Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (16:36):I rise to speak about the impact on strip shops. I will be supporting this today. I believe the impact of COVID-19 on business in Victoria cannot be understated.
It is so important that we recognise and address the many industries that have suffered during this pandemic. At this time I think it is especially relevant that we discuss those in Victoria’s struggling small business sector, and I thank the opposition for bringing this to the forefront today. These bricks-and-mortar stores have suffered detrimentally from lockdowns and the consumer shift towards online shopping. Likewise, a large majority of sole traders, like wedding and hire cars, lost valuable income because of the circuit-breaker lockdown.
The hire car industry’s bread and butter is driving the suits and the tourists from airports and major events and conferences. In fact they would typically amount to 70 to 80 per cent of all hire car trips. This is when the industry truly comes into its own. As the tourist sector has fallen, so has the financial viability of thousands of hire car drivers who depend on this sector to put food on the table. The industry has been nothing short of dead since March. Continuing uncertainty and lack of consumer confidence has meant the industry is still struggling to survive, yet the government has failed to provide adequate support for non-employing sole traders.
The wedding car industry has also suffered immensely since March 2020, with almost no weddings allowed to go ahead. This past Valentine’s weekend was one of hope for the industry, and there was nothing short of light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately that all came crashing down as the circuit-breaker lockdown was introduced. I personally know of a limousine operator who lost $6000 worth of work on Valentine’s weekend—more income than he had had the opportunity to earn in the last six months. It was devastating for him to see that income go down the drain. He has no recourse for any support.
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These small businesses are at their wits’ end, losing more hope as the days pass, with no support to get them to the other side. The vast majority of people in the wedding and hire car industry are sole traders and non-employing sole traders. What support did they get from the government? They got nothing. It was frankly disgraceful how non-employing sole traders were treated by the government—so differently from other sole traders. Three times sole traders were able to go to the well. Non-employing sole traders got nothing.
It is evident that reason, fairness and sympathy from the government is found wanting in this area. I believe that the Victorian people that make this state a truly special place to live and visit, our unique small businesses, are the lifeblood of our city and communities. Unfortunately many, through no fault of their own, have reached or are reaching a financial breakdown. When these small businesses go under, so does the community, so do the jobs and so does the hope.
It is not difficult to see how the government’s treatment of the wedding and hire car industry represents a broader pattern of the government underestimating the value of the small business sector and refusing to provide the support it needs. I see no reason why the wedding and hire car industry was excluded from accessing the support it needed through the circuit-breaker action business support package. There needs to be financial support for the loss of income that the lockdowns have incurred. Small business is suffering. The wedding and hire car industry is suffering. Now, what is the government going to do about it? I commend this motion.