Speeches

Helping small business

February 17, 2022

Some small businesses in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury describe the last three months as being as bad as November 2019. That date is powerful in the minds of my constituents because it's when the smoke started from the Gospers Mountain fire, and people literally stopped coming to the region for months. These are tourism and hospitality businesses that rely on a variety of things like international tourists, school excursions and senior groups taking bus tours, as well as strong consumer confidence and the confidence of locals to get out and visit these venues. If any one of those things is soft then their viability is on the line. It's taking a toll on operators and their staff. You can hang on in business through a rough patch, but we've now had more than two years of these conditions. Every time it feels like there's hope for a good season, it's a fizzer or worse.

Cafes battle not only with quiet weekdays but also with not enough staff or capacity to make the most of the sometimes busy tourist weekends. Travel agents are still doing it tough right now. They may be taking bookings, but those bookings are often paid for by credits that travellers have from their cancelled COVID trips, and that means very little or no income. One tells me, 'The grants helped us up to this point, but where we go from here I don't know, unless further grants are available.' They're hoping the unused funds from the travel agent support rounds are going to be made available to those who are still trading. The federal Treasurer has declined to provide further support for small business, saying in a Sky interview I was watching a few weeks ago, 'With respect to New South Wales, I've had requests from other states and the answer's been consistent, which is we're bringing an end to that emergency economic support, we're moving to a more normalised setting.' That's not how it feels on the ground.

The latest support from the New South Wales government continues to leave out the businesses it left out before: those who'd opened just before bushfires and COVID or were brave enough to open doing COVID; and those who had expanded so their turnover doesn't show a decline, even though they may be running two shops with double the operating expenses to achieve the expansion. These businesses trusted what governments were telling them, especially about what to expect in the summer just ending—false hope from governments that things would return to some sort of normal. Many businesses have closed, sold, retired or given up, and others are just hanging on. Most businesses don't broadcast this; that's not what small business does. I know that when business is tough, we put on a smile and we say, 'We're getting there,' or 'It's just starting to pick up.'

Of course, this isn't the case for all small businesses. Some are thriving, but those who aren't need support. One said to me about his business, 'If we can't hold on and we close now, in six months time governments will be providing incentives to someone else to get the same service up and running.' Surely it makes more sense to extend a lifeline to those who really need it, who've hung on, rather than let them crash and burn.