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Victoria's pandemic business grants re-opened after Ombudsman exposes fiasco

Victorian minister Martin Pakula says some mistakes from his department were to be expected as it was inundated with business grant applications.

The Victorian government has defended its grants program for COVID-hit small businesses after the state's complaints watchdog found thousands of applications were unfairly denied.

Industry Support and Recovery Minister, Martin Pakula, rejected claims that the Business Support Fund had failed to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions-administered scheme had offered 130,000-plus grants of up to $10,000 to businesses across Victoria.

On the Flow Morning Show, host Wayne Phillips unpacked the latest known information about the fiasco. You can listen to the segment on the FlowNews24 podcast player below. The article continues further below.

Minister Pakula said:

"My department made 52 years' worth of grants in one year and so it's not unreasonable that there be a few errors in that. "There is in excess of $2.6 billion worth of support that was paid to business through the three rounds of the Business Support Fund.
"When you look at the support that's been paid to business by the Victorian government compared to every other government in the country, it really is no comparison."

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass found applications were denied because - unbeknownst to many applicants - they remained in draft form awaiting further information.

Others weren't processed because forms contained typographical or numerical errors, involving email addresses or other information.

Ms Glass said;

"The department made mistakes.
“People made mistakes.
"Mistakes were, in the fraught circumstances of the pandemic, completely understandable.
“But the consequences of people's mistakes could be devastating."

Shadow Minister for Manufacturing and Industry, Tim Smith, said small businesses suffered dramatic repercussions of not being supported during the 2nd wave lockdown, stating that it had “caused a mental health crisis.”

The shadow minister also said via Twitter:

“(T)he Andrews Labor government completely shafted Victorian small businesses throughout their state of emergency.”

The department has now agreed to invite up to 12,000 eligible business owners who were denied the $10,000 grant to reapply.

If all were granted, it would cost the state government an extra $120 million.

Acting Premier, James Merlino, said the businesses would be contacted over the "next few days.”

Mr Pakula said;

"We're not going to put an arbitrary timeline on how long it will take.
"It'll take as long as it takes.
“We’re not going to waste any time doing it."

Ms Glass found the system was set up in just nine days and lacked a robust complaint or internal review process.


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