Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall speaks on the need for support to distressed industries and businesses

29 November 2021


I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that supports like JobSaver and disaster payments have ended at a time when the economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions will continue to impact a number of sectors for at least six to 12 months after the lifting of restrictions, including:

(a) the business events sector, which has lost $29.4 billion in revenue from 96 per cent of all events being cancelled for 2020;

(b) the mass participation sporting events sector which lost over 80 per cent of events over the past two years, causing a loss of over $5 billion to the Australian economy;

(c) travel agents, which have been in effective lockdown for over 600 days and will not be back to full capacity until after March 2022; and

(d) seasonal specific retail such as winter apparel and sporting stores who will need to wait six months for the next season and do not have savings to purchase stock; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) work with state and territory governments to implement targeted economic supports for specific industries including travel, business events, mass participation sporting events and seasonal retail, such as:

(i) providing ongoing business income support, including for supporting supplier businesses;

(ii) underwriting cancellation insurance for events and travel to provide planning confidence and accelerate recovery of sectors; and

(iii) providing economic incentives, including tax rebates, for events to be organised and booked in advance; and

(b) recognise the profound impact of COVID-19 restrictions on these sectors and their contribution to the Australian economy with benefits for trade, tourism and investment.

This motion concerns the fate of several industries as we enter yet another phase of this pandemic. Australia is the lucky country, and, during this pandemic, most were shielded from devastating recession. Our support payments worked. But a third wave of lockdowns across the economy in the third quarter has brought many businesses to their knees, and we need to tell their story and make sure the government is focused on their needs.

Businesses in Warringah, like in other electorates, have been hit hard by the pandemic and the lockdowns. Sectors like events, tourism and seasonal retail were the first into lockdown and the last out. On top of this, the third wave has hammered them and now, because of the influx of the omicron variant, confidence is going fast. There is concern for this sector, which are long-pipeline industries. People are uncertain and will not book events, overseas or domestic travel while this variant is hanging over their heads. There is uncertainty, and the government needs to recognise the impact of uncertainty on the recovery for these sectors.

These sectors have enjoyed some support in the form of JobKeeper, JobSaver, disaster payments and grants but, unfortunately, these supports have ended in circumstances where these industries don't just snap back into operation. Many, especially seasonal industries, have six to twelve months before they will be back to operating circumstances, and that is not recognised. These businesses were hoping that things were going to start to pick up, but they are now being hammered with that lack of confidence.

For example, in Warringah, over 18 travel agents have been without bookings for months and months. They have approximately 10 per cent of the revenue that they had pre COVID. For them, the current challenge is to survive into the new year. Other challenges pale next to this one. It is about survival—keeping these businesses going. Some have bookings, for example, in March next year. With the withdrawal of support and with open borders—state and international—they were hoping things were going to get better. But, unfortunately, these sectors still need some support. Australia's confidence to travel again is not yet there.

There isn't certainty, especially when it comes to booking events. Large hotels are relying on conferences being able to be booked. These things don't get booked a week out; they get booked months in advance. Seasonal retail like the snow industry is struggling. They will need to wait it out till the next season, which is next June or July. Boot fitters and winter clothing and ski shops usually outfit many Australians to go to the snow over the winter months. They've lost two seasons in a row and the international season in the middle. They have simply no revenue whatsoever. Some of the resorts are struggling to stay afloat because they simply have not been able to operate because of the restrictions. These are not the ordinary retail sectors that can snap back as soon as you lift restrictions. They need to wait till the following season. We need to restore confidence and optimism so that these sectors can survive until they are next able to operate.

This is where the Commonwealth can and should step in. I've written to and met with the Treasurer on the issue. While I understand the concern about spending, we can be fiscally disciplined and responsible and still keep these sectors afloat. The large outlays we have already committed will be for nothing if we just let these sectors fall over with these later strains. But, also, we should not think that the lifting of restrictions somehow means an immediate return to trading condition. For certain sectors it just doesn't, so a one-size-fits-all solution simply doesn't work. There are some ways in which we could turbocharge these sectors and the recovery. We could have sensible policies to assist businesses, like ongoing income support for businesses and their suppliers for up to six months when they are in an industry that can't simply reopen. We could have an event-underwriting or insurance scheme against more closures and more strains, to provide the confidence to go ahead with bookings. We could provide tax rebates for travel events and seasonal retail to stimulate demand. At the moment, there is barely the confidence, and, as soon as there is talk of more border shutdowns or more variants, that confidence just evaporates. So I urge the government to consider the specific needs of these sectors.