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Gym operators, clients and event organisers out in the cold

Tania Maxwell MP says the government has a clear responsibility to help Victorian gym operators and regional event organisers hard-hit by COVID lockdowns.

June 8, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP says the government has a clear responsibility to help Victorian gym operators and regional event organisers hard-hit by COVID lockdowns.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Wangaratta and Shepparton gym and fitness centre operators had made her aware of the devastating impact of current circuitbreaker restrictions that forced them to close from May 27.

“But unlike other businesses, gyms in our communities have not been allowed to re-open since restrictions in regional Victoria were lifted on June 4 and where we have no COVID cases,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The rules are completely inconsistent. You can go to a pub for a drink and dine-in with nine other people and there can be another 40 people in the same venue. You can shop with perhaps a hundred or more people indoors.

“But you can’t exercise indoors for your physical and mental well-being under the same distancing rules that apply in our hotels, cafes and supermarkets.

“As I’ve been told by Wangaratta gym owner Amber Kiker and Shepparton’s Tareke Le Lievre, gyms maintain strict hygiene standards subject to council health and environment inspection and mask requirements.

“They’re even prepared to be subject to law enforcement inspection.

“But right now they’re treated as suspect when there’s no substantial information from Victoria’s chief health officer about the proportionate risk of COVID-spread where indoor exercise takes place.

“I’ll be asking Health Minister Martin Foley why gyms in our COVID-free communities remain closed, which is also affecting physical and mental well-being.

“I’ll also encourage our gym operators to make sure they apply for the Business Costs Assistance Program for the full entitlement of $2500 per week while restrictions require them to close.

“But will employees who’ve lost work also be eligible for the federal government’s temporary COVID disaster payment?”

Ms Kiker, whose Fitness4Me women-only gym has been closed for much of the past year because of lockdowns, said keeping fitness centres shut when there were no COVID cases made no sense.

“It seems gyms have been targeted as COVID breeding grounds when hygiene is always our priority,” she said.

“The sector quite possibly has the cleanest of venues where spaces and equipment are always sanitised.

“But opening and shutting so often over the past 18 months has not just affected me and my staff. It’s put such doubt in clients’ minds that they find it difficult to commit to staying on their physical and well-being journey.”

Ms Maxwell said she was also concerned for many sole traders in the wider business community ineligible for Business Costs Assistance Program financial support.

“They won’t be able to apply for program support if they don’t have an Australian Business Number (ABN) and be registered for Goods and Services Tax (GST) because they don’t have a turnover of $75,000 or more,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said major events in regional communities were also affected by rolling lockdowns.

“Thousands of events were cancelled across Northern Victoria in the past year,” she said.

“This upcoming Queen’s Birthday long weekend would normally deliver an economic boost, but the King Valley’s ‘Weekend fit for a King’, while going ahead, has had to alter its format and Rutherglen’s Winery Walkabout has been put back five weeks.

“These forced changes have serious impacts, pushing costs onto organisers.

“Another is that future planning is put at risk because business and organisations cannot get either public liability or COVID-19 cancellation insurance.

“The events industry has been largely lost in this pandemic. Less than five per cent of business events are eligible for the Victorian Business Events Program and there is little support for those that organise agricultural shows, community days, fairs and other community events.

“I want government to offer short-term security for public liability and cancellation insurance that helps the regional events sector and community organisations to ensure these events continue.”

Lockdown business deserves confidence and security ready-reckoner

Beechworth’s Ford Street, usually packed with vehicles and shoppers, all but deserted since the ‘circuitbreaker’ lockdown announced on May 26, 2021.

Tania Maxwell MP says business deserves to know it will be supported when the state government calls a snap lockdown to contain a COVID-19 virus outbreak.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the government and its agencies should by now have a workable ready-reckoner in place so an affected business can calculate with confidence the financial support it can expect when a sudden ‘circuitbreaker’ forces a trading shutdown.

“Yesterday’s announcement of a week-long closure of all but authorised work is the fourth lockdown that business and retail operators have had to wear since March 2020,” Ms Maxwell said.

“I understand that circumstances will vary, and that outbreaks are unpredictable, but it’s imperative that business owners and managers know they can rely on a publicly-funded, straightforward system that compensates them for loss of trade and keeps staff paid when there’s a shutdown.

“Business can no longer fall-back on JobKeeper after the federal government closed this program on March 31, and after the impacts of the past year many small businesses are still trying to get back on their feet.

“My office has spoken with the Treasurer’s office this morning and we’ve been told it’s ‘hopeful’ that a new support package will be announced during the weekend.

“But the point I want to bring home to the government is that we’ve been here before – three times.

“As I’ve raised in Parliament consistently in the past year, the near-constant enforcement of restrictions on all Victorians continues to create a host of wider problems.

“These include economic and social impacts, especially in our tourism, hospitality, fitness, events and retail sectors and for the employees who work in them.

“I know of many businesses in the Northern Victorian communities that I represent that will stand down staff for as long as this fourth lockdown lasts.

“But in most of these communities we have no COVID-19 cases.

“So while a statewide shutdown is imposed on all of us I think it’s only fair that businesses forced to close should be compensated so staff can still be paid and costs met.”