EASING LOCKDOWN: Regional parts of the state will have more freedom than elsewhere.
EASING LOCKDOWN: Regional parts of the state will have more freedom than elsewhere.

Emerald businesses to recover, but not without ‘scars’

THE Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) is campaigning for further considerations to be given to small businesses in regional and remote areas after Friday’s National Cabinet meeting announced the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

It was agreed at the meeting that regional parts of the state – many of which have been free of coronavirus – would have greater freedoms than elsewhere, with up to 20 patrons allowed inside restaurants and pubs and recreational travel restrictions widened to 500km.

Metro and other areas have been allowed 10-person limits.

The tourism and hospitality sectors in remote and regional areas have been hit heavily and CCIQ General Manager for Advocacy and Policy Amanda Rohan said she would like to see these parts of Queensland receive additional relaxing of restrictions to allow them to “open up” further, especially to people in their own communities.

Ms Rohan said it would be vital to assess the risk profile for each region and make individual decisions.

“The risk profile is a consideration the State Government needs to look at – we’re not a one-size-fits-all state. Then a decision could be made in consultation with local councils.

“If we could start with opening pubs and think, ‘Let’s get you guys moving again’ it would be good for the economy, good from a mental health perspective, and good for the town’s resilience.

“It won’t solve all the economic concerns as they will need visitor travel, but if we can activate those areas now, I think that will go a long way to buffering businesses.”

CCIQ has spoken to many regional businesses about the impact of restrictions, especially with the loss of traffic from grey nomad and business travellers.

“So we have been open to the State Government looking at opportunities to open up in those communities, for the people living in the communities.”

Ms Rohan said rural and regional areas had already suffered floods, fires, and droughts before coronavirus hit.

“We’ve definitely come through a significant time of uncertainty.

“But this is unprecedented uncertainty, and that is something we’ve been hearing from the regional businesses.”

“These central places being closed, even to their own communities, is something we haven’t had to deal with before.”

Ms Rohan said industry was also key and returning employees – whether fly-in fly-out or seasonal workers – was crucial.

Tourism, she said, would be “critical” in the recovery of small towns as service-based industries had felt the “full brunt” of job losses.

“On the flip side there have been some business that have fared better.

“We’re finding that businesses are rethinking their supply chain and they’re purchasing in Queensland as opposed to overseas.

“There’s pockets where business-to-business supply chains are strengthening.

“It’s the business-to-consumer market that’s struggling.”

The CCIQ has asked the State Government to put more emphasis on digital connectivity for rural and regional areas.

“Businesses have had to adapt but it makes it more difficult if they can’t connect – the more connected you are, the more productive you are.”

Many businesses, she said were feeling the pressures of the ongoing crisis.

“A lot of our calls are from businesses who are under strain, so we are getting a lot of mental-health based calls.

“Businesses are the backbone of communities, so look after each other and find the right help – don’t be afraid to reach out.”

Ms Rohan encouraged businesses to talk to their local Chamber of Commerce and council about the recovery process.

“Businesses have a strong voice and councils play a big role and can provide relief in areas such as fees, permits and rates.

“What I do know is we don’t want to open up and have to shut down again, so it needs to be cautious, considered and practical.”

Victor Cominos, President of Emerald’s Chamber of Commerce, has been involved with the chamber since 1966 but said this was “the worst I’ve seen yet” in terms of “ups and downs” for small business.

The impact of coronavirus had been more damaging than past credit squeezes which had “forced businesses to the wall”, he said.

“I would say this is the most drastic because people have been quarantined which means they can’t go out and spend.”

Mr Cominos said he believed it would take 6-12 months before the economy returned to “its normal level” but “the scars will be here for a long time”.

He said businesses had implemented survival measures – such as the introduction of more online options – many of which would continue.

However, many of the new measures could have a negative effect on smaller businesses as larger companies could sustain an online presence, while smaller businesses would lose custom.

“Local people are being urged to give the local businesses consideration.

“It’s the local small businesses that create jobs and will employ the local people’s children.”

Mr Cominos said people were “pulling together”.

“But small business can’t afford to be shut for too long.”

He said Emerald would survive as it was a multi-industry region with irrigation, rural pursuits such as grazing and farming, coal mining and tourism that included the popular Gemfields.

“Emerald has always survived. And one of its plusses is that we’re not relying on only one industry.”

CCIQ CEO Stephen Tait said there were many ways to support small business.

“An ongoing focus for us is encouraging people to #Support Small.

“For consumers, it’s about making a conscious effort to support their small local businesses, as it’s these local businesses who are always supporting their community at a range of events, through sponsorship and donation of prizes while also being a major source of local employment.

“It’s also crucial for businesses to work together and see how they can support each other,” Mr Tait said.

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