Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme Bill 2021

It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak this afternoon on the Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme Bill 2021. I have this big sigh because, like the member for Caulfield, I feel like I have been having this conversation with my local businesses—and local landlords, mind you—around the need to provide small business with certainty going forward. It is a conversation I have been having for the past two weeks. So when I got the call and found out that we were going to go ahead with this bill to enact the legislation and provide the scheme that will give relief and certainty to our local small businesses when it comes to paying their commercial rent, I was really happy and relieved, to say the least. This bill is about providing relief to some of our hardest hit businesses right across Victoria, and there are a lot of them at the moment, and helping them cope with the uncertainties caused by COVID as we race—yes, it is a race; it is a big race—to get vaccinated.

I do want to take this opportunity to again—I know many, many members of this house on both sides have stood up here in this place again and again to do this—thank small businesses for doing the hard yards. As the Acting Speaker, the member for Oakleigh, said earlier today, the businesses that closed helped protect our community. They have done an outstanding job. It has not been without sacrifice, and their hardship and their sacrifice are something that every single one of us here and right across Victoria acknowledges. We say to them again today, and I say to them: thank you for keeping our community safe.

Victoria has been able to show the world again how to stop an outbreak of this virus, and the very dangerous and fast-moving delta variant at that. I would like to encourage my community to go ahead and offer again their unwavering support to our local businesses in Wyndham. Having spoken to many of them, they are doing it tough. And whether you are going out and having a coffee or getting a bacon and egg brekkie burger—which I am quite partial to out in my community, with my morning coffee—I say to my community, ‘Every cent counts at the moment’. If you can, go out and spend money in our local community.

Just last week I went ahead and met with former Northern Territory senator Trish Crossin, who I have the pleasure of looking after as her local member—she lives in my electorate. Trish is doing incredible work with Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, championing the Go Local First campaign, and I would encourage all members in this house to go ahead and support that campaign and download the material that COSBOA is providing. It is free, but most importantly it is needed desperately by our local business community in getting behind them and encouraging locals to shop local.

Since last year we have known—it is obvious, you do not even need to open a newspaper; it is just common sense—that we need to get people vaccinated, and we need to do it quickly. There will never be any normal—only a COVID normal—until we are all vaccinated. Those vaccines are here, but unfortunately it has been a fight, particularly for Victoria, to get enough to get them into people’s arms, because quite frankly we do not have enough at the moment. That is the reality. It is the reality people in New South Wales are facing. They know that until enough people can get the jab, restrictions and lockdowns—indeed restrictions and lockdowns here in Victoria—will remain our only defence against this virus.

Looking to Sydney we can see what can happen with a fully fledged delta outbreak. Despite listening earlier to the Leader of the Opposition talk about this machoistic chest beating—only really a man can refer to another man doing that—of our Premier versus the New South Wales Premier, I think it is indeed ridiculous. It is very, very sad for all of us here in Victoria to look to New South Wales and see what is happening to them, because we know how it feels. We know what it is like to look down the depths of a very dark winter.

I have family members in New South Wales. All of my family in northern New South Wales have restrictions and certainly all of my husband’s family—most of them in western Sydney—are under very strict lockdown there. The one thing that we speak about on a regular basis on Zoom is that they wish they had locked down earlier. They wish that they had a Premier that had looked to Victoria, had learned from Victoria. I think the New South Wales Premier talks about not having a handbook for this virus. Well, we were talking about that last year, and in many respects it feels like we have written the handbook. You can see that by us going ahead most recently, locking down early, locking down hard, and we got alongside and got on top of the latest outbreak here in Victoria.

One of the things that the member for Oakleigh pointed out over there earlier today to the Leader of the Opposition is that our government has invested a hell of a lot of money into small businesses here in Victoria—$7 billion. Seven billion dollars is a lot of money. It has gone a long way to supporting Victorian businesses right across the state cope with the impacts of lockdowns, and when I talk to my local businesses, I talk about surviving COVID as getting to the other side and just staying afloat. It is the same thing when I talk to my dad, who, surprise, surprise, until very recently—he is now retired—was a small business owner, a milkman. I said to him the same thing that I say to businesses in my community, ‘You just need to stay afloat. You need to get to the other side, and the government will be able to inject a significant amount of funding into the economy to kickstart you and kickstart you quickly again’. It is the same advice I am giving my brother-in-law in New South Wales right now with his construction business about to go under—that you need to stay afloat. And the government will give you grants here and there as we go along. It is not something you are going to make a big profit off, but it will keep you afloat so you are left standing on the other side once we are all vaccinated and we are out of this thing.

I have spoken to so many local businesses in my community, like many members have in this place, and most of them understand. They understand, and they accept. They do not like it, but they understand and accept, especially now they can look to New South Wales and see what is happening there. They understand the need for these measures, these lockdowns. What they have been asking me and they are asking our government for is a sense of certainty—to give them certainty that when these restrictions need to be put in place and when we need to lock down again they are not at risk of falling through the cracks, and that is what this bill does. This bill helps to prevent that by providing much-needed rental protection so that small businesses are not going to fold. They are not going to go bankrupt and have to close their doors, because whilst a lot of businesses might not incur non-recoverable costs during lockdown, they still lose out because they still have to pay their rent.

There is a local business that comes to mind—a booming coffee shop, I will say—in Pacific Werribee in Hoppers Crossing. I do not need to tell anyone here that if you are renting in what is quite a large, popular shopping mall, you are probably paying an arm and a leg in rent. You need to sell a lot of coffees and a lot of meals to cover those overhead costs, and with everyone at home during lockdown recently and avoiding large spaces like Pacific Werribee it goes without saying that this local business—and yes, it is run by a husband and wife, a local family—and cafe took a really large drop in sales. They reached out to me, and they said, ‘Thanks for the grants that are coming through from your government, but what we need is some kind of certainty around rent, and the rent is killing us’. So when I got the call that we were going to go ahead with this bill I immediately made a phone call to that couple, who were absolutely delighted and relieved to hear that we were going to go ahead and enact this legislation, with some amendments to what we had previously. But I say to that couple—they know who they are—your advocacy, your voice, has mattered in this conversation. We listened as a government and I listened as your local member, and the minister heard you and has gone ahead and enacted this legislation. So it is for those reasons and for those thousands of families in my local community that I wholeheartedly commend the bill to the house.