The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, said it was critical the Andrews Labor Government ensures its outdoor trading support scheme announced this week goes to small businesses and not local council coffers.
Mr Walsh said after nearly two years of lockdowns and tight restrictions, retail and hospitality businesses across regional Victoria, as well as Melbourne, urgently need support to get back on their feet.
He said the Liberal Nationals next week will debate the Local Government Amendment Bill they introduced in the Parliament last week, which seeks to suspend any new and increased fees and charges until June 30 – in 2025.
“This would ensure local councils do not charge increased fees and charges to small business, helping to support the recovery of thousands of Victorian businesses,” Mr Walsh said.
“We have already seen two Melbourne councils roll out new fees of $5000 or more for ‘parklet’ dining; starting early next year,” he said.
“I would be appalled if a regional council tried to follow suit but in some of the major tourism hubs across regional Victoria there might be a temptation for some councils to give their bottom lines a boost.
“A loophole created by the Andrews Government announcement that only ‘encouraged’ local councils to waive permit fees and charges; and does not guarantee the promised money in the new trading scheme will go where it is needed.
“And council coffers are the last place it needs to go.”
With outdoor numbers much higher than those still allowed indoors, Mr Walsh said a lot of small businesses will be “incredibly reliant” on this upside-down way of running their businesses.
He said if the money goes to councils, or councils charge for space, the damage could be terminal to many operators.
“Regional tourism and hospitality businesses are desperate to recover; and the Andrews Labor Government must ensure that funds go directly to those in dire need of help,” Mr Walsh added.
“Local councils and the government should be doing everything in their power to revitalise community organisations, businesses and regions that have suffered so much through repeated lockdowns and strict restrictions,” he said.
“We need to ensure the money gets to where it needs to be, supporting businesses and workers, not propping up local council balance sheets.”