Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce president Damien Martoo said members and other businesses were pivoting their structures or business “to make the best of what is happening to them”. (Photo: File)
Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce president Damien Martoo said members and other businesses were pivoting their structures or business “to make the best of what is happening to them”. (Photo: File)

Less restrictions: ‘We’re not a one-size-fits-all state’

THE Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) is campaigning for further considerations to be given to small businesses in regional and remote areas after Friday's National Cabinet meeting announced the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

It was agreed at the meeting that regional parts of the state - many of which have been free of coronavirus - would have greater freedoms than elsewhere, with up to 20 patrons allowed inside restaurants and pubs and recreational travel restrictions widened to 500km.

Metro and other areas have been allowed 10-person limits.

The tourism and hospitality sectors in remote and regional areas have been hit heavily and CCIQ general manager for advocacy and policy Amanda Rohan said she would like to see these parts of Queensland receive additional relaxing of restrictions to allow them to "open up" further, especially to people in their own communities.

Ms Rohan said it would be vital to assess the risk profile for each region and make individual decisions.

"The risk profile is a consideration the State Government needs to look at - we're not a one-size-fits-all state. Then a decision could be made in consultation with local councils.

"If we could start with opening pubs and think, 'Let's get you guys moving again' it would be good for the economy, good from a mental health perspective, and good for the town's resilience.

"It won't solve all the economic concerns as they will need visitor travel, but if we can activate those areas now, I think that will go a long way to buffering businesses."

CCIQ has spoken to many regional businesses about the impact of restrictions, especially with the loss of traffic from grey nomad and business travellers.

"So we have been open to the State Government looking at opportunities to open up in those communities, for the people living in the communities."

Ms Rohan said rural and regional areas had already suffered floods, fires, and droughts before coronavirus hit.

"We've definitely come through a significant time of uncertainty.

"But this is unprecedented uncertainty, and that is something we've been hearing from the regional businesses."

"These central places being closed, even to their own communities, is something we haven't had to deal with before."

Ms Rohan said industry was also key and returning employees - whether fly-in fly-out or seasonal workers - was crucial.

Tourism, she said, would be "critical" in the recovery of small towns as service-based industries had felt the "full brunt" of job losses.

"On the flip side there have been some business that have fared better.

"We're finding that businesses are rethinking their supply chain and they're purchasing in Queensland as opposed to overseas.

"There's pockets where business-to-business supply chains are strengthening.

"It's the business-to-consumer market that's struggling."

The CCIQ has asked the State Government to put more emphasis on digital connectivity for rural and regional areas.

"Businesses have had to adapt but it makes it more difficult if they can't connect - the more connected you are, the more productive you are."

Many businesses, she said were feeling the pressures of the ongoing crisis.

"A lot of our calls are from businesses who are under strain, so we are getting a lot of mental-health based calls.

"Businesses are the backbone of communities, so look after each other and find the right help - don't be afraid to reach out."

Ms Rohan encouraged businesses to talk to their local Chamber of Commerce and council about the recovery process.

"Businesses have a strong voice and councils play a big role and can provide relief in areas such as fees, permits and rates.

"What I do know is we don't want to open up and have to shut down again, so it needs to be cautious, considered and practical."

Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce president Damien Martoo said members and other businesses were pivoting their structures or business "to make the best of what is happening to them".

"Whether they're bringing new products in to sell or changing their services, I haven't seen anyone just sit on their hands and say, 'This is too hard.'"

"One thing I think is great about the regions is we've had drought for the past five years and this is another hurdle we're facing, and we're facing it with all guns blazing," Mr Martoo said.

"We've been so impressed with the way businesses have conducted themselves.

"They've taken everything on board and they've collaborated with each other."

He said local shops such as the butcher and baker had combined services and products to provide home deliveries.

"They're saying, 'You can't come to us, we'll come to you.'"

"This is the stuff that businesses in the region are made of.

"We're going to do what we can right now to keep that money local.

"It's key. If we don't keep the money local, the businesses will shut down and who will support our sporting and community groups as things go back to normal?

"Local business is what drives community and without local business you do't have a community at the end of day."

CCIQ CEO Stephen Tait said there were many ways to support small business.

"An ongoing focus for us is encouraging people to #SupportSmall.

"For consumers, it's about making a conscious effort to support their small local businesses, as it's these local businesses who are always supporting their community at a range of events, through sponsorship and donation of prizes while also being a major source of local employment.

Articles contributed by Louise Shannon are supported by the Judith Neilson Institute of Journalism and Ideas.