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Rent relief remains a work in progress: Scott Morrison

Formal action on rent relief remains a work in progress, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison today explaining it will form part of Australia’s “innovative” tranche three stimulus package which is designed to support business and individuals.

Earlier today the PM met with premiers and chief ministers via a virtual national cabinet meeting, discussing the “contentious” issue of commercial and residential rent, among other matters.

Indicating he intended to “hibernate” Australian businesses, Mr Morrison said the priority was to ensure business could restart after the COVID-19 crisis.

“The idea is pretty simple, there are businesses which will have to close their doors. They will have to keep them closed either because we have made it necessary for them to do so or simply there is just not the business to keep their doors open,” Mr Morrison said.

“We want those businesses to start again and we do not want over the course of the next six months or as long as it takes, for those business to be so saddled by debt, so saddled by rental payments, and so saddled by liabilities that they will not be able to start again on the other side.

“We want these businesses to effectively go into a hibernation, which means on the other side the employees come back, the opportunities come back, the economies come back.

“This will underpin our strategy as we go into the third tranche of our economic plan and that will include support by the states and territories on managing the very difficult issue of commercial tenancies, and ultimately residential tenancies as well.”

Noting COVID-19 was a burden for everyone to share including business, Mr Morrison said there would inevitably be landlords who suffer, while banks would have to make arrangements with them, and councils may also be involved by providing waivers on rates depending on what the states work through.

“Whether land tax will be relieved for those who have tenants that are in a distressed situation, all of these things are what we having to work through and it’s not a simple process,” Mr Morrison said.

“But the intent is, as far as possible, to ensure that a business which is affected through no fault of its own – we are simply trying to preserve and support them in the best possible way we can.”

Mr Morrison noted residential tenancies were different to commercial ones but the aim would be consistency across the states.

“The Commonwealth provides rental assistance and more and more people are coming onto rental assistance, but it is an issue that’s a priority and it is complicated.

“We want landlords to talk to their tenants, we want employees to talk to their employers, we want the banks to talk to their customers and work together,” Mr Morrison said.

Earlier today, REINSW president Leanne Pilkington told the ABC the government would need to strike a careful balance.

She explained any support package should not just go directly to tenants or landlords. Instead it needed to flow via real estate agent trust accounts to ensure maintenance and repairs were tended to and the real estate wasn’t ‘decimated’.

“It needs to go through real estate trust accounts otherwise 70,000 real estate agents could be out of a job,” Ms Pilkington said.

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