Earlier this week I was in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane, meeting with small business owners and hearing first-hand about the impact COVID was having on them.
Their experiences were mixed. The builder in Townsville had graduated off JobKeeper and he was now busy trying to keep up with the demand generated by HomeBuilder.
The nursery in Gumdale had also used JobKeeper to stay afloat. Without it, the business would have gone under and with it, the livelihoods of 30 staff. Now it no longer needs income support and is hiring and expanding, using the instant asset write off to buy a new tractor and government incentives to employ new apprentices.
These are just two of Queensland’s many COVID-19 recovery stories that have seen more than 560,000 workers across the state come off JobKeeper since September.
There are still sectors and regions that continue to do it tough. Brisbane’s iconic music venue, The Triffid, is one. They have reopened but due to health restrictions are operating at less than a third capacity. Their warm and welcoming staff whom I met were just happy to be back at work, and as the weeks pass hopefully more customers will be allowed back in.
For the airport operator in Cairns, it is also challenging.
With the aid of JobKeeper, they kept their staff and are looking forward to the day when borders, both international and domestic, remain continuously open.
When Queensland borders were closed late last year, Qantas cancelled 1500 flights in January into Queensland alone. Thousands of bookings were cancelled and millions of tourist dollars lost.
The tourism sector in Queensland has been hit hard, affecting every part of the supply chain. From the cafe to the hotel, the fishing charter to the airport.
What the tourism sector has told me is that while JobKeeper has been an economic lifeline, they still need further support to get to the other side. This is why the government has announced a new $1.2bn package that backs airlines, travel agents, tourism operators, cafes and caravan parks, among many others.
The combination of cheap airfares, cheap loans, grants to host events and extended support for our zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks will not only save jobs but create jobs across the country.
The package will see 800,000 half-price tickets made available to 13 key regions affected by international border closures.
From Cairns and the Gold Coast in our north, to Kangaroo Island and Launceston in our south, there will be more planes in the air and more tourists on the ground under this program.
More than 8000 jobs in our international aviation sector will also be maintained with a new support fund, which will see this sovereign capability and vital skill set protected.
We need the aviation workforce ready to literally take off once the international borders reopen.
The Morrison government is also expanding and extending the $40bn SME loan guarantee scheme to back those businesses that back themselves.
We will partner with the banks and offer businesses that have a turnover of less than $250m and were on JobKeeper from January, an opportunity to apply for loans of up to $5m and with a repayment holiday of up to two years.
These loans can be up to 10 years in duration and can be used by business to refinance existing borrowings, as well as expand its pool of working capital to keep staff employed and equipment in operation.
In the face of the biggest economic shock since The Great Depression, the Australian economy has shown remarkable resilience. So much so that the improvement in our labour market has been better than even the most optimistic forecasts and the rebound in economic growth has seen Australia outperform all major advanced economies.
This is not cause for complacency, but is cause for optimism and hope.
Josh Frydenberg is the Federal Treasurer