19 March 2020

From meat trays to Guinness, ACT Clubs are facing an impending downturn

| Michael Weaver
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People gathering on St Patrick's Day.

From left, Paul, Zachary, Emma and Melissa attend the Irish Club every St Patrick’s Day and maintained the tradition again this year. Photos: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

The humble meat tray raffle could be the latest casualty of the coronavirus outbreak as the ACT’s clubs grapple with the mass gathering bans.

ClubsACT chief executive Gwyn Rees told Region Media on Wednesday (18 March) that the effect on Canberra’s clubs was dire and would reach far beyond how to pay its staff, 60 per cent of whom are casually employed. Mr Rees said that while large events and functions have been cancelled, the day to day hospitality business of clubs is largely not affected by the mass gatherings ban.

“In terms of the supply chain, the effect in Canberra will extend to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” Mr Rees said. “The clubs collectively buy about $1.8 million in meat trays from local butchers. Half the business of some butchers comes from clubs.

“Nothing is sacred here. The meat raffle could be going along with the mass cancellation of events.”

Mr Rees said government departments and community groups would no longer be able to use the space provided for them by clubs in the ACT.

He told Region Media that a security company working with on ACT club lost $50,000 in revenue between last Friday to Sunday after 95 per cent of their casual employees were not called to work.

Mr Rees says that the wider hospitality industry is also facing a similar situation as it comes to terms with limiting numbers in venues to below 100 people. “Casual staff are being laid off en masse. Venues are empty. Club function and events bookings are being cancelled en masse through the coming months,” he said.

“Another of my immediate concerns are for golf courses. They weathered hot summers and a couple of those clubs were facing $300,000 water bills. Following that, they are now facing an entire loss of function trade.”

Mr Rees said the clubs industry in the ACT is worth nearly $300 million a year and pays more than $70 million in taxes. He urged people to realise there is no advice to avoid clubs and to consider supporting a club rather than panic-buying at a supermarket.

“Clubs are doing a range of things to manage their business by providing hand sanitiser, more cleaning and taking proactive steps to inform their members that they have a safe environment. People should not be alarmed but continue to be informed and continue to enjoy our hospitality venues in the way they always have,” Mr Rees said.

Mr Rees said he has provided input to government on stimulus and relief measures for the clubs industry.

“We are calling on the ACT Government to urgently implement tax relief such as that being delivered by other jurisdictions and the Commonwealth”, he said.

“The club diversification fund, which is derived from a new tax on each poker machine held, should be put on hold immediately and money collected to date returned to clubs. We would also like a freeze on payments flowing to the Chief Minister’s Charitable Fund and on any commercial rate rises for the next financial year.”

St Patrick's Day at the Canberra Irish Club

Trade at the Irish Club was down by about 60 to 70 per cent on St Patrick’s Day.

As some Canberrans united at the Canberra Irish Club at Weston for St Patrick’s Day on 17 March, Irish Club general manager Paul Lander said trade was down by between 60 and 70 per cent on what was usually their busiest day of the year.

Mr Lander said there were no more than 150 people in the club at any one time during the day and that it had been an exercise of risk for those who did go to the club to celebrate all things Irish.

“We knew we were going to be affected but you can’t cancel St Patty’s Day,” Mr Lander said.

“We’re all grappling with what to do, but I think we just have to ride it out and adapt as best we can as we learn new information. It’s scary times.”

Mr Lander said it has been hard for staff and the club’s board to organise the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“We’re Irish by name and by nature and we love the day and put all our heart and effort into it. We’re disappointed but we’re also realistic to say that there’s a broader community concern and that is paramount.”

It was good to see that Mr Lander hadn’t lost his sense of humour.

“You can get a Guinness here but you can’t get a roll of toilet paper down the road, so that’s saying something. I’d say we’ve got our priorities in order,” he said.

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