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.”
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.