Mr Morrison also warned that the tougher restrictions should not be used as an alternative for a robust contact tracing system.
“Restrictions are not substitutes for strengthening health systems to cope with the virus, especially when community outbreak is brought under control,” he said in a joint statement with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt.
“The most effective means of reducing community transmission must be an effective testing, tracing and quarantine system, bolstered by enhanced local health capacity and physical distancing.”
‘A blunt instrument’
Rod Eddington, the chairman of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia who was chairman of Victorian Major Events for over a decade and wrote the infrastructure blueprint for Victoria, captured business disillusionment with the plan.
“Total lock down across Melbourne is a blunt instrument,” Sir Rod told The Australian Financial Review.
“We have to find a way to protect lives and livelihoods and to do that we are going to need to be much more targeted about where the clusters occur and that can only happen with an enhanced testing and tracing regime.
“The construction industry has worked very hard to deliver safe workplaces and should be operating at full throttle.”
Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott, whose business employs 30,000 Victorians through chains such as Bunnings, Target, Kmart and Officeworks, said the plan created more uncertainty for retailers and their suppliers.
“I worry that this latest announcement … will inflict a greater personal and economic cost, not just to the people of Melbourne but the whole of Australia,” he said. “It will be impractical for many retailers to plan for and trade through such uncertainty at what is normally the busiest time of the retail year.”
Mr Scott criticised the state government’s understanding of business and said the company had “not had any meaningful engagement with the government around retail operations”.
“To develop a better plan would require the Victorian government to engage in genuine consultation; to listen and learn about industries that are outside their expertise, including how businesses have evolved to be COVID-safe,” he said, adding that consultation with the NSW and WA governments had been more effective.
Return to work
Under the reopening roadmap about 100,000 workers in the construction, manufacturing, logistics and child care industries were given a reprieve to return to work at the end of September, but most businesses will remain heavily restricted till October 26.
The third stage of re-opening will occur on November 23 when workers can return to the CBD and hospitality can return to more normal settings, so long as there have been no new cases for 14 days. “This is not a 50-50 choice,” Mr Andrews said.
“The modelling… indicates that if we open up too fast then we have a very high likelihood… that we are not really opening up at all. We are just beginning a third wave. But false hope is no hope.”
Melbourne University modelling released by the Victorian government showed a 60 per cent risk of a third wave lockdown if the economy is reopened before cases are below 25 a day. New cases are averaging 74 each day.
Chairman of ASX-listed sports technology company Catapult Adir Shiffman said: “It’s not a roadmap out of lockdown, it’s a plan for indefinite lockdown.”
Founder and CEO of enterprise software company LiveTiles Karl Redenbach said he had begun to regret that some of the companies executives returned to Melbourne from the US at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Restrictions we’ve encountered have been so prohibitive and challenging it’s made me question whether that was a good idea, even with Australia’s lower infection rate,” he said. “Business conditions for our US and European-based businesses are better, that’s just the reality.”
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, who is also a Wesfarmers director, also denounced the lack of consultation.
“The Treasury in the Commonwealth would have all the employee groups on the phone, working through problem by problem – how do we make that work better,” she said, adding this didn’t happen in Victoria.
Lobbyists pile on
Business lobby groups added to the harsh criticism with Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox calling the plan “a document of despair”.
Mr Willox warned Victoria would be “an economic basket case and a drag on the national economy for years”.
“Businesses employing hundreds of thousands of Victorians that had operated safely for months will needlessly remain shuttered for an indefinite period,” he added.
Mary Aldred of the Franchise Council of Australia said business owners had been betrayed after being given false hope during consultations.
“This is the worst Father’s Day lunch Victoria’s ever been served up and now we’re looking at Christmas Dinner being ruined too,” she said.
“The Victorian Government has created a two-tiered economy between government workers and small business owners and sole traders, who have been left so far behind it’s going to be impossible for many of them to recover.
Caution welcome by some
Others were more cautious and welcomed the prioritisation of health.
Reserve Bank director Carol Schwartz praised Mr Andrews’ “safe and steady” path out of restrictions as “courageous” and in the interests of the state’s long-term economic recovery.
While the timeline for reopening may not be as fast as businesses may have hoped, Ms Schwartz said that “at the end of the day, it provides much greater certainty around reopening” as it reduces the risk of further closures if the virus again gets out of control.
“Look at what’s happening around the rest of the world, it’s a complete disaster when governments don’t take control and let the virus rip,” she said.
NAB CEO Ross McEwan said the impact of the pandemic had been devastating and the measures put in place to curb its spread were necessarily tough.
“But with the plan released today we can see a path out if we all do the right thing,” Mr McEwan said.
“We need to get Victoria and, in particular, Melbourne open for business as quickly as possible but we need to do it safely and cautiously.
“There is no playbook for responding to this crisis. Governments need to be flexible and act on the latest health advice and their continued support of businesses and households is vital.”
In a joint statement the Victorian Master Builders and the building union the CFMEU welcomed “the government’s vote of confidence in our industry”.
“Most steps outlined for moving our sector from ‘heavily restricted’ to ‘restricted’ on 28 September, are ones that our industry has proactively adopted since March,” they said.