Dear Chief Minister

As you know, it has now been almost two weeks since the most recent lockdown of the ACT began. Canberrans are almost universally following the strict rules put in place and doing their bit to keep their community safe. We are fortunate to live in a city where a significant proportion of the workforce are able to effectively work from home and continue to draw an income to support themselves and their families.

There are however many thousands of Canberrans who have seen their livelihoods significantly or completely curtailed and as the lockdown stretches into its third week are looking to the ACT Government to allow them to safely do their jobs.

The Federal Government has worked with your Government to deliver financial support to Canberrans doing it tough. However, many business owners and their employees who I have heard from urgently need a plan to get back into their businesses and safely back to work.

Here are just a few examples of what I am hearing:

  1. “We are a long running, mainly residential construction company, and finding this very difficult. We all have families to support and are finding this so difficult. We invoice things as work completes certain stages, and we are unable to invoice anyone during this period. It is stressful also for clients, who are renting properties whilst we are building/renovating, and they have deadlines for that. Now we are all held up indefinitely. Unfortunately, we have loss income during the lockdown period as we are unable to invoice work, and yet bills are still due end of month. And the companies and sub-contractors we need to pay, also have families, and need the income to pay their bills….it just keeps flowing on. We have some staff who live week to week. We also have subcontractors who work solely for us, and live week to week.”
  2. “I am a 3rd year plumbing apprentice, and I found out earlier this week that I would be stood down indefinitely from work. This was obviously a shock and not something I expected to hear, especially given the construction industry has been considered essential work. My apprenticeship has been heavily delayed because of the pandemic and lockdowns. I’ve been playing catchup with my studies over the last two years, because CIT has been shut down for extended periods. With most of my assessments being practical in nature, this obviously means I cannot meet the prerequisites for passing my course and thereby attaining my journeyman’s license. Now on top of that I can’t work, and the longer this lockdown continues the more anxious I get about whether or not I’ll even have a job to go back to.”
  3. “I have sold my current house and need to finish construction on my new residence. My family and I will be homeless if the construction industry can’t get back to work next week. Settlement dates on sales don’t change.”
  4. “I am a self-employed bricklayer working on small residential building sites in the ACT and Queanbeyan area. I strongly support the building industry being opened back up as it is a significant proportion of the ACT economy. This lockdown will be affecting businesses both small and large and while I appreciate the need to stay safe, I think the building industry, being predominately outdoors, could safely be reopened perhaps with a limit on site attendance or other measures. I think this needs to be done quickly before businesses are forced to close or people lose their livelihoods.”
  5. “I am not working during lockdown and not getting paid. I am also building my own home and cannot believe that I cannot even work on my own property. I am paying a mortgage on this home and paying rent while building and therefore the construction stopped on my home has a huge financial burden on top of not being able to work.”
  6. “This lock down has been very brutal. Our business is suffering massively, we are a long-term business that has limited income coming in at the moment. We are happy to leave our showroom closed for now, however, we have 3 teams and office staff that need cash flow urgently.”

Construction is an essential industry which of course provides one of the basics of life, shelter. Not to mention of course that every job is essential to those who rely on the income which comes from it.

Reports in the Canberra Times today that work will continue on the Throsby School, shows that there is the ability for work to be done in a safe manner. Builders working on other projects such as houses argue that these projects are also essential.

As I raised in my correspondence, earlier this week, there also many businesses who could safely fulfil online orders in Canberra but are instead losing business to interstate. Another example that has been raised with me is the case of Better Music. This is one example of the plight that many businesses in the Territory are facing:

“As you would be aware most stores around the country are able to trade online during lockdowns.

Better Music is a wholesaler, in store retailer, online retailer, audio visual installer and service centre for… Musical Instruments, Sheet Music, Sound reinforcement, Communication equipment, Computer and Recording devices.

To service retailers and customers, we import over 20 brands from that originate from USA, China, Canada, Korea, UK, Spain, Singapore, Hungary, Italy & Czech Republic .

We have overseas shipments arriving every week some airfreight and some sea freight. These shipments have been scheduled to arrive many weeks ago and cannot be turned off in an instant. If we are not in attendance to receive these shipments, they may be turned around and sent back to the supplier. This will cause chaos in our supply chains and could result in extra costs to our business.

We strongly urge you to give us some consideration to allow us to have a skeleton staff in our very large facility to continue servicing our online customer base throughout the country which includes many in remote rural communities as well as city people and many government, school and corporate clients and also be in attendance to receive our shipments.

For us to be shut down till 2nd September would be absolutely disastrous and threaten our survival. It would allow our competitors in Sydney Melbourne who are still allowed to trade online on a daily basis to take all of our business.”

This seems to me to be a very reasonable request.

Many business owners I have spoken to say that they can understand why the first few days of the lockdown applied very strict rules as the Government worked through next steps but stretching these very strict measures unamended and continuing to prevent these businesses from operating safely beyond two weeks and perhaps indefinitely is causing both severe economic hardship and mental anguish as they don’t know when it will end.

These are not reckless individuals but Canberrans who love their community, support reasonable measures to prevent the spread of COVID but also want to be allowed to save their businesses and continue to provide for themselves and their families.

I urge you to respond to these concerns urgently and allow a better balance to be struck between necessary public health measures and the legitimate need and desire of citizens to run their businesses and do their jobs.

Yours sincerely

ZED SESELJA
Senator for the Australian Capital Territory