Venue operators and industry associations have reacted with anger to Victoria’s current lockdown with criticism mounting for both State and Federal Governments.

The Victorian Government announced last Thursday that the state was going into its fourth lockdown since March last year, with a seven-day circuit breaker lockdown aimed at getting the state’s latest COVID-19 outbreak under control. The case numbers now stand at 40, but there is mounting anger at the actions of the Victorian Government as well as the lack of Federal support.

Speaking before Sunday’s announcement of $250m in support, James Sinclair, CEO of Signature Hospitality Group told Australian Hotelier: “I for one am understanding of the need for this lockdown, but it is incredibly frustrating that Governments, which must have done extensive contingency planning around possible lockdowns, today announced a lockdown with NO financial support detailed. Surely this should have been well considered and planned for?

“Our industry is already facing a skills crisis with a dire lack of staff availability from the events of last year, and now the workforce that remain are again facing forced closures and restrictions negatively impacting their livelihoods. It is hugely discouraging for all Victorians working in our industry.

“Surely an egalitarian society like Australia should be seeking to provide a safety net for hospitality staff and other front line workers temporary displaced due to forced lockdowns? A subsidy like JobKeeper is needed to fill this void, even if only afforded at an equivalent rate to the unemployment benefit of JobSeeker to enable a basic level of income security. 

“Furthermore, to expect business owners to make investment decisions around whether to open tomorrow or close their doors WITHOUT any knowledge of financial support is ridiculous. We should be encouraging businesses to keep the lights on in safe and essential services, but sadly commercial considerations are clearly missing from the current decision process.”

Lucas Restaurants CEO Chris Lucas vented his frustration on Channel 9’s Today show on Monday morning, also questioning why the Victorian Government was not more prepared to deal with an outbreak. He also questioned why it has taken the state so long to implement a compulsory QR Code system.

“We’re now facing in fourth lockdown and it’s very devastating,” Lucas said.

He added: “Why has it taken eight months for us to get a standardised QR code system, when we could’ve very easily picked up the system from NSW or Queensland, almost a year ago?

“Why has it taken almost a week for government to work out that they had told everyone that a hotspot supermarket was in fact the wrong supermarket? 

“Why is it that our contact tracers constantly seem to be a week or two behind the eight ball?

“Why is it that the State Government constantly reaches out for the lockdown mechanism when states like NSW are able to quarantine properly, are able to cordon off small suburbs or areas of the city, and be able to keep the state still afloat?”

Meanwhile the Australian Hotels Association has called on National Cabinet to agree on coordinated targeted, temporary assistance for workers and businesses forced to close by snap lockdowns.

AHA National CEO Stephen Ferguson has written to the Prime Minister and State Premiers for behalf of businesses and workers who are bearing the greatest financial burden of the latest lockdown.

“We understand the public health orders are put in place to make Australians safe,” Ferguson said.

“But the latest seven-day lockdown in Victoria highlights again that workers and businesses are stuck with no coordinated scheme in place to look after the welfare of businesses and workers financially impacted by the restrictions imposed on them.

“The effect of this latest lockdown has been exacerbated by the end of JobKeeper.”

Ferguson said the lack of coordination and funding has a very human consequence.

“In the Victorian Accommodation and Food Sector 26,193 businesses employ 229,729 workers,” he said.

“These workers wake up today with zero income and nowhere to turn to for help.”

Ferguson also highlighted in his letter that hospitality businesses are caught in a stand-off between the Federal Government and State/Territory Governments.

“On the one hand, we have State/Territory Governments implementing lockdowns and trading restrictions based on differing risk analysis and with varying degrees of financial assistance to affected workers and businesses.

“And on the other hand, we have the Commonwealth inferring states are either at fault or are acting rashly and if the Commonwealth provides financial assistance, that will only further encourage rash behaviour. “

The letter asks National Cabinet to reach consensus on how to provide coordinated, targeted, temporary assistance to those workers and businesses forced to give up or restrict their livelihoods to keep all Australians safe.

Restaurant & Catering Association CEO Wes Lambert said that the lockdown represented a crushing blow to the thousands of hospitality businesses who continue to bear the brunt of lockdowns and ongoing restrictions.

“This cycle of lockdown, restrictions and border closures cannot continue. The wider Accommodation and Food Services Industry across Victoria has irrefutably been one of the hardest hit sectors during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” he said.

“Restaurants, cafes and caterers have continued to suffer, and this latest lockdown put Victorian businesses further behind their counterparts in every other state and territory across the country.”

“Whilst all of these actions follow the best health advice available, they unfortunately leave thousands of businesses facing sustained losses and with the threat of eventual closure. Put simply, now is the time to save our Victorian hospitality sector,” Lambert said.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.