Published: 10 July 2020

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, they have let a tax bill go past without comment.

We are all very well aware of the impact of COVID-19 on business. Those decisions must have been terribly difficult for the Premier to make - to shut down hundreds of businesses overnight and effectively put people out of work. I know it was a very difficult decision for him. It was the right decision, but it does not take away its difficulties. Any of us who walk around the streets in our towns hear stories of not only significant hardship but also amazing support for business, too.

Since most of the shops in the Wynyard main street are open, I popped into all of them to see how things are going. You use hand sanitiser at every one as you get there; you feel like your hands have been sanitised half to death by the time you get to the end of the street, but that is part of the deal now. Some retailers have been telling me about the amazing support they have had from landlords. Without that, they would not have been able to reopen and some of them will still struggle significantly.

I commend the Government for taking the opportunity to consider what other burdens we could relieve from businesses - a lot of them are small businesses that run almost on the smell of an oily rag to make a living - and to help them get through what will continue to be a tough time; with social distancing requirements that will be in place for some time yet and the different way we go about things, their incomes will likely be less for some time.

Some businesses have done well, but I went into a little shop up the road from my office. One of their key income drivers is balloons and so on for birthday parties and other celebrations. They were all straight out the window. Balloons stayed in the shop. It is not only the merchandise they sell in the store it is all those other things - they also hire out costumes. None of that is being used, even though they wash them between customers and so on. While they can reopen, many of their revenue streams have been removed. Yes, a lot of them are innovating and taking on different means to try to boost their income and their sales. For some it is not easy, and even if you do that, you are still only making up for the lost revenues you might have had.

This is time-limited. If it goes on and the restrictions cause financial hardship for businesses and those in commercial premises much longer - hopefully we will not be in the same situation in 12 months time, but we cannot assume we will not be; if a vaccine is developed in that time, we may be all right but there is no guarantee of that because no vaccine has ever been developed for a coronavirus, so we certainly cannot pin our hopes on that - we will have to come back with other legislation to give effect to consideration of a similar relief package in the next financial year. I understand the Leader might like to clarify this, but we need to deal with this now because the land tax assessment is done on 1 July for the year previous.

This impact is hitting hard. Assuming that the impact of COVID-19 does extend for the next six months, at least into the first half of this financial year we are going into, what is the likelihood of us needing to extend it to businesses for the next financial year? It is a bit hard to tell. How long is a piece of string? I support the intent behind this bill.

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