This Media Release from 31 March 2021 discusses SCA (Vic)’s push for targeted state government support now JobKeeper has ceased.
This week saw the termination of JobKeeper, the cornerstone of the Federal Government’s fiscal strategy to support Australian and Victorian workers and arrest the economic slide brought about the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At its apex, the JobKeeper program paid $1,500 per worker, per fortnight to employers. This was later reduced to $1,200 per fortnight.
JobKeeper comprises part of most substantial fiscal relief program implemented by an Australian Government during the post-war period, designed to mitigate the effects on vulnerable industries that rolling closures have had due to lockdowns and other restrictions.
The program is rightfully credited with the prevention of unemployment levels rising to 10 per cent or more, even at the peak of the public health and economic crises last year. At the same time, nearly one third (3.6 million) of Australian workers were reliant on JobKeeper.
In March 2021, just short of 1 million workers relied on JobKeeper to retain income due to the fragile state of our economic recovery, made further uncertain by continual sporadic outbreaks at different junctures, and subsequent public vigilance geared at prevention and risk aversion.
Victoria bore the brunt of the lockdowns, case numbers and casualties due to COVID-19, which were unparalleled in any other part of Australia.
While employment growth has been strongest during late 2020 and early 2021 in Victoria, this may prove difficult to maintain if every single business reliant upon JobKeeper is immediately expected to pick up the pieces and make up for business lost during what was effectively a write off year.
Were it not for fiscal intervention, many more workers would’ve lost their jobs during 2020. In a premature withdrawal of support measures targeted at vulnerable industries and workers, this may yet occur.
In fact, estimates of the 30 suburbs across Australia hardest hit by the end of the program include more than half belonging to Victoria.
So, what does this mean for strata communities?
In August 2020, during the peak of the crisis in Victoria, a substantial percentage (47 per cent) of lot owners and strata managers identified increased requests for levy waivers, deferments, or instalments.
As a general rule, arrears levels within strata have followed the trend of unemployment. With the RBA conceding any increase in unemployment arising from the termination of JobKeeper as likely to occur, this makes for uncomfortable times ahead.
SCA (Vic) is urging the Victorian Government to take this issue seriously in our Pre-Budget submission for 2021-2022, and to fund targeted financial support for lot owners finding themselves in arrears as a result of the cut-off of JobKeeper.
This includes the provision of short-term, interest-free loans, as well as the potential use of the Victorian Property Fund as a redraw facility for affected Owners Corporations to apply for financial relief.
Either, or both of these measures if implemented, will surely guard against greater economic and social dislocation later down the track, as the economic recovery continues from its baby steps.
Owners Corporations will be able to continue funding essential maintenance and improvement works upon common property with certainty, in line with Victorian Government reforms aimed at protecting the health and safety of owners and residents in strata communities. These include identifying and rectifying serious building defects and removal of flammable cladding materials, and other issues.
The bottom line is that without a safety net to soften any fall in employment, safety standards begin to fall through an inability to fund requisite countermeasures.
The Victorian Government is best placed to oversee that this doesn’t happen and that the mission to ensure the safety and wellbeing of owners and residents in multi-unit dwellings is upheld by an extension of best practice during the 2021-2022 budget.
What other initiatives in strata need action?
The recovery from a watershed event such as the COVID-19 pandemic, from all of the shock and displacement caused in economic and social policy terms, represents an opportunity unseen anywhere else to enact meaningful reform; a panacea of sorts, to a multitude of issues facing strata communities, as well as society at large.
Such issues include the need for greater sustainability in the future of cities and dwellings, protecting and ensuring greater choice for consumers, and most importantly, health and safety.
With the VCAT decision concerning the payment of damages in relation to the 2014 Lacrosse Building fire recently upheld in the Victorian Court of Appeals, attention has once again been drawn to the ongoing issues surrounding building defects and flammable cladding, particularly with regard to prevention procedure and transparency in the process.
SCA (Vic) has urged the Victorian Government to fund the creation of a centralised portal for owners and renters to source appropriate documentation and building manuals, which ideally should be, but aren’t always, made available by developers at handover, ostensibly as a means of prevention rather than cure.
This principle of proactive management during a crisis, such as that seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with reference to the challenges faced by Owners Corporations and Strata Managers in addressing health and safety concerns in the absence of clear-cut advice and procedure, remains a top order priority for SCA (Vic).
So that our sector is able to respond in a consistent and adaptable way to the next emergency, SCA (Vic) have suggested the creation of a strata industry working group dedicated to emergency response planning for the sector.
Comprising stakeholders within government and the sector, the working group would be tasked with formulating and executing emergency plans based upon existing risk assessments at a state level, and creating a best practice guide to emergency response, with a particular focus on infection control.
We have also advocated for COVIDSafe plan rebates to relieve some of the more cumbersome costs associated with implementation on the part of Owners Corporations, as long as such requirements remain mandatory into the foreseeable future.
With the future in mind, the unique placement of strata communities to address environmental challenges in alignment with the Victorian Government’s own sustainable development goals, and ability to forge ahead with practical, innovative solutions to issues such as future waste management, recycling, and energy practices, are highlighted in our pre-budget submission.
SCA (Vic) therefore encourage investment into a feasibility report, focusing on the adoption of electric vehicle, solar and battery microgrid infrastructure for Class 2 buildings.
Investigation by way of a feasibility report should also be considered by government in relation to creating a more sustainable recycling system in the context of multi-unit dwellings, with input from residents.
The alignment of principles set forth in our proposals and the policy priorities of the Victorian Government are symbiotic, just like the reflection of the challenges facing our sector when compared to the broadest segments of the Victorian community.
It is our hope that these priorities are recognised and given due consideration by the Victorian Government in the upcoming 2021-2022 budget.
President, SCA (Vic)
Strata Community Association (Vic)
This post appears in Strata News #465.
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