COSBOA has today written an open letter calling for a meeting with the Victorian premier, Dan Andrews, to discuss a plan to reopen Victorian businesses in a COVID-safe way.
Victoria has now achieved similar transmission rates to New South Wales, where many businesses in sectors such as retail, hospitality, hairdressing, and traditional medicine are allowed to open, and where there is a greater sense of normalcy.
Businesses in Victoria, however, are still yet to be given a date for reopening. COSBOA members are reporting that many small businesses and their customers believe they will be able to reopen on the 19th of October – next Monday – and there is great concern for what will happen if this does not occur.
There is also widespread frustration among industry associations due to lack of meaningful consultation with the Victorian Government.
Peter Strong, CEO of COSBOA, said “what we’re asking for is to talk to the Premier as soon as possible about a careful, staged reopening of businesses. We’ve already done it safely in other states so most industry sectors have plans and procedures that are ready to go. If he doesn’t want to discuss reopening, then we’re going to ask the Premier if we can see his government’s plan to manage all the unemployment and poverty that’s going to increase in Victoria from continuing the lockdown.”
“COSBOA members are saying again and again that many small businesses in Melbourne – whether they be restaurants, bookshops, or hair salons – will not make it through the first quarter of 2021 if they are not able to trade during November and December, the busiest time of year. Some sectors are also worried about losing staff to the black market.”
Mr Strong concluded “at the moment, small business people are feeling powerless and unable to plan for even the near-term future. We need to change this.”
Read the full letter below:
14 October 2020, via email
The Hon. Daniel Andrews MP
The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) is the national peak body representing the interests of small business. Collectively, COSBOA’s members represent an estimated 1.3 million of the 2.5 million small and family businesses that operate in Australia – around 30% of which operate in the state of Victoria.
We are deeply concerned that the continuation of the Melbourne COVID-19 lockdown beyond 19 October 2020 will create a cycle of poverty and unemployment in Victoria. This impact will take many years to overcome and will mainly affect the most disadvantaged in the community, including entire families.
The current situation cannot be endured any longer. Businesses need a hard reopening date, as opposed to waiting until COVID-19 case numbers reach a theoretical daily infection rate threshold that has been developed by computer models that do not take into account the associated adverse economic and human impacts.
Most importantly, failure to implement a staged reopening of the Victorian economy from this Sunday will result in many small and family businesses in Victoria being forced to close their doors permanently - even before the Christmas trading season begins. Retail and hospitality businesses all over Melbourne will close permanently if they cannot trade in November and December. Cafes will close their doors permanently, resulting in school leavers being unable to secure summer holiday employment. Entertainment businesses will cease to exist, and Victorian artists and entertainers will need to relocate permanently to other states. Businesses that have been holding on by their fingernails in sectors such as hair and beauty will have no choice but to shut shop.
We believe that severe economic and social harm will come from chasing the marginal reduction in health risk that comes with further extensions of the lockdown of Melbourne – to say nothing of the harm that has already been caused in this regard.
Victorian small business owners, and indeed all Victorians, supported the lockdown on the basis that COVID-19 infections were increasing exponentially at the time and that the lockdown was needed to reduce the infection rate. The lockdown also afforded an opportunity for the Victorian Government to improve its contact tracing capability. Now, after more than 100 days, the lockdown has significantly reduced infections, case numbers have stabilised at a low level, and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has been given more than enough time to introduce rigorous contact tracing.
It is now time for Victoria to reopen. Victorians must be allowed to live (and do business) with the virus instead of being locked away in their homes.
We have a plan for safe staged re-opening of businesses from 19 October. Our plan minimises COVID contagion risk while simultaneously allowing small and family business owners to set about rebuilding jobs and their own livelihoods. The fact is that most industry sectors associated with small business members are already prepared to open safely.
Our recommendations are not about putting ‘profits before health’. The current low rate of COVID-19 transmission means that we can choose to chase a perfect health outcome in lockdown, or to open with new rules and processes until the pandemic is over.
Our plan will minimise economic damage. We seek a meeting with you to discuss our plan to get Victoria moving again in a COVID-safe way.
Mark McKenzie, Chair
Peter Strong, CEO