Consistency and Consultation are essential when managing a crisis and preparing for the next crisis.
COSBOA surveyed leaders of 33 industry associations representing a diverse range of small businesses about their experiences of Australian government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were asked about the impact of state and federal measures to stop the spread of the virus, the impact of assistance measures for small businesses, as well as their experiences with government consultation.
The survey is accompanied by an analysis of government decisions based on a review of media commentary, preliminary academic research, think-tank commentary, data and analysis sourced from government agencies as well as consideration of a year of weekly consultation with COSBOA’s membership.
Readers of the report will also be treated to interesting, insightful and sometimes humorous comments, anecdotes and observations from the industry association leaders who were surveyed.
Peter Strong, CEO of COSBOA, stated “this is a comprehensive report based on the lived experiences of small business leaders in Australia. This is a group of people who met, online, weekly for more than 6 months. A group of people who shared their crisis experiences with other leaders and with government, and then shared that information with their small business members. It is an historic document about an historic moment in time, a moment that is still continuing. The lessons learned are important for now and for future crises - crises that we know will happen, even if we don’t know when.”
COSBOA Chair Mark McKenzie said “The economic consequences of COVID19 challenged us all but the experience provided some important lessons for small business owners and policymakers alike. It is essential that we convert these experiences into good policy that minimise the adverse economic impact of future events."
Key findings from the survey include:
· Small businesses were impacted unequally by the pandemic: businesses in the events industry were reported to have suffered the greatest revenue loss. Other industries such as booksellers were able to transition online and gave anecdotes of record sales. For industries that were able to continue trading as essential businesses, businesses in CBD locations were hit harder than those in regional and suburban locations. For B2B businesses such as accountants and software developers, impact depended on who their customers were. Some industries reported workforce fatigue.
· Lockdowns of hotspots within states cities and towns; closure of non-essential businesses; and state border closures had the most negative effect on small businesses.
· The JobKeeper payment, the Cashflow Boost, and payroll tax waivers and deferrals had the most positive effect on small businesses.
· Industry association representatives rated international border closures, contact tracing & genome sequencing, mandated mask wearing and mass COVID-19 testing as the most effective actions to suppress the virus.
· 36% of respondents were consulted by federal government agencies on numerous occasions and 42% rated those agencies as ‘highly’ responsive in their direct consultations.
· The average frequency of direct consultation with state or territory governments was rated as ‘limited,’ except for NSW and VIC which averaged between ‘limited’ and ‘occasionally.’ NSW was rated on average as being more responsive than other states in its consultation.
Key lessons from the report include:
· Consultation between government, the health sector and business groups was essential to the successful management of the crisis. The states with good consultation fared better; the state with the worst health outcome was the state with the worst consultation process.
· Associations with direct small business membership have a crucial role in communicating issues and actions to and from their membership.
· There is no doubt that the states performed well, yet they would have performed better and generated less confusion and fear if they had developed a more uniform approach for national consistency, particularly around border closures and the definition of an essential businesses.
· The success of the JobKeeper and Cash Flow Boost support measures cannot be overstated and should be ready to be rolled out when needed.
· The success of our health system must never be forgotten. Successful communication of health needs was amplified by consultation with industry leaders who could then communicate this to their members in a language best suited to their particular sector.
· There is now a need for lessons learned to be applied to plans for managing future inevitable crises.
· For example, we can develop special clauses to be placed into awards and industrial agreements that would be activated when a state of emergency is called for an area or for the country. This would save time in negotiating change when an emergency is happening.
· Consultation during a crisis is essential. By consultation we mean a two-way dialogue where information flows back and forth between government, health officials and the business community. We mean open, respectful and frank conversations where questions can be asked and answered in good faith and with a view to community and economic health - not the ideological needs of individuals or groups.
Industry associations surveyed are listed below:
General: Adelaide Business Hub, Family Business Australia, Tasmanian Small Business Council.
Retail and hospitality: Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association, Australian Booksellers Association, Australian Hairdressing Council, Australian Lottery and Newsagents' Association, Australian Meat Industry Council, MGA Independent Retailers, Australian Venues Association, Newsagents Association NSW & ACT, Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Restaurant and Catering Industry Association of Australia.
Events and entertainment: Australian Live Music Business Council, Australian Venues Association, Hire and Rental Industry Association, Restaurant and Catering Industry Association of Australia, Screen Producers Australia.
Agriculture/ rural: Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, Australian Meat Industry Council, Rural Business Tasmania.
Health: Australian Traditional Medicine Society, Myotherapy Association Australia, Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Australian Medical Manufacturers and Distributors Association.
B2B/ business services: Advisory Board Centre, Association of Independent Insolvency Practitioners, Australian Business Software Industry Association, Australian Human Resources Institute, Australian Institute of Business Brokers, Australian Medical Manufacturers and Distributors Association, Commercial and Asset Finance Brokers Association, CPA Australia, Independent Food Distributors Australia, Institute of Certified Bookkeepers.
Other: Australian Digital and Telecommunications Industry Association, Australian Taxi Industry Association, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia.