• 390 businesses responded
  • 32 per cent report 100 per cent revenue loss
  • Accommodation and food sectors hit hard
  • Alpine and Indigo businesses suffer twice

Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines says North East businesses have experienced a bruising double impact from coronavirus economic and social restrictions and bushfire.

Dr Haines said the extent of the damage had been confirmed by 390 businesses responding to a survey conducted by her office between April 7 and 20.

Releasing a report of the survey on May 1, she said the effect of social distancing measures to limit the spread of coronavirus and the knock-on effect in communities reeling from summer’s bushfire emergency was alarming.

“Ninety-seven per cent of responding businesses in Indi told me they have been negatively affected by COVID-19, losing on average 71% of their revenue,” Dr Haines said.

“Thirty-two per cent report a total loss of revenue.

“Seventy-one per cent described the economic impact on their businesses as ‘severe’ and another 20pc rated it as ‘moderate’.  More than 35pc of businesses have had to lay off employees.

“And 64pc of respondents were from just two shires – Alpine and Indigo – indicating to me the ongoing, unresolved impact of the Black Summer bushfire emergency in these communities.”

Dr Haines said 32pc of all respondents were from the region’s significant accommodation and food sectors, with 99pc of accommodation and 91pc of food businesses reporting severe impacts, the highest of all sectors.

She said the survey results backed her call for immediate action by the federal government to:

  • Do much more to help small businesses get back on their feet – including tax breaks, innovation grants, no-interest or low-interest loans, wage subsidies beyond six months and GST relief.
  • Accelerate infrastructure investment in roads, rail and tourism, and capital works priorities already identified by local councils.
  • Encourage tourism to support the North East’s important accommodation, hospitality and tourism sector when restrictions ease.
  • Promote ‘buy local’ to strengthen and diversify the regional economy, and direct government agencies to source services and labour from local communities.
  • Ramp-up the roll-out of assistance programs across communities directly or indirectly affected by the bushfire emergency, including $10,000 small business grants in all affected local government areas, and simplify eligibility and application rules; and
  • Target support into the North East arts sector where many contract or casually-employed artists and creators ineligible to receive JobKeeper are battling a ‘perfect storm’ of no audiences and no income.

Dr Haines said the government could implement these six concrete actions rapidly.

“I have written to the Treasurer today, enclosing my report, putting forward these practical suggestions,” she said.

“The Government’s response to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic has been significant and welcome.

“In Parliament I supported the Government’s JobKeeper scheme, a doubling of the rate of JobSeeker and providing income tax rebates to small businesses – measures that would have been unimaginable just months ago.

“Yet, such is the scale of the crisis, it is clear from my survey that these are not, in themselves, enough.

“There are weeks and months still to run before we reach the other side. I’ll continue to fight for all people in Indi to make it through this very difficult time.”

Dr Haines said survey respondents across the electorate ranged from sole traders turning over less than $50,000 per year to manufacturers, with more than 20 staff on their payrolls, turning over millions.

“These are cafes, shops, artists, healthcare providers, gyms, snow-sport operators and hotels,” she said.

“These are the businesses and the people of Indi that I wanted to hear from directly about what they need, at this extraordinary time, so I can advocate strongly for them in Canberra and here at home.”

Dr Haines said Indi business groups, chambers of commerce and local council economic development officers helped to distribute the survey.

“The survey comprised 16 questions ranging from business demographics to quantitative questions around degree of impact, familiarity with JobKeeper and online trading situations, to open-ended questions prompting comments to help illustrate individual situations,” she said.

“All surveys returned were completed 100pc.”

[May 1, 2020]

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