70,000 reasons to have a beer
More than 70,000 jobs in NSW could be revived by Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ambitious plan to allow gatherings of up to 50 people at a time in pubs, clubs and restaurants while other state economies remain shackled by onerous physical-distancing and border rules.
Business groups and former leaders are joining the push for the states to reopen, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk being urged by predecessors Peter Beattie and Campbell Newman to loosen the Sunshine State’s border closures and save jobs in the north.
Former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett said the refusal of most states to open their borders was “madness”. “With due respect to the states that still have border controls, it’s absolutely absurd,’’ he said. “It’s unnecessary. It’s grandstanding and it is reducing the opportunity for their states (and) for their small-to-medium businesses to get going again.”
From June 1, NSW will allow 50 people at a time in a venue, with social distancing rules in place.
For Paris Granger and Ben McCallum, who popped into the Lord Nelson pub in The Rocks, Sydney, on Friday, the 50-limit reopening can’t come soon enough. “I am very social and I find myself networking quite a bit, being single
and young and living in the city,” said Ms Granger, who celebrated her 30th birthday in quarantine.
Mr McCallum, 30, said: “I’m English and none of my family are here so, for me, my family in Australia are my friends ... and I’ve not been able to see any of them for a long time.”
Industry leaders said Ms Berejiklian’s push to reopen the hospitality sector could revive up to 70,000 jobs. “For those who are viable, for those who have managed to hang on, we’re ensuring that we can work together to provide that safe environment,” she said. “Things will be very different … Having joint cutlery on a table won’t be able to exist anymore. A simple buffet won’t exist anymore. There will be strict guidelines to ensure this happens safely.”
Australian Hotels Association
NSW chief John Whelan said the 50-patron limit offered hope to 70,500 people who had lost their livelihoods.
“The entire hospitality sector has been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “From June 1 we can start re-employing our staff and open up our hotels.”
Victoria does not plan to allow 50 customers until June 22 and venues will remain takeaway-only till June 1. South Australia and Western Australia currently allow 20 people in venues. Queensland will allow gatherings of 20 on June 12 and Tasmania will follow suit on June 15.
Ms Palaszczuk is now under pressure from former Queensland premiers on both sides to listen to her NSW counterpart. Mr Beattie, who led Queensland from 19982007, said the state’s borders needed to be opened “as soon as possible” as part of a broader economic strategy for the nation. “We are one country, after all. Plus, the virus is now as under control as much as it may ever be,” he said. “Health officials have ensured our hospitals now have adequate capacity to cope.”
The former Labor leader said Queensland, WA, SA, Tasmania, and the NT needed tourists from NSW and Victoria.
“In fact, the tourism industry in the above states and territories need NSW and Victorian tourists more than the two big states need them,” he said.
Mr Newman — Ms Palaszczuk’s LNP predecessor as premier — said any job losses that resulted from the continuing border restrictions would become the Premier’s responsibility.
“The Premier has dug herself a hole and needs to climb out right now. It’s been a disastrous call and a major political mistake. I believe the community is now looking for a reopening of the border,” he said.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said employers were growing restless with the slow pace of change outside of NSW. “This is an example other states who are lagging behind in the reopening or who are trying to lock themselves away from the rest of the country should follow,” he said. “Businesses and employees in other jurisdictions who are being forced to keep the shutters down are growing increasingly restless and concerned at the economic impact.
“Businesses are well aware of their social and health obligations. Managing only for worst-case scenarios is no way to run an economy which needs confidence and stimulus now.”
Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Peter Strong said the other states must release health advice on the costs of not reopening: “We want to know one thing on the very tight social distancing rules staying — why?”
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said: “We know the longer the lockdowns last, the more we will see unemployment lines increase. The hospitality industry has been holding on as long as it can … For them to survive the crisis, we need to see more people dining out in greater numbers as soon as it is safe.”
NSW still tops the nation in terms of active numbers of coronavirus cases, with 388 COVID-19positive people in hospitals and the community, compared with only 12 in Queensland and one in WA.
Ms Palaszczuk said Queensland would not rush to reopen pubs, clubs and restaurants as a result of NSW’s decision. “What NSW does is a matter for them,” she said. “Queensland will continue to be guided by our Chief Health Officer’s advice.”
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the government would make a decision on increasing the customer capacity of bars and restaurants in the coming weeks.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said: “Tasmania has an older and more vulnerable population, so we won’t be rushing to ease our restrictions in response to other states.”