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ScoMo and Josh take on COVID-19

Peter Switzer
23 March 2020

With businesses and beaches virtually closed down by a Coronavirus-concerned Canberra and the Government’s sidekick state governments, the big question is: will the scariness of our uncertain futures be offset by the $189 billion that the PM and the Treasurer are throwing at the problem?

The number-crunchers say that this is about 9.7% of GDP and undoubtedly it will be bigger after the States throw in their assistance, such as the payroll tax holiday and so on.

Normal people and even economists like me are shocked and awed by the idea that most of us will be working from home for who knows how long. Even today we’re not entirely sure who is in an essential service!

Based on the $1.9 trillion worth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) we make each year, we produce about $190 billion worth of goods and services each month. That means the Government’s $189 billion will help make up for about one lost month of GDP. And even though we might see the economy badly hampered for two months, there still will be production of goods and services from essential services and businesses performing many services from their home-based staff.

(The economic hangover could be with us for six months but the pickup for GDP from the stimulus will be operating ASAP.)

We also have to remember that $90 billion of the $189 billion is money the Reserve Bank makes available to banks to lend out to businesses at lower rates of interest.

The Government’s rescue has seen the banks jump to join the mission.

CBA Chief Executive Officer, Matt Comyn, got on the front foot on Sunday morning and said: “We welcome today’s announcement by the Government, which will help hundreds of thousands of small businesses stay afloat and millions of workers keep their jobs over the next six months. It will help businesses reopen and help people get back to work following this unprecedented set of circumstances. “The Commonwealth Bank will support as many of the Government supported loans as possible and in doing so make available up to $10 billion of additional unsecured credit to support small and medium businesses.”

Westpac followed up with the following undertakings: “Westpac today confirmed its support of the Federal Government Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, which will see the government guarantee 50 per cent of new loans issued by eligible lenders to small and medium size businesses.  From Monday 23 March, Westpac will offer an unsecured 3-year term loan up to $250,000 to all business customers with a turnover of less than $50 million. This offer will be available with a 6 month payment free option which will be capitalised at the end of the 6-month period.

“This loan will be available to both existing and new customers that meet the eligibility criteria for a 6-month period. These loans will be offered at a 4% discount to our current unsecured small business loan.”

These are huge offerings and are just as shocking, in a good way, as the shocks of workers being ‘banned’ from their businesses and their beaches!

Below is a quick summary of what the Government is prepared to throw at this economic curve ball from hell. And if it’s not enough, there will be more stimulus.


  • Total rescue package is $189 billion, or 9.7% of GDP.
  • The Coronavirus supplement: Both existing and new recipients of Jobseeker Payment, Youth Allowance Jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit will receive income support payments via a new, time-limited Coronavirus supplement to be paid at a rate of $550 per fortnight. (Self-employed business owners may be able to access supporting funds via  a "coronavirus supplement" of $550 a fortnight for the next six months and if you're already receiving payments through Jobseeker (formerly known as Newstart), you can claim both. Sole traders and casual workers who are currently making less than $1,075 a fortnight will be eligible to receive the full supplement.
  • Household support: Social security, veteran and other income support recipients and eligible concession card holders will receive two separate $750 payments.The first from 31 March 2020 and the second from 13 July 2020. (The second payment will not be made to those eligible for the Coronavirus supplement.)

Super support:

  1. If the Coronavirus causes individuals financial hardship, they will be able to access $10,000 of their super before 1 July 2020 and after 1 July 2020. (Individuals won’t need to pay tax on amounts released and the money they withdraw will not affect Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs payments.) Sole trader business owners will be able to use this super access measure to enhance their cash flow.
  2. Retirees will now see their compulsory minimum drawdown from their super pension accounts halved. This will help retirees to reduce the need to sell stocks out of their super into a sold-off stock market.
  3. As of 1 May 2020, the upper deeming rate  will be 2.25% and the lower one 0.25%. The Government says: “The change will benefit around 900,000 income support recipients, including around 565,000 Age Pensioners who will, on average receive around $105 more of the Age Pension in the first full year the reduced rates apply. “

Business support

These measures aim to support over 3.5 million businesses (over 99% of businesses) employing more than 9.7 million employees.

Boosting Cash Flow for Employers: This measure will be doubled from the first stimulus package released on 12 March, 2020. This affects businesses with turnovers less than $50 million. Employers will receive a payment equal to 100% of their salary and wages withheld (up from 50%), with the maximum payment being increased from $25,000 to $50,000. In addition, the minimum payment is being increased from $2,000 to $10,000. And this effective tax rebate will again be available from April 28. A business could receive as much as $100,000 and a minimum of $20,000 over the two periods.

Here’s an example from www.treasury.gov.au:

Sarah owns and runs a building business in South Australia and employs 8 construction workers on average full-time weekly earnings, who each earn $89,730 per year. Sarah reports withholding of $15,008 for her employees on each of her monthly Business Activity Statements (BAS).

Under the Government’s changes, Sarah will be eligible to receive the payment on lodgement of her BAS. Sarah’s business receives:

  • A credit of $45,024 for the March period, equal to 300 per cent of her total withholding.
  • A credit of $4,976 for the April period, before she reaches the $50,000 cap.
  • No payment for the May period, as she has now reached the $50,000 cap.
  • An additional payment of $12,500 for the June period, equal to 25 per cent of her total Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments.
  • An additional payment of $12,500 for the July period, equal to 25 per cent of her total Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments.
  • An additional payment of $12,500 for the August period, equal to 25 per cent of her total Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments.
  • An additional payment of $12,500 for the September period, equal to 25 per cent of her total Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments.

Under the previously announced Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure, Sarah’s business would have received a maximum payment of $25,000.

Under the Government’s enhanced Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure, Sarah’s business will receive $100,000. This is an additional $75,000 to support her business and help her retain her staff.

A smaller business example:

Tim owns and runs a small paper delivery business in Melbourne, and employs two casual employees who each earn $10,000 per year. In his quarterly BAS, Tim reports withholding of $0 for his employees as they are under the tax-free threshold.

Under the Government’s changes, Tim will be eligible to receive the payment on lodgement of his BAS.

Tim’s business will receive:

  • A credit of $10,000 for the March quarter, as he pays salary and wages but is not required to withhold tax.
    • An additional payment of $5,000 for the June quarter, equal to 50 per cent of his total Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments.
    • An additional payment of $5,000 for the September quarter, equal to 50 per cent of his total Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments.

If Tim begins withholding tax for the June quarter, he would need to withhold more than $10,000 before he receives any additional payment.

Under the previously announced Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure, Tim’s business would have received a total payment of $2,000.

Under the Government’s enhanced Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure, Tim’s business will receive $20,000. This is an additional $18,000 to support his business.

Relief for Financially Distressed Businesses: Measures will be taken to help Coronavirus challenged businesses in the following ways:

  1. The Government is temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and to initiate bankrupt proceedings against an individual. Plus, the Government will temporarily increase the time companies and individuals have to respond to statutory demands they receive.
  2. The package also includes temporary relief for directorsfrom any personal liability for trading while insolvent, and providing temporary flexibility in the Corporations Act 2001 to provide targeted relief from provisions of the Act.
  3. The ATO will support businesses and allow temporary reductions in payments or deferrals, or withholding enforcement actions. There will be concessions in relation to Director Penalty Notices and wind-ups.
  4. The instant asset write-off threshold goes from $30,000 to $150,000 and applies to businesses with turnover up to $500 million. Formerly it was $50 million. This applies until 30 June 2020.
  5. The Government is introducing a time-limited 15 month investment incentive (through to
    30 June 2021) to support business investment and economic growth over the short term, by accelerating depreciation deductions. Businesses with a turnover of less than $500 million will be able to deduct 50% of the cost of an eligible asset on installation, with existing depreciation rules applying to the balance of the asset’s cost.
  6. Eligible employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50% of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage for 9 months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. Where a small business is not able to retain an apprentice, the subsidy will be available to a new employer that employs that apprentice. Employers will be reimbursed up to a maximum of $21,000 per eligible apprentice or trainee ($7,000 per quarter).
  7. Under the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, the Government will provide a guarantee of 50% to SME lenders to support new short-term unsecured loans to SMEs. The Scheme will guarantee up to $40 billion of new lending. This will provide businesses with funding to meet cash flow needs, by further enhancing lenders’ willingness and ability to provide credit. This will assist otherwise viable businesses across the economy who are facing significant challenges due to disrupted cash flow to meet existing obligations.
  8. The Government is cutting red tape by providing a temporary exemption from responsible lending obligations for lenders providing credit to existing small business customers. This reform will help small businesses get access to credit quickly and efficiently.

Support for the regions

The Government will set aside $1 billion to support regions most significantly affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. These funds will be available to assist during the outbreak and the recovery. In addition, the Government is assisting our airline industry by providing relief from a number of taxes and Government charges, estimated to total up to $715 million.

RBA and the banks

  • RBA funding means banks will have access to at least $90 billion in funding at a fixed interest rate of 0.25%
  • • To encourage lending to businesses, the facility offers additional low-cost funding to banks if they expand their business lending, with particular incentives applying to new loans to SMEs.
  • • The Government is providing an additional $15 billion to smaller lenders to assist lending to SMEs and other customers at lower interest rates.

And the message is clear from the Government that if more spending is needed, then it will spend more.

So what’s the big hope?

The beating of the Coronavirus happens within a month and workers get back to work and this stimulus does the heavy-lifting, unleashing multiplier effects that will propel the economy into good growth by the December quarter or even earlier!

I won’t be watching economic data seriously or even caring about the ups and downs of the stock market until the infection and death rates point to the worst of this damn virus being behind us, the Europeans, the USA and the rest of the world.

Go the world!

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