Owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton said JobKeeper payments needed to be extended to help Whitsunday businesses survive. Photo: Cameron Laird
Owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton said JobKeeper payments needed to be extended to help Whitsunday businesses survive. Photo: Cameron Laird

End of JobKeeper could spell ‘mass death of small business’

GRAVE fears that cutting off JobKeeper in September could make the "mass death of small business" have prompted Whitsunday business owners to call for the relief payment to be extended.

The concern comes as new data reveals how many residents are accessing the relief payments.

Data from the Treasury revealed nearly 750 residents living in the 4802 postcode, which includes Airlie Beach, Jubilee Pocket and Shute Harbour, are receiving the JobKeeper payment.

The data also revealed 365 people living in the 4800 postcode, which covers Cannon Valley out to Proserpine and Cape Gloucester, were receiving JobKeeper assistance.

Just over 200 Bowen residents residing in the 4805 postcode had also accessed assistance.

The JobKeeper scheme allows businesses significantly affected by coronavirus to receive $1500 per eligible employee per fortnight.

The scheme is due to stop in September, however business owners across the Whitsundays are concerned about the future of the region if assistance is not extended.

BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort owner operator Greg McKinnon said 42 of his employees received the JobKeeper payment and it was a matter of "survival" for workers.

The resort would typically be at 75 to 85 per cent capacity during this time of year, however Mr McKinnon said they were currently operating at around 12 per cent on weekdays and 22 per cent on weekends.

"I can run my business at the moment to get it back to where it could be and surviving because of JobKeeper," he said.

"It will be a mass death of small business if come September they just cut it. Not a slight change, an absolute dire strait of small business throughout the whole of Australia.

"It's that desperate at the moment.

"Domestic tourism will come through okay, but it's the coffee shops and newsagencies that make this town what it is (that will be affected).

"If we don't have (JobKeeper) continue on, we as a small town will absolutely lose, I would put in the percentage of 50 per cent, of small businesses."

Mr McKinnon said extending the payments through to Christmas and reassessing after the summer school holidays would help struggling employees.

However, he said many businesses across the region, especially those that rely on international travel, may need assistance even further into the future.

Owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton has called for the JobKeeper payments to be extended in a bid to help operators across the region. Photo: Cameron Laird
Owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton has called for the JobKeeper payments to be extended in a bid to help operators across the region. Photo: Cameron Laird

Among operators with a strong international market is owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton who said 25 of her Whitsunday-based employees were on the JobKeeper allowance.

The company's Whitsunday tours recommenced on June 2, however coronavirus guidelines that restrict the number of people allowed on a boat combined with border closures has meant the tours are running at low capacity.

Numbers have been further impacted by the fact that more than half of Ocean Rafting's passengers before the coronavirus pandemic were international travellers.

With no take-off in sight for international travel and the Premier holding strong on keeping the Queensland border closed, Ms Claxton said JobKeeper would be vital in helping Whitsunday operators stay afloat.

"Government really needs to look at helping tourism and keeping (JobKeeper) in place for at least another six months or a year," she said.

"If that's not the case … at the end of September you're going to see a whole lot more people back in the jobseeker market because they're not going to have jobs.

"You'd have another whole month of pain with people being let off again."

The JobKeeper scheme was rolled out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this year. Image: Lukas Coch
The JobKeeper scheme was rolled out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this year. Image: Lukas Coch

Ms Claxton said the company would be "lucky" if it was able to operate at 50 per cent capacity by September when the JobKeeper allowance is set to end and suspected it would be a similar story for many other operators in the Whitsundays.

She also raised concerns for the future of the whole region if payments were cut off prematurely, saying the closure of businesses would mean the region would have "nothing to sell" tourists when they do eventually return.

Both Mr McKinnon and Ms Claxton urged the government to consider extending the payments to extend a lifeline to already-struggling Whitsunday businesses.

"JobKeeper needs to be there," Mr McKinnon said.

"It's helping us out tremendously and is one of greatest moves the Federal Government made in response to coronavirus, but it does need to be really reassessed for the future of business."