Member for Morwell Russell Northe has today in Parliament highlighted many inconsistencies and confusion that applies with respect to current COVID-19 rules and restrictions.
“I’ve been contacted by countless businesses and individuals that are becoming increasingly frustrated with the current Roadmap and when and how they can open” Mr Northe commenced.
“Whilst I understand there are many complexities around decision-making across different sectors, the application of the rules has to be fair and consistent, and the feedback I have received certainly challenges that this is the case” Mr Northe said.
“For example, whilst regional hospitality businesses can cater for up to 40 patrons indoors and 70 patrons outdoors; this means nothing to those cafes and businesses who have a small building footprint as the density quotient rules can mean they can only operate at around 25% of their normal capacity. And many don’t have the ability, space nor capacity to cater for outside patrons” Mr Northe said.
“The perception that regional hospitality is open fully is just rubbish, and in my opinion the density rules also need urgent reviewing” Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe stated that many businesses and individuals had contacted his office saying they are confused by the rules and frustrated as what they see are inconsistent applications of rules and restrictions.
“Right across the community whether it be tenpin bowling, cinemas, tourist accommodation providers, Neighbourhood Houses, Mens Sheds, funerals, weddings, religious services, indoor art classes, indoor non-contact adult sport and recreation pursuits, indoor art classes, music classes in schools, band practice in community halls, gymnasiums, martial art classes, arcade games along with many other pursuits are either still closed altogether or able to operate with severe limitations” Mr Northe said.
“Many of these businesses and community groups have return to work or play COVID plans in place, meaning they are ready to operate safely in order to protect their staff, their customers and their livelihoods. These sectors have proven previously they can operate in a safe way and have demonstrated that they are ready to take swift action where issues arise. A lot of these industries were reopened during the year and have shown they can do this professionally and safely” Mr Northe continued.
“There is an enormous impact to mental health in limiting these important social activities and unnecessarily restricting business owners’ livelihoods” Mr Northe said.
“I believe the Government needs to put up its hand and say that some of the restrictions they’ve imposed are wrong, and they need to amend and quickly. They’ve shown they are prepared in certain circumstances to amend anomalies when they arise, there’s no reason common sense cannot be applied again here” Mr Northe continued.
Mr Northe also expressed his concern with respect to the operating rules for certain sectors and the extraordinary waiting times for assessment under the Governments Business Support Fund. Rules around home-based hairdressing and beauty services are causing particular consternation with seemingly different sets of rules and guidance applying. One section of advice for home-based hairdressing and personal services states that it needs to have:
• a dedicated premises for the business to operate that is separate from the place of residence in all aspects (e.g. workers or clients cannot enter the residence)
“I would imagine this rule alone would see the closure of many businesses in this sector. Since it came to my attention I have repeatedly raised the matter to the Government and to seek clarity and further advice but to no avail. What hope have home-based businesses got if we are unable to receive clarity on this point? Businesses are trying to do the right thing but when the rules are grey or different advice is provided it makes it extraordinarily difficult” Mr Northe said.
“I also feel sorry for those businesses who are awaiting outcomes of their application under the Victorian Governments Business Support Fund. Unfortunately a number of local businesses were rejected for funding under previous rounds; however a number were assessed unfairly in my opinion, and following representations to the Minister, some of these same applications are being reviewed. Some applications date back to April yet months later we still await and I am pleased the Victorian Ombudsman is considering these matters” Mr Northe said.
“We are currently sitting at nearly a month free of any active COVID cases in the Latrobe Valley, however, whilst I understand the need to be cautious and safe, many of the restrictions don’t align and nor do they align with other States where there are also few if any active cases” Mr Northe continued.
“I’m certainly not professing to be a health expert, but many persons have raised to me the merits of wearing masks at all times. It has been noted that masks are not compulsory in other States so there is the issue of inconsistent health advice across the country. Personally, I see no logical reason when you’re undertaking activities and where you will not be in contact with other people that you should be forced to wear a mask. At the very least, and as I have stated previously the better rule could be that one has carry a mask with them and only wear it when coming into close contact with other people” Mr Northe said.
“As I’ve stated previously, the threshold requirements under the Governments Roadmap also need urgent review. The reality is Regional Victoria cannot move to the next step until there are zero new cases for 14 days across all of Victoria, including Melbourne. It’s anyone’s guess when that might be but given the lack of COVID cases in Regional Victoria that threshold needs to be amended now to give our businesses and our community hope and certainty moving forward” Mr Northe concluded.