Proserpine Main Street – Metropole Hotel
Proserpine Main Street – Metropole Hotel

Chamber president optimistic of Prossie’s recovery

THE Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) is campaigning for further considerations to be given to small businesses in regional and remote areas after the National Cabinet meeting in which the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions was announced.

It was agreed at the meeting that regional parts of the state - many of which have been free of coronavirus - would have greater freedoms than elsewhere, with up to 20 patrons allowed inside restaurants and pubs and recreational travel restrictions widened to 500km.

Metro and other areas have been allowed 10-person limits.

The tourism and hospitality sectors in remote and regional areas have been hit heavily and CCIQ General Manager for Advocacy and Policy Amanda Rohan said she would still like to see these parts of Queensland receive additional relaxing of restrictions to allow them to "open up" further, especially to people in their own communities.

Sugarcane train at Proserpine Picture: Wilmar Australia
Sugarcane train at Proserpine Picture: Wilmar Australia

Ms Rohan said it would be vital to assess the risk profile for each region and make individual decisions.

"The risk profile is a consideration the State Government needs to look at - we're not a one-size-fits-all state. Then a decision could be made in consultation with local councils.

"If we could start with opening pubs and think, 'Let's get you guys moving again' it would be good for the economy, good from a mental health perspective, and good for the town's resilience.

"It won't solve all the economic concerns as they will need visitor travel, but if we can activate those areas now, I think that will go a long way to buffering businesses."

CCIQ has spoken to many regional businesses about the impact of restrictions, especially with the loss of traffic from grey nomad and business travellers.

"So we have been open to the State Government looking at opportunities to open up in those communities, for the people living in the communities."

Ms Rohan said rural and regional areas had already suffered floods, fires, and droughts before coronavirus hit.

Proserpine Hospital
Proserpine Hospital

"We've definitely come through a significant time of uncertainty.

"But this is unprecedented uncertainty, and that is something we've been hearing from the regional businesses."

"These central places being closed, even to their own communities, is something we haven't had to deal with before."

Ms Rohan said industry was also key and returning employees - whether fly-in fly-out or seasonal workers - was crucial.

Tourism, she said, would be "critical" in the recovery of small towns as service-based industries had felt the "full brunt" of job losses.

"On the flip side there have been some business that have fared better.

"We're finding that businesses are rethinking their supply chain and they're purchasing in Queensland as opposed to overseas.

"There's pockets where business-to-business supply chains are strengthening.

"It's the business-to-consumer market that's struggling."

Wilmar Sugar Australia Roxanne Hudson Proserpine Sugar Mill. Picture: Wilma Australia
Wilmar Sugar Australia Roxanne Hudson Proserpine Sugar Mill. Picture: Wilma Australia

The CCIQ has asked the State Government to put more emphasis on digital connectivity for rural and regional areas.

"Businesses have had to adapt but it makes it more difficult if they can't connect - the more connected you are, the more productive you are."

Many businesses, she said were feeling the pressures of the ongoing crisis.

"A lot of our calls are from businesses who are under strain, so we are getting a lot of mental-health based calls.

"Businesses are the backbone of communities, so look after each other and find the right help - don't be afraid to reach out."

Ms Rohan encouraged businesses to talk to their local Chamber of Commerce and council about the recovery process.

"Businesses have a strong voice and councils play a big role and can provide relief in areas such as fees, permits and rates.

"What I do know is we don't want to open up and have to shut down again, so it needs to be cautious, considered and practical."

President of the Proserpine Chamber of Commerce Bob Bogie said very few businesses would be exempt from the current economic downturn.

Locally, he said council would need to manage spending so rates were not increased in the future.

Proserpine Main Street – Metropole Hotel
Proserpine Main Street – Metropole Hotel

"The revenue derived from rates is essential for the local council to operate. Businesses and individuals hard-hit may find it difficult to pay rates."

He said some retail businesses could also feel the effect of lockdown with more people shopping online - a trend which could adversely impact local spending.

However, Mr Bogie said the easing of restrictions would allow more children to attend school, allow more people in town, and would benefit the hard-hit retail sector.

"The Council Chambers are well advanced and when they open, this should add between 90 to 100 people working in town," he said.

"Demolition of the Entertainment Centre means that construction of the new centre can commence. As well as the town benefiting from an increased work force, eventually the new centre will bring more people to Proserpine."

He said improvements at Proserpine Dam would also attract more people to town.

The cane crush was planned to start on June 30 and "credit must be given" to the Wilmar mill or being ready amid the "difficult" economic climate, Mr Bogie said.

"Tourism and hospitality are clearly suffering with hotels not yet open. It remains to be seen whether the restricted numbers allowed by the State Government will entice hotels to open earlier.

"Increasing the radius for travel in this region would no doubt be of great benefit."

CCIQ CEO Stephen Tait said there were many ways to support small business.

"An ongoing focus for us is encouraging people to #Support Small.

"For consumers, it's about making a conscious effort to support their small local businesses, as it's these local businesses who are always supporting their community at a range of events, through sponsorship and donation of prizes while also being a major source of local employment.

"It's also crucial for businesses to work together and see how they can support each other," Mr Tait said.

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