Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons
Failed leadership aspirant Michael Ferguson has been caught out undermining the Premier by making calls to successful recipients of the Small Business Hardship Grants program.
Labor Leader, Rebecca White, said Peter Gutwein was clearly unaware that Michael Ferguson was making the calls when asked a question in Parliament today.
“Labor has been inundated with businesses that have missed out on support from the government and are struggling to survive. Many of them have written to the Government and have not received a response,” Ms White said.
“Yet, while those businesses wait for news on whether their grants will be reviewed, Michael Ferguson has been calling successful applicants in Bass, presumably to try to claim credit for the support they are receiving from the taxpayer.
“Labor wants to know how Mr Ferguson – who is not the Minister responsible for this program - obtained the details of successful grant applicants, and how can he justify this rank political opportunism when what the Government should be getting on with is assisting businesses that are struggling to survive.
“The Premier must commit to a full review of the grants program to ensure a level playing field for all Tasmanian small businesses and reopen the grants to those who have missed out.
“The Government should support Labor’s COVID-19 Recovery Package which is designed to assist businesses, get Tasmanians back into jobs, help those hardest hit by the pandemic and create a better, fairer and more resilient economy and society.”
More Tasmanian small businesses and jobs are at risk unless the government urgently resolves serious flaws with its Small Business Emergency Support and Hardship grants program.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said numerous businesses are in limbo as they wait for a resolution of their complaints about the inequitable scheme.
“Sadly, some businesses have already closed permanently while many are now struggling to remain viable, but have inexplicably missed out on crucial funding under the government’s grants program.
“During the last sitting of Parliament, Labor brought the Premier’s attention to serious flaws with the grants program, with many businesses including Huon Valley Retreats, Margate Kennels, Puddleduck Vineyard and Lift Up Coffee progress-bar in Scottsdale missing out or receiving smaller grants than their competitors, with little or no explanation.
“Meanwhile, the exclusive Athanaeum Club, which counts senior Liberal employees as its members, has boasted of receiving support from the government.
“Despite the Premier’s commitment to conduct a review and look into these individual cases, none of the businesses we raised with him have received a resolution.
“Every day that Peter Gutwein delays is another day closer to these businesses closing their doors for good and even more jobs being lost.
“Labor’s COVID-19 Recovery Package is designed to get Tasmanians back into jobs, help those hardest hit by the pandemic and create a better, fairer and more resilient economy and society.
“Labor has always supported these grant programs but the allocation of funds must be fair and equitable. Our small businesses and the employees who rely on them for jobs deserve no less.”
Peter Gutwein must listen to calls from across the community to ease restrictions and help Tasmanians back into jobs.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said despite more than a month of no new COVID-19 cases, Tasmania still has some of the strictest social distancing restrictions in the country, which is impacting on businesses and jobs.
“At the start of the pandemic, Labor called on Peter Gutwein to introduce tough restrictions in the hope that if Tasmania was the first to go into lockdown, we could be the first to come out of it and get people back into work,” Ms White said.
“Yet despite more than a month of no new cases, Peter Gutwein has been slow to respond to calls to ease restrictions, even after more than 20,000 people have lost their jobs.
“Labor is calling for the Premier to adopt the Western Australian rules that allow venues to accommodate one person per 2 square metres to help businesses recover.
“These rules are backed by public health advice and are also being adopted by South Australia.
“The Government must listen to the community and support Labor’s COVID-19 Recovery Package which is designed to get Tasmanians back into jobs, help those hardest hit by the pandemic and create a better, fairer and more resilient economy and society.”
Peter Gutwein must find his voice at today’s National Cabinet meeting and argue for an extension to the JobKeeper program.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said after the Premier failed to stand up for the Early Childhood Education Sector that had JobKeeper removed early, he must do better today and demand the payment be extended beyond September to support Tasmania’s economy and workers hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“Peter Gutwein has given a commitment to fight to extend JobKeeper but he failed to say one word in support of the Early Childhood Education Sector when the payment was withdrawn early, and time after time he has returned from National Cabinet with no update,” Ms White said.
"Today is his chance to stand up for Tasmanian workers doing it tough.
“Thousands of Tasmanians would have faced unemployment without JobKeeper and if the program isn’t extended, there is a real risk of further economic contraction and more job losses.
“Significantly, just over 17% of direct and indirect employment in Tasmania is reliant on tourism.
“Now, with the state’s borders shut and no indication of when they might reopen, those jobs are in limbo and affected workers will need ongoing support.
“Peter Gutwein must declare whether he remains committed to fighting for an extension of JobKeeper because his silence on the early withdrawal of the payment from the Early Childhood Education Sector is not a good sign for thousands of Tasmanian workers."
Peter Gutwein should release the public health advice that is driving his decision to keep businesses from returning to normal sooner.
Labor Leader, Rebecca White, said tourism and hospitality operators deserved clarity on when they could return to normal trade.
“Tasmania’s visitor economy is one of the key drivers of our economy with around 17 per cent of Tasmanians either directly or indirectly employed by the tourism sector,” Ms White said.
“Tourism and hospitality has been one of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus with some of the highest unemployment numbers but the stimulus packages to date have not been targeted enough to address the impact to this industry.
“At the outset of this virus, the Labor party urged the Government to go hard and to go early as we understood that the biggest threat to our economy was failing to tackle the virus.
“We also knew that acting early would give our state the best chance of recovering from the impact of the virus sooner, enabling our domestic economy to rebuild and getting people back into jobs.
“Tasmanians have done an extraordinary job of getting on top of the virus with the state approaching a month without any new cases.
“The restrictions currently in place are some of the strictest in the nation and we are hearing daily from businesses, particularly in tourism and hospitality, about the challenge this is placing on them.
“The Premier should release the public health advice he is relying on to make decisions in order to be totally transparent with the community.
“People deserve to understand the reasons restrictions remain so strict, particularly when it is impacting on the livelihoods of many workers and businesses across the economy.
“While Labor welcomes plans for Tasmania to become the gateway for the Trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand we would like more detail on how this would work if implemented before our borders are opened.
“There is also a lot of work that needs to happen at the Hobart airport so it can take international visitors and we are calling on the Federal Government to fast track money in the City Deal for urgent upgrades at the airport.”
The closure of another Tasmanian restaurant demonstrates the need for urgent support for the state’s hospitality sector.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said while the easing of restrictions has allowed numerous businesses to get back to work, the hospitality sector continues to struggle.
“Labor has been calling for long-term support for the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, including the hospitality and tourism industries,” Ms White said.
“News that another Hobart restaurant – Oddfellows – has fallen victim to the COVID-19 shutdown and is closing its doors permanently, is further evidence of the devastating effect this crisis has had on the state’s hospitality industry.
“The need for ongoing social distancing means many similar businesses will continue to struggle and need urgent assistance.
“We know the importance of the building and construction sector to the economy and the government’s infrastructure program announced last week contains some important measures.
“But there was nothing for hospitality or tourism, even though many of these businesses are already on the brink.
“It is concerning that these are the industries where job losses have been the greatest, with women and young people worst affected
“Just the day before the government’s announcement, independent economist Saul Eslake warned that an increased construction spend would not necessarily help those hardest hit by COVID-19 job losses, and called for long-term support for the tourism, hospitality and arts sectors.
“The government must heed this warning and provide the kind of support necessary to stop more businesses going under. An inclusive stimulus package is urgently needed, which goes beyond just one sector so as many jobs as possible can be saved.
“This latest development is a reminder of the severe impact on the hospitality industry and Labor urges the Federal Government to extend the JobKeeper payment beyond September for the worst-affected sectors to ensure we don't have a further contraction of the economy and more job losses.
“With some hospitality businesses missing out on the State Government’s Small Business Emergency Support and Hardship grants, I would also urge the Premier to undertake his review of the program swiftly before more businesses are forced to close.
“We want to see all Tasmanians share in the benefits of a rebuilt economy. We need to start with those most in need.”
Peter Gutwein’s COVID infrastructure package has missed an opportunity to build a better Tasmania.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said Tasmania’s recovery from COVID-19 must be about much more than a return to normal.
“Coming out of this crisis the government had a real opportunity to reshape Tasmania, allowing everyone to share in the benefits of a rebuilt economy,” Ms White said.
“Labor applauds the government for putting social housing at the centre of its infrastructure package, and we genuinely hope delivery will meet the expectations set today.
“But while today’s announcement is welcome, the opportunity to make improvements in the quality of life for all Tasmanians has been overlooked.
“What’s missing in today’s announcement is the vision for a better, fairer, more inclusive Tasmanian economy.
“Labor knows the importance of the building and construction industry to Tasmania’s economy, but it’s not the only important contributor.
“Independent economist Saul Eslake warned the government just yesterday that an increased construction spend would not necessarily help those hardest hit by COVID-19 job losses – women and young people – and called for long-term support to the tourism, hospitality and arts sectors.
“Since the start of this pandemic, more than 20,000 Tasmanians have lost their jobs and thousands have had their hours reduced.
“We should be looking to diversify the economy so we don’t just return to a pre-COVID Tasmania, where not everyone was doing well.
“Government assistance for industry must be tied to businesses building a better framework of economic security for workers. Without job security the decisions workers make on a daily basis on where and how they spend their money in our economy will be severely restricted. Job security builds consumer confidence, it builds a stronger economy.
“We need a Tasmania where anyone can get meaningful, secure employment.
“We need to upskill and retrain Tasmanians to be ready to support our growth industries, and ready to step into the jobs of the future. Labor’s Free TAFE policy would make that happen.
“We have an opportunity now to rebuild the state in a way that is agile, resilient and fair. We must make sure we do not lose that opportunity.”
Support for visa workers in Tasmania affected by COVID-19 has been too slow in coming, despite a commitment from the state government to step in.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said Peter Gutwein made a commitment in April to provide support for visa workers, but has failed to deliver what he promised.
“Visa workers were overlooked by the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme, despite repeated calls for it to be extended.
“Too many people have been overlooked and are in financial hardship. These are people who have worked, paid taxes and are members of our community.
“The Premier’s commitment to step in was welcome, but visa workers and their employers have not realised the benefits promised.
“Peter Gutwein undertook to work with industry sectors that rely on skilled visa workers, to make sure specialist skills are not lost.
“To date, no industry sectors or employers have received this direct support.
“Things have gotten so bad that in some workplaces people are crowdfunding to support their co-workers who are struggling to survive.
“While a one-off payment provided welcome relief to visa workers, it’s no substitute for ongoing income.
“When asked to provide an update in State Parliament today, Peter Gutwein said something will be ‘announced shortly’.
“Telling people to ‘watch this space’ provides no comfort to visa workers who are struggling right now to pay rent and put food on the table.
“I urge the Premier to make good on his commitment and to waste no more time doing so.”
After strong advocacy on behalf of small businesses in Tasmania, Labor welcomes the Premier’s commitment to review unsuccessful applications to the government’s Small Business Emergency Support and Hardship grant programs.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said Labor has been inundated by complaints from businesses that have failed to receive support despite suffering the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.
“When Peter Gutwein first announced the grants program in March, he said grants would be available to all small businesses suffering financial hardship as a result of COVID-19,” Ms White said.
“But numerous businesses have contacted Labor describing a shambolic process, which has added stress at a time when they were already facing pain and uncertainty and has resulted in some businesses missing out on crucial support, without which some may not survive.
“Tourism and hospitality have been among the industries hardest hit, with thousands of jobs on the line. But a number of businesses in the sector have told us they’ve been treated unfairly and inequitably.
“Puddleduck Vineyard – a business in the Coal River Valley that relies heavily on tourism – applied for the grant but received no support.
“In another case, Huon Valley Escapes spent $1,500 preparing an application but, despite demonstrating significant hardship, the business was knocked back for a $15,000 grant, instead receiving the lesser amount of $4,000.
“Then there is Lift Up Coffee progress-bar in Scottsdale, which applied for a $15,000 grant, followed up with Business Tasmania and was told the application had been received and the result would be advised the next week.
“That same day, it was announced that the grant program had closed and the owner was later advised that the café had received the lesser amount of $4,000.
Ms White said some businesses have been forced to compete with each other against invisible selection criteria for support.
“Some businesses like Eight Oh Eight – an events business in Launceston that has been unable to trade – received nothing, while other businesses that have continued to operate have received $15,000 payments.
“Margate Country Kennels also missed out on $15,000, despite applying within hours of the funding announcement, waiting weeks for a response and seeing other kennels receive that full amount. They were eventually advised that they may be eligible for the lesser amount of $4,000.
“Labor has been fighting on behalf of these businesses to have this inequitable scheme reviewed.
“We welcome the Premier’s commitment in parliament this morning to review these unsuccessful applications and, if necessary, to extend the grants scheme.
“Labor has always supported these programs but the allocation of funds must be fair and equitable. It is pleasing that after Labor’s strong advocacy, the Premier has listened to our concerns and the concerns of these businesses, which have already suffered so much.”
Labor welcomes the early move to Stage 2 restrictions but warns the struggle is far from over for many Tasmanians.
Labor Leader Rebecca White said the early easing of restrictions from this Friday will allow numerous businesses and individuals to return to a more normal way of life but others will need ongoing support.
“The move to bring the start of Stage 2 restrictions forward will be a great relief to many Tasmanians,” Ms White said.
“As well as allowing more businesses to reopen, it will also enable thousands of Tasmanians to enjoy the long weekend, with larger gatherings allowed and people able to visit their shacks and launch their boats.
“This is a tribute to the way Tasmanians have pulled together and worked through this difficult period to comply with isolation, social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
“With the response of the Tasmanian people, our borders still closed and only four active COVID-19 cases, this is the right time to ease restrictions.
“But we mustn’t forget that this is not yet business-as-usual and, for many, support will be needed for some time to come.
“With the ongoing need for social distancing, the tourism and hospitality sectors will feel the effects of the pandemic for longer than many other sectors. As a result, they will need ongoing support to see them through.
“Tasmanian Labor has been pushing for an extension to the JobKeeper program beyond September and we will continue to argue the case for this sensible option to help thousands of Tasmanians relying on this subsidy.
“We will also keep lobbying the Federal Government on behalf of those who have missed out on JobKeeper including casuals, local government workers and temporary visa workers.
“As well, it is vital that those businesses in need of urgent support get it as soon as possible, with fair and equitable distribution of emergency funds.
“Labor again calls on Peter Gutwein to review the administration of the government’s Small Business Emergency Support and Hardship grants program.
“It’s heartening to see Tasmania starting to open up again and people once again on the move in our communities. But as we step back into recovery, we must ensure no-one is left behind.”