‘Going to be very difficult’: Business disappointed at slow road ahead

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Victoria’s business lobby groups say they are bitterly disappointed at the prospect of several more weeks of shuttered outlets and billions of dollars more trade lost under the state government’s road map for re-opening.

Shop workers are bracing for an upsurge in customer aggression, according to the retail lobby, if they have to exclude unvaccinated customers and the Australian Retailers Association wants certainty on what expectations will be placed on businesses.

Steffan Tissa, owner of Bruger Cafe in Footscray says enforcing state government rules on vaccinated customers is going to be difficult.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The $12 billion events industry says it has been completely overlooked in the road map and the pubs lobby, the Australian Hotels Association says it was “gutted” by Sunday’s announcement.

The association said the restrictions on patron numbers and the continued ban on indoor service left Victorian publicans behind their NSW counterparts who can open — outdoors and indoors — when 70 per cent of that state’s adults are double-dosed.

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the road map failed to deliver the certainty that the sector had been clamouring for. The chamber’s chief executive Paul Guerra described the plan as “a road map full of roadblocks”.

“Every Victorian deserves to understand why the settings in New South Wales, that enable them to open up at 70 per cent double vaxxed and give them a path forward, is so fundamentally different to what Victorians got delivered today,” Mr Guerra said.

“We’ve done lockdowns for too long. We need a path out of this, and today’s announcement, did not give us the clarity, did not give us the certainty, did not give us the hope that we needed to get out of this current situation.”

The Hotels Association’s Victorian president David Canny said the majority of Victorian pubs were willing to have their staff enforce vaccine mandates.

“Pubs and hotels wanted to trial the “Pub Pass” vaccination system even before the state hits 70 per cent double dose,” Mr Canny said.

“The government wants a vaccination model. If people can get to a pub once they’re jabbed, it will help the government achieve their goals.”

At Bruger Cafe in Footscray, owner Steffan Tissa said he had mixed feelings about Sunday’s announcement.

“It’s exciting, don’t get me wrong. I’ll take dining out any day over what we’ve come out of. But … it would be nice to get a little bit more flexibility in that plan” he said.

Any requirement for venues to police the vaccination status of their customers was likely to be tricky, Mr Tissa told The Age.

“The policing of it is going to be very difficult. I’m not sure what the requirements will be for the proprietors of venues like myself for example. Whether that means our staff will need to check the validity of people’s vaccination passports.”

“We will try and ensure as many of our staff are vaccinated as soon as possible, but even then it’s hard.

“How does one sort of say no to a diner when they’re coming in unvaccinated? I’m still a little sketchy on what the requirements will be and how we’ll actually be able to police that,” he said.

Mark O’Reilly, owner of Platform 28 in Docklands and the Glenferrie Hotel in Docklands said he too was disappointed with the Premier’s announcements.

“We were hoping we could open in early October. With the numbers that have been proposed, it’s not financially viable to have the outdoor areas open,” Mr O’Reilly said.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra welcomed the road map but said the likely full reopening of retail, slated for early November, would mean another $6 billion in lost sales and that some shops would not survive.

Mr Zahra also called for greater clarity and support for retail businesses and their staff who are likely to have to enforce state government bans on unvaccinated customers.

“Front-line retail staff have unfortunately been the victims of increased customer aggression as a result of the QR code and mask mandates, and while these instances are in the minority, asking for a customer’s vaccination history will certainly elevate this concern,” Mr Zahra said.

“It’s important that retailers have the backing of law enforcement agencies so they can manage the safe reopening of their businesses.”

Simon Thewlis from the group Save Victorian Events said it was “beyond bizarre” that a plan for the sector, which he says is worth $12 billion to the state’s economy each year, was not included in the road map.

“It is beyond bizarre to suggest that conferences, exhibitions, trade shows, product launches and brand activations are just part of ‘entertainment and leisure’,” Mr Thewlis said.

But the publican, who is also vice president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Hotels Association, said his businesses would work with whatever rules on vaccines the state government imposed on the industry.

“We’ll do what the government recommends, but it’s up to the government to mandate that,” he said.

“We’re not there to tell people what to do, whether or not to get vaccinated. We want to open up our venues in a safe environment, but also when it’s viable for our businesses”.

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