Workers, bosses back Melbourne reopening

Matt Coughlan
·2-min read

Employers and unions have backed Victoria's plan to lift coronavirus economic clamps as thousands of Melburnians prepare to return to work.

While business groups have been critical of delays in reopening, the state government's move to allow Melbourne retailers, pubs and restaurants to open from Wednesday was warmly received.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced eased restrictions on a landmark day for the state, which recorded no new cases or deaths.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the dedication, sacrifice and efforts of locked-down Victorians to allow the economy to reopen.

In a joint statement with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, Mr Morrison said it was important for the state to stay open safely.

"After a long winter, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Victorians," they said.

Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said a stop-and-start approach to restrictions was unaffordable.

"This is an important and much needed step in the right direction that will allow people to start getting on with their lives and reopening their businesses," she said.

Ms Westacott called on the state government to remove all limits on commerce, activity and movement in Victoria if the downward trajectory of case numbers continues.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra believes the notice given for reopening is unacceptable, but he's confident businesses will be ready.

"They will move mountains to be ready," he told the ABC.

Mr Zahra said it was disturbing retailers were yet to be briefed on any potential new coronavirus protocols and warned some businesses would not recover.

But he is anticipating pent-up demand could provide a much-needed boost in the lead up to Christmas.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O'Neil said employers had an obligation to have coronavirus-safe plans in place to protect workers.

"People should have cautious optimism but also their eyes wide open and know that they have got rights to not be put into a situation where their health and safety is compromised," she told the ABC.

Ms O'Neil said the Victorian government was taking a sensible approach to reopening.

"We've got to do this safely, we've got to take one step at a time. It is really important that we don't go backwards," she said.

Australian Industry Group's Tim Piper said testing and tracing should be the response to future outbreaks rather than widespread lockdowns.

"It's a vital day for metropolitan Melbourne, the state and even the rest of the nation as Melbourne returns to a semblance of normality," he said.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Victoria's contact tracing ability had rapidly improved.

"These are good signs, and we will of course only really know how good they are once some of the social distancing and other lockdown measures that are happening in Melbourne at the moment are released," he told a Senate estimates hearing.