[Radio] Australia Today with Steve Price

“The savings that the family have had have been drained down, the superannuation is gone. There are unpaid loans. We’re not seeing any numbers reported on that sort of stuff.”

Bill Lang joined Steve Price on Australia Today to discuss the latest in small business news.

You can listen to the segment or read the highlights of the transcript below.

Steve Price 

The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, writing in the Australian newspaper today at the weekend, said industry chiefs now must beat the drum and pressure states and territories to stick to the national cabinets reopening plan. Bill Lang is the executive director of Small Business Australia, joins us on the line. Thanks for your time this morning.

 

Bill Lang 

Morning Steve.

 

Steve Price 

How’s the frustration level for small business going?

 

Bill Lang 

Well, you know, it varies state by state Steve, but it’s well past acute in the state of Victoria, of course, you’ve got a premier here and a government effectively using strategies that they used last year against last year’s virus, this year against the new Delta strain, and a continued focus on sort of numbers and numbers of young people getting the virus. Absolutely no plan, no timetable, no articulation of what an easing of restrictions will look like and what needs to be achieved there. So in the state of Victoria, in particular, the ongoing pain of uncertainty is absolutely at the highest levels it’s been over the last 18 months. Things are a bit better in New South Wales, fortunately, at least from the beginning of the lockdown there, albeit some would say that it was a bit too slow and didn’t go hard enough, etc. But I think history might end up telling us it’s been more measured, but at least the level of financial support, although hard and difficult to get out has been at a much greater level to many more businesses in New South Wales and what any other businesses in Victoria have seen. And then around the country yet anyone on boarders Steve, anyone in tourist related areas, they’re hurting.

 

Steve Price 

Watching premier Daniel Andrews in Victoria yesterday, dressed in black, looking very dishevelled. He seems to you know, give no one any hope whatsoever and was so negative.

 

Bill Lang 

Yeah look Steve, I don’t know that your viewers outside of Victoria would have seen it in many Victorians and trying to keep away from watching it. But it brought back memories to me of, of watching Richard Nixon being interviewed, as but I think that’s exactly the case. And I think he sort of said, Look, we really can’t say anything, we have to wait for the Chief Health Officer to be back at work. And then I read something this morning in the paper about the Chief Health Officers fronting up to a parliamentary inquiry, questioning his integrity over the closing down of a small business here in Victoria a couple of years ago. So if you’ve got the, you know, your chief health officer about to, you know, front of parliamentary inquiry, and their their career and their integrity being questioned, and that person is leading the best medical advice that the premier of Victoria is waiting for. It’s very, very concerning.

 

Steve Price 

I mentioned Josh Frydenberg writing in the Australian today, he said, quite many businesses are just holding on with uncertainty hanging over their heads, they can’t plan a week, little and a month ahead, because they do not know whether the states and territories will stick to what was agreed at national cabinet. Now, that’s an appalling situation where you’ve got a federal government, who’s responsible for taxation and national security, on the taxation front, they keep doling money out to these individual states, but they don’t seem to be able to extract a promise about what might happen at what vaccination level. That’s just unacceptable, isn’t it?

 

Bill Lang 

Look, look it is, but fought, but unfortunately, it seems to be quite legal with respect to the way our Constitution, you know, drawn up by you know, a bunch of people back at the turn of, you know, the 1800s to the 1900s. So, he really wouldn’t say it’s fit for purpose, the document. So we’ve got the practicalities of how that sort of system works. And we’ve also got, unfortunately, as political overload, people say, you’ve got to keep the politics out of it, but they’re all politicians. And, you know, it’s saying the politicians, the thing that I like most is having power. And, you know, if Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party in the coalition lose some seats in places like Queensland or in places like Western Australia, they’ll be out. So it would appear the premiers of those states have absolutely got them over a barrel. Now, it’s of no benefit to Australians more broadly. We have effectively, you know, governors of colonies doing what they want to do under their state constitutions. And unless, you know, the federal government actually takes a stand on that it’s one thing for the treasurer, the Federal Treasurer to say that the business leaders should be banging the drum, I think you’ll find the business leaders and organisational leaders have been talking to all levels of government, you know, right from the beginning of this pandemic, and with a general theme of that, you know, living sensibly, living sensibly with the virus, not letting it rip, but living sensibly for more than 18 months. So there’s been no question, no issue with respect to that taking place. But are they really listening? Or are they just sitting there watching their polls, looking at the research, determining what are we going to do? How are we going to keep power? History is not going to be fine, and not going to be kind to this generation of leaders that we’ve had through this pandemic.

 

Steve Price 

What would small business like to see once a state gets to 70% vaccinated which is seems to be the magic figure for some reason.

 

Bill Lang 

Look, I think generally speaking, what small business people want are their customers back. And they would prefer to have them back well and truly before the 70%. But if they’re going to stick with the so called 70% number, let’s let them come back. But let’s be very clear right now about on what basis they can come back and how they can work. And more generally, let’s start building some confidence about what the future will look like of living sensibly with the virus. Let’s lay it out. Now in Victoria, there is absolutely no vision. So there is no specific goals, I would think about like using Google Maps, Steve, is like they’ve zoomed in here in Victoria to the closest possible place, and they are looking at the different houses on the map. But only when you zoom out, you start to get the big picture and get some sense of the destination, and what is the roadmap to get there and what are the options. We get no disclosure in the state of Victoria, about that, at least in New South Wales, these things are starting to be articulated with respect to schools, with respect to businesses opening with respect to different restrictions in different geographic areas, but start spelling all of that out so at least there is some certainty around what the future is going to look like and and what the timeframe is on getting there. And then at least within that construct, business owners can business families can start planning within that. Now the federal Treasurer says yeah, like, you know, somebody’s just hanging on, let me tell you, hundreds of 1000s of small businesses have closed and they’re closed for good. Yeah, the savings that the family have had have been drained down, the superannuation is gone. There are unpaid loans. We’re not seeing any numbers reported on that sort of stuff. But that is the reality of this and the Prime Minister would have talked about lives and livelihoods. What about the quality of life? Right? And what about the ability to maintain, you know, what you’ve spent, you know, decades working on. So again, we’re not all in it together. That’s absolutely not true. Small Business families continue to pay the greatest price of any part of the Australian community.

 

Steve Price 

There seems to be a nervous reluctance by leaders, both Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews I will use as the examples. They are running the two states most at risk with COVID here at the moment and the most lockdown. There seems a nervous reluctance to free up parts of their own city, or state where there is no COVID because they believe that they’re going to create two divisions within society. I mean, already in New South Wales, you’ve got 12 local government areas that are zoned as double red hot, if you like, and that are more restricted than others. Why do you think there is this reluctance to, to open up, for example, the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne or the eastern suburbs of Sydney? Or the Northern Beaches in Sydney? Why would a government not feel confident enough to do that?

 

Bill Lang 

It’s a it’s a, it’s a fantastic question. And this is where we just see a lack of real leadership. You know, again, we’ve lacked education from the beginning, we now lack ongoing education for all the people, how does the thing get passed around, rather than having people absolutely frightened and scared, and again, having to use the hammer. As soon as there’s a few cases, okay, we’re gonna get the hammer out and sort of close it down, which is sort of, you know, varying by states in terms of how they do it. But they won’t even they won’t even answer those sorts of questions was like, Look, they know what’s best for us Australians, Steve, whereas the majority of us are going, it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s like, Well, look, if people are fully vaccinated already, why can’t they start getting some of the benefits of being fully vaccinated, which means they’ll be able to have a better quality of life, as well as support small business families, as opposed to being restricted to do it. Why is most of Victoria locked down when there still hasn’t been a positive case with respect to any of those areas? And I want to leave you with this, this whole sort of piece of analysis here that we never say anything about it Steve. But well the health system won’t be able to cope, what about the Australian community can’t cope? What are they doing to build resilience into the health system? Like at the start of the pandemic, we heard about, we’re gonna have flu hospitals, we’re going to do this, like where is the creativity? Where is the planning on that? What What is the health system not being able to cope look like? Does it mean 15 million Australians continuing to be locked down and have the whole vigour of life being drained from them, press conference to press conference with respect to the way they’re leading us continually in the dark?

 

Steve Price 

Yeah, very well argued. Thank you very much Bill always a pleasure to catch up mate.

 

Bill Lang 

Thanks Steve, cheerio.

 

Steve Price 

Bill Lang, Executive Director, Small Business Australia