Virtual business summit provides important boost

By Sean Car

The City of Melbourne’s online virtual business summit on April 16 has provided valuable support to many of the city’s businesses struggling due to the coronavirus.

With many businesses in lockdown and foot traffic plummeting in the central city, the council staged the online summit to provide business owners and workers with direct access to a range of experts and advice that could help them during the crisis. 

More than 600 people tuned into the live-streamed summit, an initiative spearheaded by Deputy Lord Mayor and finance and governance portfolio chair Arron Wood. Thousands more have since viewed the summit online. 

“This morning is really about connecting you with some of the experts to hear latest information. But also, to hear, critically, from you as our business community,” Cr Wood said. 

“You might be a cafe owner who is asking what sort of support is available to you at this critical time. You might be a retail store or an important service and asking, ‘how long might these restrictions ask?’ That’s the million-dollar question. Rents, rates, fees, keeping staff employed – these are the sorts of questions we get to today.” 

“Today we have invited leaders from the business community, industry, health and government to really connect you to leading experts and hear from you as we work through this summit.” 

Assembling an impressive range of guest speakers and panel of experts, the two-and-a-half-hour summit began with addresses from the Lord Mayor Sally Capp, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg and state government Upper House member Jane Garrett, who each provided updates on the support available from all levels of government. 

The expert panel featured Victorian Chief Health Officer Prof. Brett Sutton, director of the Doherty Institute Prof. Sharon Lewin, Deloitte Australia’s Dr Prudeep Phillip and Victorian Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Guerra. 

Participants were able to write questions and submit comments through council’s virtual platform, which were read out to respective experts by Cr Wood as the summit progressed. 

Both Prof. Sutton and Prof. Lewin provided heartening insights into the work being done by the nation’s medical community to combat the virus, with Australia now among some of the best countries in the world in terms of low case numbers. 

“I want to emphasise that this is not a case of economy and health being in opposition,” Prof. Sutton said. “They are not opposing forces.”

“Where we are at in terms of our health status and in terms of having prevented a huge epidemic, is that we are in the very best position to bring back online some of the business and economic activity.” 

“Simply by virtue of the fact that we have driven transmission down I think it is a matter for our own congratulation, and I hope that by virtue of where we are at today, we can be in a position to step up to resume activity earlier than a number of countries that will really need to be in lockdown because of the terrible situation they are in right now.”

Prof. Sharon Lewin said, “We have only known about this virus since January 1. We’ve been able to generate an incredible response in Australia through a globalising resources innovation and we are now one of the leading countries in the world.”

“[There are] a lot of brilliant minds being turned to this problem and I am very optimistic that there will be a number of solutions that will allow us to buy even more time if we take 12 to 18 months to get a vaccine.”

The panel discussion was followed by an “industry deep-dive” into some of the industries worst-hit by COVID-19, including tourism, hospitality, retail and education, which heard from the likes of University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell and Victorian Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) CEO Felicia Mariani. 

City of Melbourne CEO Justin Hanney provided a summary statement detailing all the support packages available from all levels of government, and encouraged local businesses to make the most of it. 

“There is a really good summary of this information in the Victorian chamber and Paul Guerra mentioned victorianchamber.com.au and the VicGov website is important as well,” he said. 

“We have developed a concierge service and reallocated staff from libraries and staff who are good at communication and research and we have ramped up the business concierge service. All 20,000 small businesses that are in the City of Melbourne will receive a phone call over the coming weeks from the business concierge service.”  

The summit was closed with a message from Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harmann, who urged people to “stay connected” and to “reach for support if you need it”.

The City of Melbourne has set up a dedicated business support web page (melbourne.vic.gov.au/business/Pages/economic-support-businesses-covid19), as well as a Business Concierge Hotline, which can be contacted on
9658 9658

To view the summit visit: melbourne.vic.gov.au/business/grow-business/business-events/Pages/virtual-business-support-summit.aspx

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