27 October 2021

Hospitality, small business restrictions have pushed many to the wall, says Leanne Castley MLA

| Leanne Castley MLA
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Leanne Castley

Yerrabi MLA Leanne Castley says consumers are taking their business out of town while the ACT still has restrictions on retail and hospitality trade. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Did you open your wallet with a splurge at Kmart in Queanbeyan when lockdown ended? Or pop into the Royal Hotel for a beer and a meal?

If you didn’t, did you consider it? Were you tempted? Retail restrictions have only just been lifted in the ACT, while the hospitality sector is still labouring under onerous conditions that do not apply in NSW.

This means it is still not viable for many local businesses to reopen.

General manager of the Australian Hotels Association ACT Anthony Brierley revealed a number of iconic Canberra hospitality businesses would not be around at Christmas and blamed the government for a “breach of trust” with the sector.

Around 7000 employees have already lost their jobs, said Mr Brierley, estimating up to 20 per cent of the sector could fold.

As a former small-business owner, I know the constant grind, stress and fear that comes with running your own business, which has been compounded tenfold by punishing COVID-19 lockdown and trade restrictions, limiting them to click-and-collect, delivery and customer appointments.

For the past few weeks, I have been participating in a COVID-19 Select Committee set up by the Legislative Assembly to understand the impact of lockdown on ACT business in particular.

The chair of the Canberra Business Chamber, Archie Tsirimokos, is also on the board of Lifeline, and he voiced his alarm for the mental health of small business owners and the dire predicament they face.

Mr Tsirimokos made the interesting observation that many people see business as some amorphous thing, failing to appreciate we are talking about people – mums and dads with kids at school and normal family expenses, plus the huge burden of a business to run and the challenges that entails.

Look beyond the business into the haggard face of the owner and recognise the desperate father and distraught mother confronting the growing likelihood their business is not going to survive and wondering what the heck their future will be.

When businesses are forced to operate in a limited capacity due to government health directions, then government must bear the financial burden, not small business.

Earlier this year in the Legislative Assembly, I called on the government to establish a Small Business Ministerial Advisory Council, similar to what the government has established for other important community sectors such as youth, women, multicultural and LGBTIQ.

The government said no.

In early August 2021, I called on the government to implement a Hospitality Support Package, including emergency cash grants for our battered hospitality sector.

Again, the government said no.

To give you a sense of what nonsense these taskforces are, Minister Cheyne announced to the Legislative Assembly that one of the taskforce’s first “and most critical initiatives” would be – wait for it – “talking to business about how to talk to business”.

What business urgently needs is financial help, and beyond that for minimal government interference, not more talkfests that promise the world and achieve little.

Perhaps the most startling example of this government’s lack of support for small business is the fact its own scheme to provide assistance is yet to get off the ground.

Look at the government’s website today (27 October) for business information and you’ll read: “The COVID-19 Small Business Hardship Scheme will open in October 2021. Detailed guidelines for the Small Business Hardship Scheme will be made available in the coming weeks.”

Oh, dear.

Chief Minister Barr described his ACT Budget as a full-throttled attempt to revive a pandemic-hit economy. Instead, his backwater restrictions have delivered us a spluttering Territory engine with little to no acceleration.

The pent-up demand is revving its way out of town.

Leanne Castley MLA is a member for Yerrabi and the Canberra Liberals’ Shadow Minister for Business.

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James Daniels, You’re a Liberal party member and were a Liberal candidate in the last ACT election. The fact is business can help themselves coming out of the pandemic, they will be the first to recover, just watch the ABS stats . I suspect Canberra businesses will lead. Taxpayers gave business enough handouts during the pandemic they don’t need more. And a Labor govt!

phillipbusinesscommunity5:33 pm 29 Oct 21

Just noticed this comment too.

Again, you’re misinformed. The restrictions on trade have devastated many small businesses who had spent the 13 months between lockdowns to rebuild and regain all the losses.

No, Taxpayers didn’t “give enough”. Plus actually most of the federal funding provided to the ACT is actually GST & PAYG revenues generated by small businesses employing Canberrans.

Businesses, and their staff, have worked very hard and your comments don’t reflect the realities that have been faced.

Government action has almost certainly caused far more harm than it prevented. We will be dealing with mental health issues, an economic disaster, massive opportunity costs and other uncountable problems for at least a generation. All for policies that had and continue to have very little evidence of their efficacy.

Shinigami_Josh8:31 pm 27 Oct 21

Go pull the other one, look at how little our lockdown has been over the whole pandemic compared to the other states.

The health of our populace is far more important than the health of businesses bottom line.

A typical public servant response

I would like to ask Ms Castley what more she wants the government to do for business. She never mentions that business received over $455K in taxpayer assistance and tax relief during the Pandemic. Many businesses (not all though) refused to follow the rules when restrictions were eased. Many also rorted the Choose CBR promotion which was directed towards business assistance. Brendan Smyth a previous Liberal party minister in ACT government is also Business Liaison Commisioner but I never hear Ms Castley mention that.! So what more does she want?


phillipbusinesscommunity5:29 pm 29 Oct 21

@estelle3724 – just going to comment on that $455k figure you’ve put here. As a business owner, and representative of many many businesses I can tell you that figure is wildly inaccurate – unless you’re referring to 1 specific company (then you comment lacks clarity and is inaccurate at best).

The ChooseCBR campaign was abused by a small few businesses, poorly designed and in fact most businesses had to actually work more for less.

I would be happy to meet and discuss this and put some facts down to help if you’re interested.

Tom Adam
Phillip Business Community
Business Owner
Business Advocate

I am a business owner over 50 years in Canberra. The government has done an exceptional job in assisting businesses. This is despite the Canb Libs and Ms Castley undermining everything Labor has done. Look at today’s Commsec economic report and see how good business is doing in ACT during Pandemic. Over the course of the pandemic, the government has invested over $475 million (not $455m as previously stated) through direct payments and tax relief measures. This figure is in the transcript of the budget handed down by the CM on 6/10 and budget papers. And despite what Ms Castley says about the government’s information portal, it has been up and running for a number of months, is informative and easy to understand. In the current Assembly’s inquiry into the Covid response, which the Libs called for and Lab/Greens supported, Dr David Marshall Chair of the Canberra Regional Tourism Leaders Forum (no less) in response to a question asked by Ms Castley stated that the CM has always been supportive of business, has provided a level of confidence, has been tourism minister over that time and communication has been adequate (read the transcript). Ms Castley calls on govt to establish a Small Business Ministerial Advisory Council. Isn’t that what Brendan Smyth, previous Liberal MLA, deputy leader and former business owner been engaged to do? Engaging with business and reporting to govt and a swathe of other responsibilities! His instrument of appointment is publicly available on the ACT govt website! Brendan Smyth continues to be very active in the Liberal Party, I know! It is easy in opposition to draft a smart alec opinion piece like this but if it is the best the Canberra Liberals can come up with after 21 years in opposition then heaven help us.

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