While it might feel like the worst of the pandemic has passed in Canberra, local family owned bus company operator Don McDougall has had eight days’ work in the past eight months.
As the owner of DM Charters in Queanbeyan, he joined other desperate small bus company owners at Parliament House in Canberra today (Monday 26 October) to rally for his industry.
“We are an industry that’s been forgotten, where there are a lot of operators about to go to the wall,” he said.
“Pre-COVID, a lot of my work was rail replacement services, airport transfers, inter-airport transfers, school excursions and interstate school camps.
“Post-COVID, I have none of that, I have had eight days’ work in eight months.”
Australian Family Owned Bus Companies met with Shadow Tourism Minister, Senator Don Farrell, in Parliament today, pleading for help for their members and workers.
Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, much of the industry’s previous work has been put on hold and, with financial repayment pauses coming to an end in September, the future is looking bleak.
Mr McDougall also said the small amount of work available, through government contracts, has been unfairly distributed to larger companies.
“From where we are sitting, there are three or four operators that have all the government contracts. What we are asking for is a fair go and fair share,” he said.
“What we are asking is they have one central government department dealing with those contracts and anyone wanting work be on the list and be notified to put our hands up.”
Mr McDougall said the industry needs a commitment from the Federal Government for both financial support and a small-business strategy going forward.
“The government needs to step up to the financial industry and say extend the repayment pause where it’s needed,” he said.
“We have premiers making up a new set of rules each day with no consistency so small business can see how close we are going to get out of it.”
Operators are forced to choose between de-registering their vehicles to save costs, and risk not being able to pick up available work if it comes up.
Mr McDougall said the financial pressures within the industry were having a huge impact on many small business owners.
“Mental health issues at the moment are astronomical, we have operators selling their fleets for nothing because they can’t afford the repayments. It’s a sad state of affairs,” he said.
“COVID-19 is here and we need to deal with it. I’m not saying we don’t need precautions, but we are an industry that has adapted to those precautions and still have no work.”
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