Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 16 September 2021) . . Page.. 2632 ..
MS LEE (Kurrajong—Leader of the Opposition) (3.48): I thank all members for their contributions to this debate. There is no doubt that Canberra businesses are doing it tough. Whilst a lot of talk, of course, must go to the financial support and the economic concerns that are plaguing our small businesses, one of the things that I want to finish on is mental health. These Canberra business owners are suffering and suffering now. The fact that they expected and did not get a clear plan moving forward on Tuesday is exacerbating the strain on their reliance, on their trust, when it comes to what they thought they could confidently rely on the government to do for them. It is clear that they have been forgotten.
The minister mentioned a couple of things. She accused me of scaremongering. Numbers do not lie, and these are based on figures she herself gave a journalist to explain how the government support scheme was rolling out. Based on those numbers, 5,500 applications at the time, with 375 approved, that was an accurate statement. I have said repeatedly today that it is good to see that that number has actually improved, but still we are seeing17½ per cent of businesses that have received support. That leaves a staggering number, over 80 per cent, of businesses that have applied that have still had nothing.
The minister went to great lengths to explain the number of ways that she has been engaging with businesses. In fact, that does not support her argument that there is a direct voice to business; it actually makes it worse. If she is doing that much engagement then she is paying them lip service by not taking into consideration what she has heard when it comes to the decisions that are being made. That is the reality in terms of so-called consultation from this government. We have seen it play out when it comes to planning decisions and we see it now. That is disgraceful at a time when businesses are suffering badly.
Madam Speaker, let me give you a few more stories that we have heard. A small business owner from my electorate of Kurrajong got in touch with me via social media. She told me that after making the application, after hearing nothing and after being kept in the dark, she rang the business line to check on the progress of it. She said that she needed to know so that she could pay the rent. She was told—and this was on the hotline—“Tell your landlord to keep his pants on.” This left her so distressed she was in tears and made to feel that everything she had worked for was worthless. She was made to feel worthless.
Event planners, who have seen a whole year’s wedding season lost, applied for support and received nothing. Taxi drivers were not eligible for the grant, given their work turnover, a lot of the time, was under $75,000 a year. They were relying on the goodwill of family and friends to help pay bills. So many business owners have told me that the grant application is cumbersome and, even when they do make the application, they are kept in the dark. Even in this economic climate, would it not be easier to just apply for a business loan?
I have heard from musicians who have had zero employment since lockdown started and are really worried that the federal payment of $750 a week will finish well before the ACT government releases a plan and confirms when or how venues will allow live