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Hallelujah! Aussies digitally transformed by COVID-19

Peter Switzer
29 September 2020

Hang on, help is on its way from the Morrison Government. And it will be outlined in next Tuesday’s Budget, which is set to promise $800 million for businesses to help them make the most of the digital age that has invaded the business world because of the Coronavirus. A McKinsey report says the adoption of technology by consumers and business has progressed 5 years in the space of 8 weeks!

And the AFR’s Phil Coorey says “31 per cent of Australian businesses had expanded their online presence, 25 per cent had changed their mode of delivery, and 23 per cent had diversified into new product lines and services.”

If you need proof about how digital we’ve all become, you only have to look at the success of Kogan.com and the huge sales of Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi. And there are even virtual real estate tours and people are buying properties online, sight unseen, in the real world.

And valuers are calculating what a house is worth using a video camera and a smart phone! So it’s in the interest of the Government to encourage as many businesses as possible to get digital, learn about its potential and use it to increase their customer base both here and abroad.

COVID-19 and the lockdowns, as well as the restrictions, have meant many Australians have bought something online for the first time. And the number of online purchasers and purchases is set to increase exponentially. Therefore, it makes sense that the Government leads the way in making us all more digital. I’m looking forward to seeing what the plan is for $120 million of the $800 million, which is to be allocated across more than a dozen new initiatives designed to help businesses adapt to technology.

That’s great, but it means $620 million will be for areas that will help Government interact with businesses, provide services and, hopefully, reduce red tape. For those who are sticklers for details, services to be provided are listed below at the end of this story, but I’m hoping the Federal Budget also does some practical things to help specific businesses smashed by this virus and the related Government-imposed restrictions.

If you watch the interview I did yesterday with entrepreneur/chef, Luke Mangan, you’ll come to understand that CBD businesses and those leveraged off tourism (both local and international) really need targeted help.

Along with the likes of Neil Perry and Justin Hemmes, Luke met with the NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, hoping to design strategies to get crowds back to the CBD.

Real world initiatives (such as free transport to the city and greater freedom for restaurants and cafes to put tables and chairs on footpaths) were suggested because right now, the hospitality industry needs all the help it can get.

This is where the Federal Treasurer and State Treasurers might need to think outside the square. Relaxing fringe benefit tax rules for businesses in hospitality could be a great fillip for cafes and restaurants.

And State Governments in NSW and Victoria, in particular, could grant a payroll tax holiday to businesses in hospitality in their respective CBDs.

These are outlandish and ‘outside the square’ ideas but we’re living through an ‘outside the square’ challenge and crisis. If our Treasurers play an ‘inside the box’ game, the results could be disappointing.

I take my hat off to Josh Frydenberg and his State Treasurers for coming up with big ideas. In Tasmania, they’ve introduced vouchers to encourage Tasmanians to holiday on the Apple Isle. Each applicant could get $100 to help pay for accommodation or $200 for a couple. And there was $50 per holidaymaker for an experience.

The idea was great and took only 40 minutes online for Tasmanians to claim their vouchers. Unfortunately, only $7.5 million was allocated to the idea. That was so inside the square!

I’m really hoping Josh shocks us with some great innovative ideas to really get business hiring and investing because that will be the basis of a strong economic recovery in 2021.

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