the Council on March 17 to outline the impact they have already felt locally and nationally.
Matthew Peckham, production services manager at Her Majesty’s Theatre, told council hundreds of jobs in the live theatre sector alone had already been lost in the CBD.
“In the last couple of days Billy Elliot, Come From Away and Shrek the Musical have all been forced to close early,” Mr Peckham said.
“Thirty-two performers are unemployed because Shrek has closed. Over a hundred stage crew, ushers, food and beverage staff, cleaners, security guards have all lost their jobs as well and they are nearly all casual employers.”
“What few people realise is that live theatre employs more people than the mining industry, live theatre employs more people than the vehicle building industry ever did.”
Many major arts and cultural institutions in the municipality, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the State Library of Victoria, closed from March 16.
Smaller boutique galleries and cultural hubs followed with staggered announcements until the announcement that all non-essential services would be shut down.
Live music venues were also hit early. At the time of writing the Australian music industry had lost $280 million, with an estimate of 255,000 cancelled gigs and 500,000 individuals impacted.
Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan told Beat: “Every facet of the industry’s haemorrhaging. I need a music hospital.”
Many residents in the CBD are part of Australia’s elderly community. Local residents’ groups, some of residents’ vital support networks, have had to cease meetings amid the crisis.
On March 16, EastEnders president Dr Stan Capp informed members their meeting planned for the next day would be cancelled.
“Numerous smaller discretionary events like ours are being cancelled through ‘an abundance of caution’ and this seems entirely appropriate,” he said.
“I think that we should also display an abundance of caution and cancel. I would hate to have any consequence from going ahead and so with some sadness I advise that EastEnders will not proceed as planned for tomorrow.”
“We will reconvene when it is indicated to safely do so.”
“In the meantime, stay well, follow advice from our clinical leaders and support each other.”
Residents3000 President Rafael Camillo told members on March 21 the group would do its best to continue communication.
“For the safety of committee members, it is my sad duty to inform you that the next event will be cancelled and possibly further events also,” he said.
“As we all know, the is a rapidly changing event, and we will need to keep abreast of the situation and make the decision to resume events when the relevant organisations consider it is safe to do so.”
“We will try to keep in touch by using our Facebook page and posting some interesting information. Just simply type Residents3000 on Facebook and follow us.”
“We’re all in this together, and if we follow the appropriate guidelines, we’ll have the best chance of getting through this as best as possible. Let’s remain positive and do what we can for one another while doing our best to remain healthy and safe.” •