Major business groups were meeting with the Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas on Wednesday evening in an urgent attempt to overhaul the looming Covid-19 restrictions that they fear will disrupt not only local businesses, but national supply chains.
The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group appealed to the Morrison government late on Tuesday to help convey their frustration and confusion to the Victorian government ahead of the imminent business lockdown in the state.
Major companies complained about a lack of access to key decision-makers in the Andrews government, and flagged potential problems with the state regulations impacting supermarkets, warehousing, logistics, construction, tech and finance.
Around 30 of the Ai Group’s member companies were represented during a web hookup with the treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday night, and the employer group is fielding questions from members ranging from how long the stage four restrictions will last, to how to apply for worker permits, to seeking clearer definitions under the restrictions for “on site” work and “peak capacity”.
Restrictions on business activity are scheduled to take effect on Thursday.
The BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said there are “serious problems” with the proposed restrictions in Victoria, and businesses are seeking to work with governments to avoid unintended consequences.
“We have to urgently fix supply chain issues at distribution centres,” Westacott said. “These restrictions must be lifted today because they do not recognise that supply chains operate nationwide.”
She said the restrictions in Victoria would see a reduction in capacity at distribution centres by 33% and that was a major concern both within the state and for the movement of goods around the country.
“The rules need to be consistent and fit for purpose across supply chains to avoid missing links that see businesses who are technically allowed to keep employing people forced to shutdown,” she said.
Westacott said the rules envisaged for the construction sector were not viable. “We need high-level cooperation between government and businesses to work through obstacles, keep people safe and to protect nationally significant supply chains.”
Daniel Andrews – who confirmed another 725 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths, making Wednesday Australia’s worst day in the pandemic to date – was peppered with questions during his daily press briefing about what peak capacity was and what arrangements would apply to meat processing operations and to the residential construction sector.
Andrews said detailed discussions with various business groups were ongoing.
The Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said his members remained confused about “whether they can open or how many staff are permitted to come to work in Victoria”.
“Ai Group has discussed our concerns in numerous meetings with the state government, but unfortunately, the uncertainty has remained, even though businesses are expected to make vital decisions and communicate them to their workforces by tonight. To date, there is simply not sufficient information to give clear guidance to Victoria’s businesses”.
Willox said the state government was acting to try and flatten the curve of Covid-19 infections, which was laudable, but “the slice and dice approach of dividing sectors and workplaces and creating lists of exemptions is causing confusion and will lead to perverse outcomes and unnecessary job losses and business closures”.
Scott Morrison said on Wednesday business groups had raised some “very real issues” that Victoria needed to address. “Some of them are very urgent, particularly around distribution centres.
“The issues around major construction projects, there’s some serious issues raised there and we’ll be relaying those further,” the prime minister said.
Morrison said the premier was engaged and working through the potential problems. “It’s important that they get these restrictions right – they’ve brought them in and we need to make sure they’re as practical as possible”.