COVID-19 and Small Business

18 June 2020

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (17:37:15): COVID-19 has caused a major global economic downturn affecting trade, investment and employment. Our world looks very different to the world of only a few months ago and in these uncertain times one thing is clear: Every business has been impacted in some way. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and as someone who was self-employed for over 20 years, I understand the anxieties that are being felt. The restrictions put in place as a consequence of the pandemic in New South Wales were severe but necessary to protect our family, friends and loved ones. Without hesitation, business owners and managers either closed their doors temporarily or adapted their business models to comply with the public health orders. It has been an extremely stressful time and while the challenges remain I bring to the attention of this House a local initiative I put together to support the small businesses in my electorate.

All businesses, regardless of their size, have had to make tough decisions to keep their enterprise afloat during the pandemic. There has been major loss in trade, staff have had to be let go and many have experienced financial hardship. Wages and rents are probably the two highest costs for most small businesses. When I started to see the stress of restrictions on the face of my local business owners, I decided to conduct face-to-face wellbeing check-ins around the Wahroonga shopping village to hear directly about the impact caused to their businesses. As I expected, many business owners were so overwhelmed that they were not aware of the government support available—from fee and licence relief to JobKeeper, wage subsidies, payroll tax relief and much more. Importantly, the New South Wales Government's $10,000 small business COVID-19 support grant has been extended until 30 June.

When we confront unexpected change, it can be difficult to cope with. I saw an opportunity to ensure that local businesses were aware of the help available by breaking down and simplifying the government information for owners and operators alike. Along with a group of volunteers, I next delivered over the course of a week information bundles to the small businesses in the commercial and retail hubs of Ku-ring-gai. The packs I produced provided key information on rent renegotiation, mediation services, interpreter services as well as State and Federal government grants made available during the pandemic. Every relationship between a landlord and tenant is different. From the feedback I received during my initial wellbeing check-ins it seems that many landlords had held off entering into rent reduction negotiations. This uncertainty was a major issue for small businesses. Therefore the pack included a copy of the National Cabinet Mandatory Code of Conduct—SME Commercial Leasing Principles During COVID-19 and an example letter for tenants who needed to negotiate rent relief with their landlords.

Additionally, I put a general post about the packs on my social media feeds to which I received numerous inquiries to my office asking for more information. As one volunteer said, "Meeting owners and hearing their stories, their struggles as they were endeavouring to keep their businesses viable and open, was encouraging. Knowing that we could pass on information which gave them hope and support was important." I thank Steve White, Councillor Christine Kay, Chris Williamson, Margie Raymond, Luke Hicks, Sarah Glassie, Andrew Futcher, Sarah Fernando, Helen Clarke, Ian Krimmer, Christine McDonell, Adrian Batterby, Margaret Selby, Nicholas Trobec and Michelle Kim who volunteered their time to assist with this local initiative. Beyond providing information about financial assistance, I hope we were able to give our local small businesses some moral support.

The Government is focused on doing everything it can to protect the community from COVID-19 and as we move into an economic environment unlike anything before, now more than ever is the time to support our local small businesses throughout the recovery process. With the continuous yet cautious easing of COVID-19 restrictions in New South Wales, let us all go to our local hairdresser or barber to get a haircut, drop off some dry‑cleaning that has been sitting in our wardrobes and buy a coffee, pastry or have a meal at one of our local restaurants. It is time to think national but to act local to support our small businesses.