JobKeeper void threatens local operators

Roger Smith and Janine Duffy (Rebecca Hosking) 232667_05

By Luke Voogt

Geelong tourism operators face potential closure following the end of federal government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy on Sunday.

Operators relying heavily on international tourism are most at risk, according to Echidna Walkabout director Roger Smith.

“We have run three small tours since March 23, 2020,” Mr Smith said.

“Normally we would have run many thousands of trips in that time period with tens of thousands of people.

“The backbone to our business, the international cruise industry, will not return to Australia until at least 2022.”

The business’s employees have dropped from 25 to six during the pandemic, with most still working due to JobKeeper, Mr Smith said.

“Forward bookings are slowly beginning to appear but they are mostly for 2022.

“My co-director and management staff have never worked harder in our lives to pivot and we are succeeding to a certain extent.

“But it’s becoming patently obvious that unless we have support to at least retain our staff, we may not make it.”

Mr Smith raised the concerns following yet another blow to domestic tourism, as Brisbane went into lockdown this week following a fresh COVID-19 outbreak.

Corio MP and deputy opposition leader Richard Marles urged federal government to provide assistance to the tourism sector.

“Scott Morrison’s JobKeeper cuts risk leaving thousands in our community behind, especially … our local tourism sector,” he said.

But federal Victorian senator Sarah Henderson pointed out that the $90 billion JobKeeper program had always been a temporary measure designed to taper off as economic confidence builds.

Federal government had invested $1.2 billion in its aviation and tourism support package including 800,000 half-price airfares, loans for businesses and direct support for airlines, the Geelong-based senator said.

Ms Henderson said the government’s JobMaker hiring credit scheme would also assist tourism operators.