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Kmart and Bunnings boss says Victoria lockdown should be reviewed early due to financial devastation

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Victoria’s economy-crippling Stage 4 coronavirus lockdown should be reviewed early to see if retail chains can be opened and allowed to trade under tight safety protocols, according to the boss of Kmart and Bunnings’ parent company.

Rob Scott, the managing director of Wesfarmers which also owns the Australian stores of Officeworks and Target, said lockdown will not diminish demand for their products, and allowing more businesses to operate will save jobs.

Faced with an ongoing second wave of COVID-19, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews introduced draconian Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne on Sunday, under which most businesses will be closed except for essentials like supermarkets, chemists and petrol stations.

As a result, Wesfarmers’ businesses Bunnings, Kmart, Officeworks and Target were preparing to furlough workers and would move to click-and-collect or online trade only.

Rob Scott, the managing director of Wesfarmers which also owns the Australian stores of Officeworks and Target, said lockdown will not diminish demand for their products, and allowing more businesses to operate will save jobs

Rob Scott, the managing director of Wesfarmers which also owns the Australian stores of Officeworks and Target, said lockdown will not diminish demand for their products, and allowing more businesses to operate will save jobs

People walk past Louis Vuitton on Tuesday. Retail stores across Melbourne will close to customers as further stage 4 lockdown restrictions are implemented in response to Victoria's ongoing COVID-19 outbreak

People walk past Louis Vuitton on Tuesday. Retail stores across Melbourne will close to customers as further stage 4 lockdown restrictions are implemented in response to Victoria’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak

With 25,000 stores in Victoria, Wesfarmers said job losses seemed inevitable given the lockdown will remain until Sept. 13.

‘I am concerned that there will be quite a number that unfortunately we would need to stand down under these rules,’ Mr Scott told ABC Radio National on Tuesday.

Mr Scott said he spoke to Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg before Mr Andrew’s announcement on Sunday and urged for Bunnings and other retailers to stay open.

‘I accept that the government has worked around the clock to try come up with a set of rules, we have learnt a lot from the New Zealand shutdown.

‘What we learnt is that as people are confined at home for many weeks, there are certain products – particularly those you need to use around the house, to school your kids from home, to entertain your kids – that are going to be in very strong demand.’ 

Premier Daniel Andrews introduced stage four restrictions in Melbourne on Sunday after weeks of stay-at-home orders and compulsory mask-wearing failed to stem the spread of COVID-19

Premier Daniel Andrews introduced stage four restrictions in Melbourne on Sunday after weeks of stay-at-home orders and compulsory mask-wearing failed to stem the spread of COVID-19

Bunnings is being forced to close and only remain open for trade customers, with ordinary shoppers told to use click-and-collect

Bunnings is being forced to close and only remain open for trade customers, with ordinary shoppers told to use click-and-collect

Mr Scott has called on the retail restrictions to be reviewed, as ‘big box’ stores such as Bunnings and Officeworks could keep in-store customers spread out.

‘I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks as we start to see the demand coming from households and families for additional products and as we try and reduce the devastating toll this is going to place on household budgets that we can find a way to keep product flowing in a safe way,’ Mr Scott said.

Mr Scott said Wesfarmers had two weeks’ pay in place for workers who were let go during the lockdown, but after that staff would need to look at government subsidies.

With 25,000 stores in Victoria, Wesfarmers is working to figure out how its stores will survive the coming six weeks (a man walking through Melbourne on Tuesday)

With 25,000 stores in Victoria, Wesfarmers is working to figure out how its stores will survive the coming six weeks (a man walking through Melbourne on Tuesday)

As a result, Wesfarmers is preparing to send thousands of workers at Bunnings, Kmart, Officeworks and Target home, as retail is being moved to online trade only

As a result, Wesfarmers is preparing to send thousands of workers at Bunnings, Kmart, Officeworks and Target home, as retail is being moved to online trade only

Victoria’s Jobs Minister Martin Pakula said if modifications to the retail lockdown could be made without risking public health, he was ‘happy to have a conversation.’

Mr Pakula told 3AW radio on Tuesday a hotline for industry took 5000 queries on Monday night after the latest restrictions were announced.

The Victorian government has created grants of $5000 for regional businesses and $10,000 for those in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire to cope with the tougher restrictions.

However, these are not available to sole traders.

Mr Pakula said the state had to draw a line for support for budgetary reasons and sole traders would need to rely on federal assistance. 

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