Speaking to Australian Hotelier for the 2024 Annual Industry Leaders Forum issue, AHA National CEO reflected on the organisation’s accomplishments for the industry in 2023, and what it’s focused on this year.

Pubs across Australia were bracing themselves in 2023 for the impact of cost-of-living pressures on their venues, but so far the effects have been fairly muted, as AHA National CEO Stephen Ferguson attests.

“From all the hotels I speak to, they’re surprised that trade has generally held up reasonably well, at this stage. But what happens post-Christmas, and going into the new year, we don’t know.”

Yet despite increased produce and utility costs resulting in squeezed margins, Ferguson says pubs continue to innovate and evolve to ensure they are the first port of call for Aussies looking to go out.

“Pubs are bringing people back. Every time you go to a pub, there are new offerings. Pubs have been successful in pushing out the message that the level of quality on offer – you can’t get that at home.”

A seat at the table

Following the merger of the Tourism Accommodation Australia and the Accommodation Association in mid-2023, a new division of the AHA – Accommodation Australia – was formed, boosting membership to 6,000 pubs and accommodation hotels and motels across Australia.

“What that allows us to do is that when we talk to politicians, we’re able to say to them, ‘Each time you stay away from home, and plenty of the times that you’re enjoying a night out, you’re doing it with one of our members.’ And that really seems to resonate with them, to see how much our members are a part of their lives,” explained Ferguson.

This paid dividends in relation to the Closing the Loophole Bill, where the AHA successfully pushed for changes that would benefit pub and hotel operators, including the removal of the $93,000 penalty for unintended mistakes surrounding casual and permanent hire classification, as well as making it easier for casual hires to remain casual. While celebrating these wins that reduce risks for members, the AHA is still pushing the Government to simplify the definition of a casual.

Ferguson credits these wins – and continued conversations with the government – to patient and conciliatory negotiations.

“Our strategy to negotiate can be compared to the business groups that failed to negotiate. They were humiliated at the end of last year, when, for example, the labour hire legislation was carved out of the bill, and put through before Christmas. It’s a great lesson that just shouting at government rarely works.

“We’ve still got the opportunity. We achieved some of the things we set out to achieve, and because we’re still at the table, we’ve got the opportunity to still try and get this definition simplified.”

That seat at the table also means that the AHA can consult on migration reform, advocating for the overseas workforce that the hospitality and accommodation sectors rely on – particularly in regional areas.

“We always want to hire Australians first. But the reality is, is that we just desperately need a migration workforce to assist us.”

A concerted effort

Besides further advocacy on industrial relations and migration, the AHA is focused this year on energy resources – whether that be the price of electricity or ensuring that natural gas remains available to commercial kitchens. Alcohol excise continues to be a major focus also, but on this issue the AHA is now joining forces with other industry bodies for a more holistic approach.

The AHA is working closely with brewers and the spirits industry to go to government as a united front with one uniform message.

“We’re working on a strategy that we can all agree on and go to government with. I think when we’re able to do that, that’ll give us our greatest chance of success.”

As always, the AHA will continue to advocate for a better pub industry that benefits businesses and patrons alike.

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