Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on COVID Business Support

9 February 2022

Ms STEGGALL (Warringah) (10:12): Businesses in Warringah are in dire straits. In their words, 'Right now is the worst we've experienced since the pandemic started two years ago.' The omicron summer destroyed consumer confidence. Most businesses missed the Christmas retail trading bounce, and that is extending into the year as people are avoiding shops and cafes. We need to rebuild consumer confidence.

For some businesses in Manly, up to 60 per cent of their annual turnover is collected during the summer break. One cafe in Mosman had to close doors for three weeks, because they did not have enough staff. Again, this is what should have been the busiest time of the year. International border closures and subsequent skilled worker shortages are biting hard. This is made worse by the lacklustre provision of rapid antigen tests for businesses, isolation requirements and their effect on staff availability. Other businesses have to rotate staff between venues or are closing at the last minute, because they don't have enough people to open the doors.

These issues are resulting in severe cash flow problems. These businesses are exhausted. They have no more credit and they have no end in sight, so I welcome the business support package by the New South Wales government which will go some way to helping businesses recover. However, I was extremely disappointed to see Treasurer Frydenberg and the federal government decline the invitation to partner with the New South Wales government and support our local businesses. We have to make sure that these businesses get through these additional variants of COVID or all that money spent in support will have been for nothing.

I welcome the reopening of international borders on Monday. It will bring back tourism and welcome holiday visa holders to supply and assist businesses. But we have to be clear: the belated announcement that rapid antigen tests are now going to be tax-deductible doesn't really help all the people who've been buying them for weeks without being able to keep receipts because they weren't back then. Those decisions need to be made quickly. Last week I had urgent meetings with Manly and Mosman chambers of commerce, and those businesses are very clear. They have clear asks that I've conveyed to Treasurer Frydenberg but have had no response on.

The isolation requirements for close contacts are incredibly difficult if those people are asymptomatic and have tested negative. We need healthy workers to be participating in the workforce. We need a pay-as-you-go rebate that could incentivise businesses to keep their doors open. It would be particularly useful in the hospitality and retail sectors. We need a financial assistance scheme that supports businesses that have lost more than 30 per cent of turnover. These policies would support a faster recovery from the latest wave of the omicron variant. Don't be fooled. Just because unemployment numbers are low does not mean that businesses are not struggling. We need to make sure we get them through every variant of COVID.