We have spent a lot of time this week trying to lock the grape and wine sector in as an Essential Industry that needs to keep running during the COVID-19 crisis. We have had good support at the Federal level, with the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, supporting this position. However, this may change according to health advice for States and Territories.
Each State and Territory is also developing their own list of essential industries and it is by no means certain that the grape and wine sector will be included in each of their lists. We have been working directly with the State governments on this, as have our State wine industry counterparts.
Without clear and well-implemented protocols to manage risks associated with infections in the vineyard, the winery and the community, our sector’s ability to continue operating could be curtailed or halted by Government decree with little notice. To put it bluntly, in the current environment, our essential industry status is a privilege granted by the Government. For individual businesses, it is also critical that all employees, whether employed directly by the business or through labour hire companies, are treated the right way.
We have released best practice labour protocols critical to maintaining essential industry status, and a Risk Management Template specifically for small and medium grape and wine businesses, for your use when designing risk management plans to ensure we maintain our Essential Service Status.
Movement restrictions apply in all States and it is important to check that these requirements are being complied with. Guidance is available on the respective State information websites.
Alcohol sales remain open
There is a lot of pressure on State and Federal politicians to close down alcohol sales during the COVID-19 crisis. The rationale from the public health advocates is to lower the risk of harmful drinking patterns and reduce domestic violence. This mirrors what has happened in a number of other countries, including South Africa, Georgia, Morocco etc. The list goes on and is being added to every day as many other countries are actively considering outright bans or severe restrictions. This is more then an immediate risk as public health advocates will use this as a trigger for lasting stricter alcohol regulations following the COVID-19 crisis.
The DrinkWise material is a good source of moderation messaging that needs to be promoted:
Social media posts and digital advertising are under intense scrutiny at this time and we are encouraging all parts of the sector to be sensitive in their posts.
The Government announced this week it had injected an extra $49.8 million into the EMDG program in the 2019-20 financial year, allowing exporters and tourism businesses to receive additional reimbursements for costs incurred in marketing their products and services around the world.
From 1 July 2020, Wine producers applying for EMDG funding will be able to:
Although the program is not allowing previous recipients of the EMDG to apply for new funding, we are working directly on this with the Office of the Trade Minister.
Advocacy efforts continue to focus around keeping businesses alive through the period of closures and supply chain disruptions. We have continued to advocate for Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) waivers to enable some businesses to keep running. We are expecting to have news on this today or on the weekend. We also understand that there are many wineries that do not pay WET tax, so we are looking at other forms of direct assistance for that group. Many of the broader State packages may be applicable for those small wineries. There have been some helpful recent announcements today by some States with impacts for the wine sector:
Both National Cabinet and the Agriculture Minister’s regular Round Table are scheduled for Friday 3 April. At the time of writing these were not completed, but a further update will be provided on Monday.
The NSW Government today announced a grant scheme for those small businesses that are not able to take advantage of some of the other tax concessions available such as payroll tax. This will take the form of a $10k grant. More information is available here
South Australia continues to put out good advice. PIRSA have updated their hub to provideCOVID-19 information relevant to the primary industries portfolio. A user friendly hub has been developed to replace the existing PIRSA web page. Web address is as follows: https://pir.sa.gov.au/emergency_management/covid-19_and_primary_industries/_nocache
The new design is intended to make it easier to find and access information. They will be adding to this when new information is available.
SA Health has also provided a guideline for a food business that has had a worker test positive for COVID-19. This is general advice, not primary industries specific, but outlines actions for businesses to take in response to a positive test result by an employee, contractor or volunteer. It includes the contact details of the Communicable Disease Control Branch (CDCB) of SA Health at 1300 232 272, HealthCommunicableDiseases@sa.gov.au who must be advised of the positive case.
We also need to look at what initiatives will be needed in the recovery phase. In particular, export assistance through export support, promotion and capability building and domestically though tourism initiatives. Helpfully, the State and Regional tourism grants reporting dates will now be extended through to April 2021. However, we will begin to work up a package for submission to the Government over the next few weeks that deals with tourism initiatives.
Unfortunately, our attempts to get more funding for export marketing have fallen on deaf ears for the moment. However, we will attempt to seek support as we enter into planning for recovery once the health crisis is overcome.