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Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Page: 58

Mrs ARCHER (Bass) (17:49): From small businesses who have been operating for less than five years to some of Northern Tasmania's most iconic and long-term retail shops, thousands of northern Tasmanian businesses benefited from our government's JobKeeper package. It was an absolute pleasure to welcome the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, to our region a few weeks ago where he met a few of the more than 12,000 business owners in the state who benefited from JobKeeper and have since graduated from the program, businesses like Elysian Beauty and Wellness in the Launceston CBD. Owner and manager, Bronte Clinton, launched the business just over two years ago in a small one-room premises in the city. The business was going from strength to strength, moving to a larger premises and hiring two further employees towards the end of 2019. Like all businesses in the industry, Elysian had to close its doors suddenly a little over a year ago and were not able to resume trade until the middle of June. Like the thousands and thousands of businesses on JobKeeper last year, the program kept the business running. It's a thrill to see Elysian thriving, with an apprentice hired before the end of last year and a new fully qualified therapist coming on board and kicking off her time at Elysian on the very day of the Treasurer's visit. Elysian and the other businesses we visited that day, Neil Pitt's menswear and Jim Hughes and Sons Jewellers, are just a few examples of how businesses in my electorate have been able to weather the darkest days of the pandemic, particularly during lockdown.

JobKeeper was the program that Bass businesses and individuals needed to survive the pandemic. In Launceston, around 19,200 individuals received payments over the period April to September 2020 compared with 6,000 over the period October to December 2020, a fall of 61 per cent. Our state's unemployment rate after peaking at 8.2 per cent in October 2020 was at that point the highest of any state. Since then, it has experienced a strong recovery in its jobs market, with unemployment falling to 5.9 per cent, the lowest of any state and below the national rate of 6.4 per cent. Tasmania's employment recovery continues to be strong. Some 17,500 Tasmanians entered employment between May 2020 and January 2021, a 7.3 per cent increase compared to a 6.7 per cent increase nationally over this period.

As a government, we must look at what we can do to continue to support our most vulnerable industries as we move into the next stage of our economic recovery. The recently announced support package for the tourism sector is a good example. When Tasmania's borders shut last year, Tara Howell, director of the award winning Blue Derby Pods Ride, saw 100 per cent of her bookings vanish overnight. As Tara told me, to watch the business she put her heart and soul into suddenly become obsolete almost overnight was frightening and devastating. Almost a year later, Pods is going from strength to strength. With borders opening towards the end of last year, the business which, prior to the pandemic, relied on interstate tourists for more than 75 per cent of its bookings, has just come off a bumper summer season and autumn bookings are looking strong.

Like many Tasmanian tourism and hospitality businesses, it is the winter season that can be difficult to get through financially. After such a difficult year last year, many in the industry are wondering what this cold season will bring. So many businesses have been able to survive thanks to JobKeeper and, like Blue Derby Pods, have graduated off the program, but the quiet winter months still present some challenges. After supporting our tourism sector through JobKeeper as well as targeted support programs like the billion-dollar COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund, I was thrilled to join Tara and Assistant Minister for Industry development, Senator Duniam, to announce the government's half-price ticket program that will directly benefit the northern Tasmanian economy. I was pleased to see the Launceston Airport—incidentally, located in Lyons not in Bass, but it is the main airport servicing my electorate—was chosen as one of the initial 13 key regional sites to benefit from the 50 per cent flights in and out of Launceston to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

This program will provide an incredible boost to local hotels, restaurants, bars, caravan parks and tourism operators offering mainlanders a chance to visit what I think is the most beautiful region in the country. As Tara told me last week, this investment by the government is brilliant and just what the industry and businesses like hers need. She said: 'It's going to help our business dramatically, and it is coming at a time when the tourism industry here usually dips. It's winter and the lowest point of the year. The fact this program doesn't start until 1 April is also great, as it gives operators time to prepare a winter offering.' For the local airport, which prior to the pandemic employed close to 400 people and generated $44 million to the north of the state, seeing it bounce back to pre-COVID days is critical. Our recent measures to support the aviation sector do exactly that, with support available for regular passenger airports like Launceston to meet their domestic security screening costs.

Like Tara, I believe this new package is what the industry needs now. JobKeeper kept businesses afloat and employers engaged, but now we need to be giving them an opportunity to grow and thrive. As the head of our local Launceston Chamber of Commerce said last week, JobKeeper has done 'an admirable job of keeping the country's economy functional'. He stated that many members in their chamber 'have already transitioned away from JobKeeper in the second round'. Let's not forget the cashflow boost, which has provided tens of billions of dollars in payments to help keep hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses afloat.

Another critical funding program that has supported our region through COVID and will continue to have a positive effect for years to come is the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy program. The Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program has to date assisted almost 40,000 businesses to take on a new Australian apprentice or trainee. The initiative has supported the creation of more than 8,000 bricklayer jobs, 6,000 electrician jobs and almost 11,000 positions in retail and hospitality work. It has so far helped create 100,000 new registered apprentice and trainee places. In Northern Tasmania alone there have been 524 apprentices signed up to the subsidy, supporting local businesses and providing an important pathway for getting young people into jobs, to ensure there is a skills pipeline to meet the future needs of employers. By expanding the wage subsidy for another 12 months we will help businesses to create more jobs, further supporting our national economic recovery plan for Australia.

Lastly, our communities cannot flourish without the invaluable support of so many not-for-profit community organisations who do so much of the quiet work behind the scenes. The most recent round of the Stronger Communities Program funded 100 per cent of eligible projects. I'm sure my office wasn't the only one inundated with community organisations wanting to apply for the program, particularly as all fundraising activities ground to a halt last year. This funding will make a tangible difference, as will the recent announcement from the federal Assistant Minister for Children and Families that the 2020-21 Volunteer Grants round has been doubled for each electorate. These small grants are essential to supporting our community organisations, equipping local champions with the tools and resources that they need on the ground.