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Monday, May 10, 2021

Calls to ease hospitality restrictions fall on deaf ears

Calls from both peak bodies and the ACT Opposition to further ease restrictions on Canberra’s hospitality industry will be ignored by the ACT Government.

Currently, ACT hospitality venues face restrictions capping patron numbers at 20 in each indoor and outdoor ‘space’ so long as physical distancing of one person per 4 square metres is maintained.

Venues with larger floor space can erect temporary walls indoors or marquees with a ceiling and three or more walls outdoors, and alcohol can only be served for on-site consumption when it is accompanied by a meal.

Across the border in NSW, pubs, cafes, clubs and restaurants are allowed 50 customers per dining area at their venues, and alcohol can be purchased without food.

This has created a situation where pubs in Queanbeyan are able to trade to more patrons with fewer limitations than ACT licensed venues a just few kilometres away.

Australian Hotels Association (AHA) ACT general manager, Anthony Brierly, told Canberra Weekly that current restrictions make it “really tough” for ACT hospitality venues to reopen and trade viably.

“There are some businesses reopening and having a crack, particularly those who can divide their spaces,” he said.

“The smaller businesses, though, are really in a spot of bother; it’s really difficult … we need to increase the capacity limit as soon as possible.”

The AHA and the United Workers Union ACT have reached a joint position around staff training, including establishing a new role called venue hyenine officer, introducing paid pandemic leave, and a number of other measures that they believe would make the industry safer to reopen more quickly.

Mr Brierly said those suggestions have been rejected by the ACT’s Chief Health Officer.

“These are all things that we thought made the industry safer for business owners, employees and customers … If those measures were implemented we could easily go to 50 people per space.

“When across the border they can have 50 people in even space without the controls that we’ve proposed locally, it’s rather incongruous.”

Mr Brierly said of the approximately 500 licensed venues across Canberra, a significant number of them will not reopen.

“While there has been some rent relief, that’s just being deferred. In March they lost thousands of dollars of stock … these have all created liabilities that need to be paid on the other side.

“Some venues that can’t trade are going to go under, losing thousands of dollars a day, if you have to wait a few weeks, that could be $30,000.”

Earlier this week, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said ACT restrictions of groups of 20 will continue to be applied “consistently” across a number of industries and settings.

“If there is an infected person, the maximum number of people they would infect potentially in such an encounter would be 20. That’s why we are gradually stepping through,” he said.

From 19 June, restrictions across the Territory will allow for gatherings of up to 50 people.

“In a few weeks’ time if everything goes well, we would move to 50, and we would apply 50 across the board, not just for one industry sector that lobbied particularly hard,” Mr Barr said.

“The question is quite rightly being asked, why can you have 50 people in a pub in NSW, but you can only have five people in your house … that is just an extraordinary disparity.”

Canberra Liberals Leader Alistair Coe called on the ACT Government to lift restrictions in the ACT in the very least to bring them in line with NSW.

“While the ACT is uniquely positioned to go further, at the bare minimum the ACT should be in step with NSW. This is what the Chief Minister has repeatedly promised Canberrans but has failed to deliver.

“While the rest of Australia continues to relax restrictions and safely re-open their economies, Canberra is being left behind, and families and employers are being unfairly disadvantaged,” Mr Coe said.

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