Thinking | 25 March 2020
Stimulus packages and economic response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) to assist Australian businesses
With COVID-19 impacting all areas of life, the Federal Government has announced its second economic stimulus package, bringing the total economic value to $189 billion. In addition, we look at initiatives announced by State governments and what steps the four major banks have recently announced. Our Commercial Dispute Resolution team explains what this means.
Federal Government, Commonwealth of Australia
12 March 2020 - Federal Government announces $17.6 billion economic stimulus package
22 March 2020 - Federal Government announces its second economic stimulus package, bringing the total economic value to $189 billion
The Federal Government has prepared a summary of its economic stimulus package for individuals and businesses. The summary includes a useful table identifying the timing for the roll out of the assistance.
Support for businesses
- Boosting cash flow for employers’ payments of up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, and not-for-profits (NFPs) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000. These payments will help businesses and NFPs with their cash flow so they can keep operating, pay their rent, electricity and other bills and retain staff.
- Small and medium-sized business entities with aggregated annual turnover under $50 million and that employ workers are eligible. NFPs, including charities, with aggregated annual turnover under $50 million and that employ workers will now also be eligible.
- Employers will receive a payment equal to 100 per cent of their salary and wages withheld (up from 50 per cent), 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.
- An additional payment is also being introduced in the July – October 2020 period. Eligible entities will receive an additional payment equal to the total of all of the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments they have received. This means that eligible entities will receive at least $20,000 up to a total of $100,000 under both payments
- Temporary relief for financially distressed businesses by temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive. The package also includes temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent, and providing temporary flexibility in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)to provide temporary and targeted relief from provisions of the Act to deal with unforeseen events that arise as a result of the Coronavirus health crisis. The ATO will tailor solutions for owners or directors of business that are currently struggling due to the Coronavirus, including temporary reduction of payments or deferrals, or withholding enforcement actions including Director Penalty Notices and wind-ups.
- Increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanding access to include businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million) until 30 June 2020. In 2017-18 there were more than 360,000 businesses that benefited from the current instant asset write-off, claiming deductions to the value of over $4 billion. This measure will support over 3.5 million businesses (over 99 per cent of businesses) employing more than 9.7 million employees.
- Backing business investment by providing 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 per cent of the cost of an eligible asset on installation, with existing depreciation rules applying to the balance of the asset’s cost. This measure will support business investment and is estimated to lower taxes paid by Australian businesses by $6.7 billion over the next two years. This measure will support over 3.5 million businesses (over 99 per cent of businesses) employing more than 9.7 million employees.
Supporting apprentices and trainees by allowing eligible employers to apply for a wage subsidy of 50 per cent 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). Support will also be provided to the National Apprentice Employment Network, the peak national body representing Group Training Organisations, to co-ordinate the re-employment of displaced apprentices and trainees throughout their network of host employers across Australia. This measure will support up to 70,000 small businesses, employing around 117,000 apprentices.
- Support for Coronavirus-affected regions and communities by setting aside $1 billion 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.
- Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit has been established within the Treasury to engage with business on a regular basis and provide updates to the Government on crucial issues.
Supporting the Flow of Credit
- Quick and efficient access to credit for small business 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.
- Reserve Bank of Australia –Supporting the flow and reducing the cost of credit through a term funding facility for the banking system announced by the RBA. Banks will have access to at least $90 billion in funding at a fixed interest rate of 0.25 per cent. This will reinforce the benefits of a low cash rate by reducing funding costs for banks, which in turn will help reduce interest rates for borrowers. 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. In addition, the RBA announced a further easing in monetary policy by reducing the cash rate to 0.25 per cent. It is also extending and complementing the interest rate cut by taking active steps to target a 0.25 per cent yield on 3-year Australian Government Securities.
- Government support for non-ADI and smaller ADI lenders in the securitisation market by providing the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) with $15 billion to invest in structured finance markets used by smaller lenders, including non-Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions (non-ADIs) and smaller Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions (ADIs). This support will be provided by making direct investments in primary market securitisations by these lenders and in warehouse facilities.
- Australian Prudential Regulation Authority - ensuring banks are well placed to lend by making temporary changes to its expectations regarding bank capital ratios. The changes will support banks’ lending to customers, particularly if they wish to take advantage of the new facility being offered by the RBA.
Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme
- The Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Guarantee Scheme will support up to $40 billion of lending to SMEs.
- The Government will provide eligible lenders with a guarantee for loans with the following terms:
- SMEs, including sole traders, with a turnover of up to $50 million;
- maximum total loan size of $250,000 per borrower;
- loans will be up to three years, with an initial six month repayment holiday; and
- unsecured finance, meaning that borrowers will not have to provide an asset as security for the loan.
- The decision on whether to extend credit, and management of the loan, will remain with the lender. However, the Government expects that lenders will look through the cycle to sensibly take into account the uncertainty of the current economic conditions when determining whether credit should be extended. As part of the loan products available, the Government will encourage lenders to provide facilities to SMEs that only have to be drawn if needed by the SME. This will mean that the SME would only incur interest on the amount they draw down. If they do not draw down any funds from the facility, no interest will be charged, but they will retain the flexibility to draw down funds should the need arise.
- SMEs interested in the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme should approach their financial institution for more information. Treasury is urgently working with banks and other eligible lenders to ensure loans are available as soon as possible. While the scheme officially commences from April 2020, your bank or other lenders may be able to provide credit sooner, and still benefit from the guarantee. We discuss the big four banks’ approach to this scheme below.
New South Wales State Government
On 17 March 2020, the New South Wales Government announced a $2.3 billion health boost and economic stimulus package which includes the following support for businesses:
- $450 million for the waiver of payroll tax for businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million for three months (the rest of 2019-20). This means these businesses will save a quarter of their annual payroll tax bill in 2019-20;
- $56 million to bring forward the next round of payroll tax cuts by raising the threshold limit to $1 million in 2020-21;
- $80 million to waive a range of fees and charges for small businesses including bars, cafes, restaurants and trades; and
- $500 million to bring forward capital works and maintenance.
Victorian State Government
On 21 March 2020, the Victorian Government announced a $1.7 billion economic survival and jobs stimulus package which includes the following support for businesses:
- full payroll tax refunds for the 2019-20 financial year to small and medium-sized businesses with payroll of less than $3 million, resulting in $550 million back to businesses who need it;
- small and medium-sized businesses with payroll of less than $3 million will also be able to defer any payroll tax for the first three months of the 2020-21 financial year until 1 January 2021, resulting in the freeing up of a further $83 million in cash flow;
- commercial tenants in government buildings can apply for rent relief;
- 2020 land tax payments will be deferred for eligible small businesses;
- the Government will pay all outstanding supplier invoices within five business days, resulting in the release of up to $750 million into the economy earlier;
- the hospitality sector will be supported by waiving liquor licensing fees for 2020 for affected venues and small businesses; and
- $500 million will be provided to establish a Business Support Fund. The Fund will support the hardest hit sectors including hospitality, tourism, accommodation, arts and entertainment, and retail.
Queensland State Government
On 24 March 2020 the Queensland Government has announced a $4 billion package to help Queensland manage the impacts of the Coronavirus which includes the following support for businesses:
- a $500 million loan facility (Queensland COVID-19 Jobs Support Loans) to support Queensland businesses impacted by the Coronavirus to retain employees and maintain their operations. The loan facility will comprise low interest loans of up to $250,000 for carry on finance with an initial 12 month interest free period;
- payroll tax support if you are an employer (or part of a group of employers) who pays $6.5 million or less in Australian taxable wages including:
- a refund of payroll tax for 2 months;
- a payroll tax holiday (ie no payroll tax to be paid) for 3 months); and
- the ability to apply for a deferral of payroll tax for the 2020 calendar year.
- payroll tax support if you are an employer (or part of a group of employers) who pays more than $6.5 million in Australian taxable wages and have been negatively affected (directly or indirectly) by coronavirus, including the ability to apply for:
- a refund of payroll tax for 2 months; and
- a deferral of payroll tax for the 2020 calendar year.
A business is indirectly or directly affected by coronavirus if their current turnover, profit, customers, bookings, retail sales, supply contracts or other factors are negatively affected compared with normal operating conditions.
- supply chain support and assistance for businesses who are having difficulty accessing suppliers to continue to operate, employ and meet their customers’ needs;
- COVID-19 business support including financial workshops in partnership with local bodies, business mentoring and a dedicated small business hotline to access information and referral for support services;
- the following support for tourism operators and hospitality providers:
- waiving application fees for some variations to liquor licences;
- waiving registration renewal fees for Inbound Tour Operators;
- waiving of daily fees for commercial activity agreements and permits;
- rebate on Marina Charges and Passenger Levies; and
- deferral of Tourism Lease Rent Payments;
- support for agriculture and fisheries industries with market diversification and resilience grants (MDRG) to support activities including (but not limited to) market evaluation studies, market visits, training, new equipment such as refrigeration or cryovac machines, and boat modifications necessary to meet new market requirements;
- a $27.25 million immediate industry recovery package to assist local government, business and industry with resilience and recovery strategies to deal with and mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus; and
- support for exporters through the $1.1 million ‘Market Ready’ initiative will provide tailored export advice to small and medium size enterprises on leveraging opportunities in the Chinese online market, support brand development by providing market intelligence and expert advice for exporters entering new markets and host China market development forums to provide practical export advice..
Western Australian State Government
On 16 March 2020, the Western Australian Government announced a $607 million stimulus package which includes $114 million in support for small business in payroll tax relief as follows:
- payroll tax-paying businesses with a payroll between $1 million and $4 million will receive a one-off grant of $17,500 to assist them to manage the impacts of the Coronavirus. It is expected that 7,400 Western Australian businesses will benefit from the grant;
- fast track of additional payroll tax relief for small businesses, with the payroll tax threshold increasing to $1 million from 1 July 2020, six months earlier than planned; and
- small and medium-sized businesses affected by the Coronavirus can now apply to defer payment of their 2019-20 payroll tax until 21 July 2020. The deferral is available to employers who pay $7.5 million or less in Australian taxable wages and have been directly or indirectly impacted by the Coronavirus, compared to normal operating conditions.
Australian Tax Office
The ATO will provide administrative relief for certain tax obligations (similar to relief provided following the bushfires) for taxpayers affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, on a case-by-case basis. The ATO will not apply the following relief options automatically, so taxpayers will need to contact the ATO to discuss them.
- Large businesses can now contact the Large Service Team - a dedicated team providing assistance to public groups with a turnover of $250 million or more. The team offers assistance with administrative, transactional and online queries.
- Payment deferrals and varied instalment plans may be negotiated with the ATO for taxpayers affected by the Coronavirus. These include income tax, activity statement, pay as you go (PAYG) instalments, FBT and excise payments by up to six months.
- Temporary changes in reporting cycle from quarterly to monthly could enable taxpayers to get quicker access to GST refunds they are entitled to. Taxpayers may currently be reporting quarterly if their GST turnover is less than $20 million. However before considering a change, taxpayers need to be aware that:
- changes occur from the start of a quarter, so a change now will take effect from 1 April 2020;
- changing their GST reporting cycle doesn't mean a taxpayer has to change their PAYG withholding reporting cycle – this can be managed by specifying the cyclesto be changed;
- taxpayers must keep reporting monthly for 12 months before they can elect to revert to quarterly reporting; and
- if registered for fuel tax credits, taxpayers will also need to claim their fuel tax credits monthly.
- PAYG instalments may be varied on the activity statement by lodging a revised activity statement before the next instalment is due and before lodging the tax return for the year. Taxpayers who vary their PAYG instalment rate or amount can also claim a refund for any instalments made during the 2019–20 financial year. The ATO won't apply penalties or charge interest to varied instalments for the 2019–20 financial year.
- Low interest payment plans may be negotiated with the ATO for businesses affected by the Coronavirus which need help paying existing and ongoing tax liabilities;
- Payment arrangements for super guarantee payments may be negotiated with the ATO. However employers still need to meet super guarantee obligations for employees. By law, the ATO can't vary the contribution due date or waive the super guarantee charge.
Some frequently asked questions can be found here:
Many of the banks have indicated that they intend on providing support for businesses. We set out below the four major banks’ approach.
While some of these changes are automatic, businesses facing financial hardship should contact their relationship manager to confirm what arrangements and relief are available to them.
Westpac Banking Corporation
- Unsecured three year term loans of up to $250,000for eligible new and existing customers with turnover of less than $50 million, effective 23 March 2020. This is part of the Federal Government’s latest economic support measures that guarantee 50 per cent of new loans issued by eligible lenders to small and medium size businesses. New and existing business customers should speak with their banker or enquire through the Westpac website, noting that credit criteria applies.
- 400 basis point reduction on unsecured lending term loansfor new and existing customers, effective 23 March 2020.
- 200 basis point reduction on overdraftsfor new and existing customers, effective 6 April 2020.
- 100 basis point interest rate reductionfor small business cash-based loans, effective 6 April 2020.
- Repayment relief for small business customers who can now apply to defer principal and interest repayments of business term loans for up to six months. Find out how to apply here.
- Merchant terminal rentalfee waivers for up to three months.
- Helping small and medium businessestake advantage of the increased instant asset write-off and accelerated depreciation provisions in the Federal Government stimulus package with no establishment fees for equipment finance loans until the end of June 2020.
- Additional help already available to small business customers who are impacted by recent disasters and are experiencing hardship, including
- Deferred payments for Business credit cards for a period of at least three months
- Fee free redraw
- Restructuring and consolidating loans
- Termination of a term deposit without the interest rate adjustment
Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA)
- Defer your business loan - Automatically defer BetterBusiness Loan and Asset Finance principal and interest repayments for eligible small business customers with total lending limits with CBA of up to $3 million in April, May and June 2020. From July, customers will be able to opt-in to receive a further three month deferral if needed in line with the ABA loan deferral arrangements.
- Take a new loan - Unsecured loans of up to $250,000 (lending criteria applies) with no establishment or account fees, and no repayments required for six months for businesses with less than $50 million annual turnover. For the first six months, interest will be deferred and capitalised at a reduced variable rate of 5.5%, reducing to 4.5% on 3 April 2020. From six months onwards, principal and interest repayments will be required.
- Rate and fee options
- Reducing small business loans by 1% across all business loans where the variable rate is calculated based on the current cash rate, to come into effect from 3 April 2020
- Deferring repayments on overdraft products, for 90 days
- Waiving merchant terminal fees for impacted customers with CommBank merchant terminals, for 90 days
- Waiving early redraw fees on business term deposit accounts (including Farm Management Deposit accounts)
- Waiving establishment fees and excess interest on Temporary Excess products
- Provision of addition resourcing and extended hours for commercial lending teams to ensure faster decision times for loans
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ)
- Decrease in variable interest small business loan rates by 0.25%pa from 27 March 2020.
- Six month payment deferral on loan repayments for term loans, with interest capitalised.
- Making available temporary increases in overdraft facilities for 12 months.
- Reduction by 0.80%pa to a new two and three year fixed rate of 2.59%pa for secured small business loans up to $1 million from 3 April 2020.
- ANZ is supportive of the announced guarantees for small and medium enterprise loans and is working through how it can provide this to customers.
National Australia Bank (NAB)
- Deferral of principal and interest repayments for up to six months on a range of business loans including floating and variable rates and equipment finance loans.
- An additional 100 basis point reduction on variable rates for small business loans, from 30 March 2020. This is on top of a 25 basis point reduction earlier in March.
- Quickbiz loans and overdraft support receive a 200 basis point reduction from 30 March 2020.
- Pause on business credit card repayments for up to six months (including a three month checkpoint).
- Fee waiver on terminal rentals for up to 6 months.
- Access up to $65 billion of additional secured limits to pre-assessed customers, with $7 billion currently available for fast assessment processing.
- Access up to $9 billion in additional limits for unsecured lending for existing customers via QuickBiz.
- NAB is working through the details of the Federal Government’s Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme and will provide further updates on how business customers experiencing financial difficulty can apply for a new unsecured business loan.
- For merchants with working terminals that are facing financial hardship due to the Coronavirus, but can still trade as an essential service, NAB will offer a fee waiver on terminal rental for a period of up to six months.
- For merchants that have working terminals but can no longer trade, and therefore wish to temporarily suspend their facility, NAB will offer a fee waiver on terminal rental and monthly fees (i.e. package or MSF costs) for a period of up to six months.
- For merchants that can no longer trade, and wish to permanently close off their facility, NAB will close the facility for them.
Announced 22 March 2020
City of Sydney
The City has implemented a package of measures valued at up to $25 million to support businesses and reduce the financial impact of the Coronavirus.
The following measures will be in place for an initial period of six months:
- will waive fees for Health and Building compliance activities (anticipated revenue loss of $1.6 million);
- in conjunction with our tenants, will review rents in City premises for tenants that require support on a case-by-case basis (anticipated cost up to a value of $4 million);
- will waive standard contractual terms and return booking and banner fees to people and organisations who have booked City venues and are now unable to proceed with their bookings (anticipated cost up to a value of $3 million);
- footway dining, market permit and filming fees will be waived on the grounds of hardship (anticipated revenue loss of $1.5 million);
- will take a flexible approach to parking and other infringements (anticipated revenue loss of $10 - $15 million);
- will work with major business partners and contractors, whether or not services continue to be provided in their current form, to support them as much as possible so they can maintain business continuity in the long term;
- policy changes already implemented, including:
- to facilitate social distancing, assisting some businesses to expand their outdoor dining areas and increase or introduce take away food options;
- only taking enforcement action for matters that present an imminent public, environmental, health or safety risk; and
- allowing supermarkets and other stores to operate their loading docks 24 hours a day to enable them to have essential goods delivered; and
The City is also developing a second stage support package, targeting those in small business and the creative, arts and entertainment industries.
City of Melbourne
The City of Melbourne has announced a local economic stimulus package valued at more than $10 million to keep Melburnians in jobs and support city businesses affected by the Coronavirus.
This package is aimed at small businesses located in City of Melbourne’s municipality. A small business is defined as one that employs 20 staff or fewer.
- Suspending fees for Food Act registrations and street trading permits for a period of three months.
- Any cafe owner who applies for a permit within this three-month period (from 18 March 2020 to 30 June 2020) will have the permit fee waived for three months.
- Street trading kiosk operators who pay a monthly fee in advance will not be invoiced for three months, between April and June.
- Up to $500,000 in grants have been announced to support businesses impacted by the Coronavirus to help enhance their e-commerce delivery and online capacity.
- Developing a Rates Hardship Policy for consideration at the next Council meeting on 31 March 2020.
- Providing rent relief of 50 per cent for the period between April and June for eligible tenants of City of Melbourne-owned and managed premises. The City is currently working on this package.
Mark is a commercial disputes lawyer with experience working with banks and wealth funds, specialing in corporate insolvency.
More about Mark
Graydon Dowd leads the Hall & Wilcox commercial dispute resolution practice and provides expertise in litigation and mediation.
More about Graydon
Wayne is a leading litigation and insolvency expert specialising in large and complex commercial disputes in all jurisdictions.
More about Wayne
Adrian Lasky has broad experience in litigation across a wide range of matters, including insolvency and contractual disputes.
More about Adrian
Hector has extensive experience in commercial dispute resolution and insolvency matters for both corporates and individuals.
More about Hector
Katherine is an insolvency and commercial litigation specialist with a focus on the PPSA and its implications.
More about Katherine
David is a leading dispute resolution lawyer with expertise in creditor claims, distressed debt trading and liquidation.
More about David
Megan has over 15 years' experience as commercial disputes lawyer, specialising in commercial litigation, corporate insolvency, and bankruptcy.
More about Megan
Albert is a commercial disputes lawyer with a focus on construction litigation. He is also a nationally accredited mediator.
More about Albert
An experienced commercial disputes and international arbitration lawyer, Elisabeth has represented clients in Australia as well as overseas.
More about Elisabeth
You might be also interested in...
Tax & Superannuation | 24 Mar 2020
The Australian Government announced a second stimulus package of $66 billion on 22 March 2020 as the economy takes a hit from the spread of coronavirus. Here’s what’s notable for superannuation funds.
Employment & Workplace Relations | 24 Mar 2020
COVID-19 update for employers: can employees of organisations providing ‘non-essential services’ be stood down?
The indefinite suspension of ‘non-essential’ services and gatherings in response to the COVID-19 crisis has given rise to many legal questions for employers. One key question is: ‘If my business cannot operate, can staff be stood down?’