National News

Business boost for COVID-ravaged Victoria

Victoria will gouge a further $3 billion into its budget to help businesses survive COVID-19 as the state begins a slow emergence from lockdown.

The Labor government on Sunday announced a suite of cash grants, payroll tax deferrals and fee waivers in a move Premier Daniel Andrews described as "the biggest package of business support in the history of this state".

"It is an unprecedented set of challenges that business face. We want to get to the other side and we want to make sure that, yes, we've protected lives but also protected livelihoods," Mr Andrews said.

The government insisted that the measures "come off the back of substantial dialogue with business across all sectors".

There will be payroll tax deferrals for up to 12 months for businesses with payroll of up to $10 million a year, which will come at a cost of some $1.7 billion to the state, Treasurer Tim Pallas said.

The latest raft of measures relies on the state's "very strong budget" and takes to $6 billion Victoria's COVID-19 economic support, the government said.

"That is more than any other state, any territory and might I say in terms of a percentage of our own sourced revenue compared to the Commonwealth, it also challenges, if it doesn't exceed Commonwealth contributions," Mr Pallas said.

Mr Andrews expected about 80,000 businesses to receive support and promised the money will be distributed as soon as possible, as he reconfirmed the state was expected to reach 11 per cent unemployment by the end of 2020 .

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he welcomes and commends the additional commitments made by the Victorian government, after the federal government had stepped up to provide support like never before.

He said over the three months till the end of the year, 1.36 million Victorians would receive $10.9 billion in JobKeeper support, more than 60 per cent of all JobKeeper payments across the country.

The prime minister said where additional support is needed, states should provide that directly.

Elements of Victoria's strict lockdown measures will be eased in Melbourne on Monday. Regional areas, where there are just 52 active cases, could return to near-normal in coming days.

The state on Sunday reported 41 new cases and seven further deaths.

The statistics for the past 24 hours take the state's death toll to 723 and the national count to 810 since the start of the pandemic.

The 14-day case average for regional Victoria sits at 4.1 and in Melbourne is 56.9, inching closer to the sub-50 target.

Mr Andrews said the figures were encouraging and aided the state's plan to ease lockdown restrictions, but he refused to rush the process.

"I can announce that we have extended the state of emergency and the state of disaster for a further four weeks," he said.

"That underpins all the different rules. It underpins taking those safe and steady steps."

Tensions remained high in some parts of Melbourne, with an anti-lockdown protest outside the city's Queen Victoria Markets where there were scuffles with police and arrests.

Melburnians are set to receive some relief from Monday, with a reduction in hours of the daily curfew, to 9pm to 5am and the allowance of "household bubbles", providing company for those who live alone.

Victoria's Liberal-Nationals opposition criticised Sunday's business package, instead calling for permission to reopen, while seeking a royal commission into the state's handling of COVID-19.

"This is one of the greatest disasters, catastrophes to ever face this state and we need a royal commission to get to the truth. How did it get this bad?", Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said.

Mr Andrews said there was already an inquiry into hotel quarantine breaches, to which 99 per cent of Victoria's infections have been linked.

© AAP 2020