By Matt Keogh MP

01 July 2021


SUBJECTS: Scomo going AWOL right when we need national leadership; the need for Federal support for small businesses through COVID-19 lockdowns  

TREVOR COCHRANE, HOST: Matt Keogh is the Shadow Minister Assisting for Small Business, now there’s a lot going on at the moment in small business, and I think there's a few questions being asked Matt at the moment with regards to what is Scomo doing to support small business?

MATT KEOGH, SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR SMALL BUSINESS: Absolutely, Trevor, in fact, what is Scomo doing at all, as you were just discussing, it has now been 72 hours since we've seen or heard from the Prime Minister, we almost need a sort of proof of life statement from him, or at least in confirmation that Barnaby Joyce is not the acting Prime Minister right now, heaven forbid!

COCHRANE: We could do a live cross to Hawaii, I'm sure. But I'm not sure whether he's made it there just as of yet, it is a long flight.

KEOGH: Well, we do have some border restrictions in place as well, right now. And that is part of what of course, is affecting small businesses across the nation, we've now got a situation where not only have we not heard from the Prime Minister on anything in the last 72 hours when there's all this confusion about vaccination, But half the country is in lockdown. And businesses, especially small businesses are really suffering through that. And they're suffering even more now, because of course, the supports that were there, like JobKeeper or rent relief, aren't there anymore, but COVID is still there, the lockdowns are still happening. And there's been no provision by the Federal Government to provide any support. Now, the states are trying to put together programs to support businesses through lockdown, the Premier, the other day here saying he was getting Treasury to look at what can be done, but I think we all know, the money is with the Federal Government, they also know and have the information to properly assess businesses because they've got the ATO data and all the other data that they collect as the regulator of businesses here in Australia, and it's really incumbent on the Federal Government to do something. They say, Oh, look, the economy's back to normal. Everything's now fine. But I think we know, as normal as our community and the economy might be in 2021. It's not normal when you're in a lockdown.

COCHRANE: Yeah, that’s right

KEOGH: So businesses are suffering, and of course their employees are suffering.

COCHRANE: Matt, do you think that that small businesses have done a pretty remarkable job to survive at this point, or to this point? I mean, at the moment, the Small Business Council, their CEO has come out and said that this latest lockdown is actually killing small business off at an unheard of rate. They’ve taken a lot of hits, and they've got back up, and they've got back up again. Maybe, the Federal Government does need to step in now and support these small businesses. Because, you know, the truth of the matter is, it's completely out of their hands, isn't it? They've had no choice.

KEOGH: Well absolutely right, small businesses have been doing it hard now for a good 18 months, especially those that have had to confront, say the big bushfires at the beginning of 2020, as well, so they were already in trouble. Business has been able to drag through, many of them had to close but those that are still going, they're only just able to get through.


KEOGH: And up until March they also had things like rent relief arrangements, or they had access to JobKeeper to help with their wages bills, none of that exists anymore. So every new lockdown that we go through, has a harsher and harsher impact on those small businesses.

COCHRANE: And look, I spoke earlier this week with the Head of the Tourism Council of Western Australia – Evan Hall, and he, he really felt this was probably going to be the catalyst and unless there was some significant support put in now. There were going to be a lot of tourism businesses in Western Australia that would not recover from this damage. Because these breakdowns, these shutdowns have gone as school holidays have occurred. And this school holidays sector, for many, particularly in the north of the country, doesn't matter what side of the country you're on. Those small businesses were totally dependent on school holidays, and to shut down just before school holidays. It's been a killer for these guys.

KEOGH: That is absolutely right, Northern Australian Tourism operators were looking at this school holiday period, which started this week on the east coast, and thinking, this is how we get a bit of money in, this is how we need to pay down a bit of debt or build up a bit of revenue to get through what we've already gone through, let alone what might come and especially in the northern part of Australia, they know this is peak season for them. And even without being able to get access to those international tourists they were looking forward to with borders sort of being back to almost normal that people would be not just coming from their own states and heading north. But there would be people coming from all over the country to either go to Broome or go to Cairns or go to Darwin. Instead lockdowns are in place. So even Perth people can't get up to Broome, which last year was what sort of supported the tourism industry. And why was that? You know, we went out yonder and toured and holidayed in our own great state. We don't even have that availability. Hopefully we get some really good news on Friday from the government and lockdowns in WA may end but we'll wait and see what happens tomorrow, but there's been so many cancellations already and I know, speaking to some of the hotels up in Port Hedland, which is not really known as a tourism hotspot, and they had bookings all through and many of those got cancelled because people who were coming from over East had to make a call. Look, we don't know if we're going to be able to make it even if the border does fix itself or lockdowns do end, so many trips cancelled that I think, the small businesses we’ve really got to feel for them.

COCHRANE: Matt, I was in Port Hedland doing a series of stories for Destination WA just a few weeks ago. And afterwards, we had some great feedback from locals saying, suddenly, we've got people booking holidays, they're coming in, we're all booked out, we're really looking forward to the school holidays. And as of today, I've been told that there's been up to 40% of those bookings have been cancelled. So all those businesses are flat out at the moment, but they're not flat out looking after their customers, they are flat out doing refunds. And unfortunately, it's a it's a pretty catastrophic, you know, blow for this time of year. You're right, we need leadership just at the moment, don't we. Small business is the lifeblood of this country.

KEOGH: Small businesses, is what keeps everything coming together, whether it's being able to get a local coffee, whether it's being able to go out on holiday, whatever it is, we rely on small businesses in so many different ways. And I can tell you right now, if they weren’t there, we would notice very quickly, but they're also much more susceptible to these sorts of shocks, even from a short sharp lockdown, which we hope in WA that's what it is, but in New South Wales, it's two weeks long, at least. And that's, that is huge. You've got to manage cash flow, there are so many things that you've got to be able to try and piece together at a time when some of the other supports that were there aren't there anymore, and the Federal Government is best place to be able to provide that support. And we're just hearing nothing from them, they're not even talking about the idea of providing support for small business, let alone any of the other issues that are pretty active right now around vaccination! And that's really concerning, they’ve sort of vacated the field entirely, they're trying to point the finger at the States and say they should do it. And the States are trying to do something, but the States don't have the financial capacity that the Federal Government does. And that's what we look to our Federal Government to be able to assist with. They did do it, during the beginning of COVID last year, they did have to get dragged to it a bit. You know, Unions and Labor were saying hey, we need to provide some support for employees and businesses. And they did do it.

COCHRANE: Look, I think the majority of us would be very grateful, anybody who's got a small business out there would be extremely grateful for that activity at that moment in time. But your point is, is that they are the ones that collect the tax, they're the ones that have got the cash sitting there at the moment. They're the ones that probably need to step back up at the moment to support small business. And it's a it's a big deal at present, I agree with you. 100%. It's a really significant problem. If we don't get back in and help some of these small businesses, I mean, tourism!

KEOGH: In tourism, my great fear when it comes to tourism is that too many of these small businesses in areas like Broome or Cairns or Darwin or wherever, will end up hitting the wall over the course of the next 6-12 months because there isn't that support from government. And then when we do all get vaccinated and international borders are able to reopen and we are able to see tourists come back into Australia, there won't be the tourism businesses to show them a good time. There won't be the product that we are so well known for around the world. To give to these international tourists, it’ll take a while to build that back up, those jobs.

COCHRANE: That’s exactly the problem. The jobs will be lost and we've made so much ground it'd be such a shame to go backwards just at the moment. Matt Keogh, Federal Member for Burt and the Shadow Minister Assisting in Small Business. I agree with you 100%. Something needs to happen. Let's hope that we see something positive, some real positive initiatives coming out of the Federal Government in the next few days. Really appreciate your time joining us here on the night shift.

KEOGH: My pleasure Trevor, great to have a chat.