Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given the strongest hint yet that the government's JobKeeper program could be extended to regions like Cairns beyond the September 27 end date.
Campaigning in the New South Wales seat of Eden-Monaro yesterday, Mr Morrison suggested that regional economies hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic will need prolonged support - including North Queensland.
Data released earlier this month showed a staggering 3,600 businesses in Cairns are claiming JobKeeper, the highest rate of any Queensland postcode and the fifth highest in the country.
The $750 per week wage subsidy to eligible businesses has been described as a 'life saver' for thousands of businesses in the region.
"I've always said, right from the outset, that there'll be parts of this country that will feel the impact of the COVID-19 recession far longer than other parts," Mr Morrison said.
"Whether that's here or whether that's up in North Queensland or parts of Western Australia or other parts of the country, and it's predominantly in regional areas that proportionally will feel that pinch.
"You need to consider those carefully and you need to target your support where you need to send it."
EXTENSION: 'IT'S A NO-BRAINER'
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch told Tropic Now he was confident the JobKeeper scheme would be extended in the Far North for another six months to March next year.
"I've spoken with the Prime Minister, the Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, the Treasurer and other ministers about this - it's a no brainer and they've acknowledged that Cairns and Port Douglas are special cases," Mr Entsch said.
"We were the first ones to go off the cliff when the lockdowns started and we'll be the last ones to come out of it.
"There's no ifs or buts about it, it has to be extended and we have to review and refine the program so it's targeted at the right businesses."
Mr Entsch said the extended JobKeeper program could be directed with a mix of "postcode by postcode" and industry-based support.
"We can look at how businesses are tracking and whether they're down by 30% based on their BAS (Business Activity Statements) lodged each month," he said.
"The JobKeeper program needed to be put in place very quickly and everyone was appreciative of that support, but now we have the opportunity to support businesses who need it most and look at increasing some of the flexibility around the scheme."