CANBERRA - 29 November 2021
It’s no secret that I think economic supports were lifted too quickly by the Government in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
When they cut JobKeeper back in March, I was calling for targeted industry-specific support, because we knew the lockdowns would keep coming, and that our whole community would continue to be affected for a long time to come.
We knew this, Deputy Speaker, because those opposite completely bungled the rollout of the vaccine for most of this year, before finally getting their act together and ordering in a larger variety of vaccine options, after their appalling mixed messaging on Astra Zeneca spooked most of the country.
We also knew that lockdowns would keep rolling because those opposite totally failed to develop a national quarantine network, instead punting responsibility to the states, most of whom only had hotels that they could use.
And we know that hotels are no good at containing a highly transmissible virus, Deputy Speaker.
And even now, that we’ve been able to reach vaccination rates high enough to give the states the confidence to begin opening borders hoping that our medical system won’t be overwhelmed, even now we know that there are industries that need our support.
So I thank the Member for Warringah for bringing forward this motion, because I think it’s very important to note that there are a number of sectors that have copped huge losses and will take time to get back on their feet.
96 per cent of all business events were cancelled in 2020, costing almost $30 billion in revenue.
We saw that this year in Darwin in my electorate, which was hosting the Developing Northern Australia Conference in August.
Everything was ready to go but then the Territory went into a snap lock-down.
I myself was trapped in the ACT lockdown at the time.
I commend the conference organisers for their ability to take the conference virtual with almost no notice.
They did a wonderful job.
But there’s no denying that there was a massive loss of revenue to our local hotels, our hospitality sector, and local tourism operators.
Many Territorians and their businesses suffered as a result.
And that’s just one event over the past almost two years that we’ve been battling this pandemic.
The Territory’s tourism sector has especially suffered.
It’s very seasonal, and extremely dependent on visitors from overseas - who were locked out - and those from Sydney and Melbourne, who’ve been locked down for so long.
Why? Because hotel quarantine leaked.
Why? Because there was no dedicated quarantine in those places.
For many of our operators, if they don’t get enough people through in May until September, that can have dire effects on their ability to retain their workforce and be able to scrape through the wet season, which is already very quiet, to reopen the following dry.
Things were looking up for a while there in May and June, but the Sydney lockdown and then the rolling state outbreaks led to thousands and thousands of cancellations across the sector.
How do you keep a business afloat and people employed in the face of such uncertainty?
Our national arts sector has been completely smashed, largely unable to tour, to stage shows, dealing with mass ongoing cancellations, and their workforce were mostly left out of JobKeeper support.
It has been devastating.
It is the arts that got so many Australians through the long and dreary months of lockdown.
The least the Federal Government could do is acknowledge those workers and include them in its support schemes.
And so I have been calling on those opposite to do as much as they can to help state and territory governments implement targeted economic support.
There’s lots of ways they can do that.
They could provide ongoing business income support for those worst affected.
They should be underwriting cancellation insurance for events and travel, otherwise there will be no confidence for Australians to start booking trips and buying tickets to shows again.
As the Member for Warringah has suggested, they could also provide tax rebates and other incentives for events planned and booked in advance.
We’re spending trillions of dollars, and the least the Government could do is direct a chunk of it towards the parts of our economy doing it toughest.
Otherwise, we’ll continue limping along for years, and we cannot afford that.