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Back on the tinnies

May 20, 2020 • 15m 07s

Pubs, restaurants and other businesses across the country are reopening and the government is predicting an economic comeback. But will the recovery be fast as hoped? Today, what one territory’s reopening can tell us about the path ahead.

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Back on the tinnies

227 • May 20, 2020

Back on the tinnies

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Archival tape -- Elly:

Hello this is Elly, I'm in Darwin, I’m walking into the ski club, I’m going to walk straight into the bar...

RUBY:

As governments across the country begin to loosen economic and social restrictions, one jurisdiction is a step ahead..

Archival tape -- Elly:

How’s your first tap beer taste?

Archival tape -- unknown:

Absolutely beautiful, it is cool, refreshing. You didn't know how much you missed it...

RUBY:

Last Friday the Northern Territory reopened pubs and restaurants, and other states have followed. Many locals were able to work and socialise for the first time in two months.

Archival tape -- unknown:

So I started working back today. So all the COVID period of lockdown, I haven't worked at all. So it's very exciting. And yeah, I'm happy to be here.

Archival tape -- unknown:

I have to say I was actually pretty reluctant to come out tonight because I was a little bit nervous about how it would be to see all the crowds and, you know, yo only have two hours in the pub. But as soon as I walked into Montes, I was like, ‘Oh, hell yeah’. [Cheers noises]

RUBY:

Political leaders are relying on these reopenings to boost the economy… but will the recovery be as fast as they hope?

Archival tape -- other:

I think we are many ways a lighthouse, so we are potentially showing the way to a lot of others. There is no successful exit plan so far in the world on how to come out of lockdown.

RUBY:

Today, 7am producer Elle Marsh... on opening up after the shutdown.

**

RUBY:

Elle, tell me about the Daly Waters Pub?

ELLE:

The Daly Waters is this pretty famous pub in the Northern Territory, six hours south of Darwin - its just off the highway it's basically a tin shed filled with memorabilia from all the travellers who have passed through. Last week I spoke to the owner Tim Carter.

Archival tape -- Tim:

My name's Tim Carter, and at the Daly Waters pub, 600 kilometres from Darwin. We're about 300 kilometres from Catherine, so you’re in the scrub, simple as that.

ELLE:

It’s usually pretty popular - lots of tourists every night.

Archival tape -- Tim:

We’ve got 200, 250 people here every night, we do a beef and barrel which is very popular, you know, a very typical old bush pub...

RUBY:

Ok so when Covid-19 hit, the Northern Territory was one of the first places to start restricting travel. What happened?

ELLE:

Yeah that's right so, the territory acted swiftly and went into lockdown.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The unprecedented measures take effect from Tuesday and are expected to be in place for six months. Anyone coming into the Northern Territory from interstate or overseas will be forced to self isolate for two weeks.

Archival tape -- unknown:

I've seen what's happening overseas. I see what's happening down south. I'm not going to let that happen here.

ELLE:

And the effect was immediate for people like Tim.

Archival tape -- Tim:

Daly Waters itself is probably about seven people, eight people at the moment.

ELLE:

The pub normally operates with about 30 staff, but they had to let everyone go. So it's been a tough few months. But the good news is that the restrictions and this swift lockdown was actually working. Since the beginning of the outbreak, there have been a total of 30 confirmed cases to date and there's no community transmission and there's been no deaths.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Joining me now is Chief minister Michael Gunner, good morning Mr Gunner.

Archival tape -- Gunner:

G’day from the safest place in the country.

Archival tape -- reporter:

[Laughs] Yeah I know, we’re all very jealous.

ELLE:

So you can all this meant that the Northern Territory became one of the first places in the country to start talking about lifting restrictions. A couple of weeks ago, the Chief Minister Michael Gunner, he stood in front of a bunch of crates of beer, and asked everyone to go and support their local pub when they opened on May 15.

Archival tape -- Gunner:

The beers are here and the jobs are back. There is a keg convoy rolling up the Stewart highway, 175,000 litres of the good stuff. So a beer and a parmi, that's the order.

ELLE:

When I spoke to Tim he had quite a few concerns about the practicalities… and he was also worried about whether people would actually show up.

Archival tape -- Tim:

The big unknown is, you just don't know how many people are gonna want to travel. Once we open the pub, the doors are open, if there's one person or 20, right? So we are just going to be open as normal and yeah, so we'll be ready for it.

RUBY:

Can you tell me more about the concerns that business owners had about the practicalities of reopening?

ELLE:

So to reopen, businesses need to have a health and safety plan in place to make sure customers could adhere to social distancing measures, for example, people have to be seated 1.5 metres apart. This means businesses are limited in the amount of people they can let through the door.

Because of this quite a few businesses decided against reopening or have remained partially shut - they crunched the numbers and realised they wouldn’t even break even.

On top of that there have been a number of businesses that have had to close their doors for good during the lockdown. But we won’t see the full amount of permanent closures and the full extent of the long term damage until all the restrictions have been lifted.

RUBY:

Right. And Elle, other states and territories are also starting to open now too - are they facing similar problems - not being sure if it's financially viable to open in a restricted way?

ELLE:

Yeah so, In New South Wales, you are now able to eat inside restaurants and cafes, and pubs, but only 10 people at a time. And for many businesses, that's not quite viable to just have 10 people at once.

Archival tape -- reporter:

It is a very good Friday for New South Wales after 53 days of lockdown. Were finally allowed back into the spaces and places that fill our lives.

ELLE:

And Victoria is also opening up at the end of the month.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Businesses across Victoria are preparing to reopen their doors after the premier gave the green light to further ease coronavirus restrictions. Pubs cafes will emerge from shut down on June 1.

ELLE:

While a lot these businesses are reopening, many are still likely to be grappling with the same issues that have arisen in the Northern Territory and despite being allowed to reopen many are worried about the financial risks that come with this. And it's important to note that we aren’t just talking about the hospitality industry. It’s one of the most visible industries Other small (and large businesses) are facing their own challenges as the lockdowns lift - retail and fitness and a lot of other secondary industries like the agriculture sector.

Obviously this about getting the economy and people's livelihoods back on track - but what we’ve started to see in places like the Northern Territory is that coming out of lockdown is turning out to be a lot more complex than how we went into it.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Elle, the hope here is that reopening pubs and restaurants will help the country’s economy pick up again. Tell me about the federal government's projections for this recovery.

ELLE:

So as the country comes out of lockdown. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged the danger of new cases that come with this. But he also emphasised the need to reopen the economy.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

There will be risks, there will be challenges, there will be outbreaks, there will be more cases, there will be setbacks. But we've got to get out from under the doona at some time. And if not now, then when?

ELLE:

And, treasurer Josh Frydenburg told parliament that with restrictions lifted there’ll be a huge boost to the economy.

Archival tape -- Josh Frydenberg:

Treasury estimates that with the restrictions lifted under the three separate stages, 850,000 people will be back at work.

ELLE:

He said the Treasury estimated that GDP will increase by 9.4 billion dollars each month as we ease restrictions through stages one, two and three.

RUBY:

Right. And so based on what we know, about how businesses are actually handling this reopening phase, are those estimates realistic?

ELLE:

Well, as we're seeing with the hospitality industry, reopening in the Northern Territory and New South Wales, it's a slow process, and businesses are still operating on a reduced capacity. They haven't brought back all of this staff. They're not serving the same amount that they normally would so it's not returning to normal. I spoke with Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute and her analysis was that Josh Frydenberg and the government's projections for the economy are too optimistic.

Archival tape -- Danielle Wood:

So we focus a lot on that three-stage recovery plan and had some pretty bullish estimates, for example, that how strongly employment would bounce back.

ELLE:

She particularly pointed out that with the hospitality industry, there's a number of big challenges. You know, operating with these new measures means a significant reduced capacity.

Archival tape -- Danielle Wood:

You're talking about 5% profit margins for cafes and bars, less than that for restaurants. So a lot of them will not be at the point where they are revenue positive.

ELLE:

It's not just about business owners, making a profit, with reduced capacity and so much uncertainty about whether people will even come back through the doors. A lot of workers in the sector are still struggling to find employment or return to work. Even as the government is projecting these huge optimistic numbers of jobs going back.

RUBY:

And talk to me about the concerns that workers have about going back into these workplaces in these kinds of environments, even if they do start to get shifts again.

ELLE:

Yes, so one of the risks during this period is that workers feel the pressure to return to work for financial reasons, and issues like health and safety might not get prioritised. The Cedar meats abattoir, which the site of a major Covid-19 cluster in Melbourne is being pointed to as an example.

Archival tape -- reporter:

With more infections discovered today, the Cedar meats outbreak has now left to 49 people being infected. This was Daniel Andrews Ruby Princess episode.

ELLE:

I spoke with Tim Kennedy who's the national secretary for the United Workers Union, and that's the union that represents workers in the hospitality industry and also workers in abattoirs. And his view is that a lack of sick paid leave in the casual workforce could exacerbate the health crisis.

Archival tape -- Tim Kennedy:

Those workers kept turning out because they were casual and they had no choice. That cluster is a result of not having paid sick leave

ELLE:

The United Workers Union, they've been calling for staff to receive paid safety training before they return to work. And that paid sick leave needs to be provided to workers

Archival tape -- Tim Kennedy:

Unless there’s paid sick leave. People will under pressure turn up to work and the disease will spread and put themselves as you know have to make a choice between economic need and the need to maintain their health and the health of patrons and other people who they work with.

ELLE:

So while the easing of restrictions is exciting on one hand, it also comes with some complex economic and health risks.

RUBY:

So what is it like in the Territory now, how is Tim at the Daly Waters pub going?

ELLE:

Yeah. So I spoke to Tim on Friday, and about 10 to 15 locals had arrived to celebrate the reopening. He also said that in the past week, they've seen three caravans drive past the pub, which after six weeks of seeing none at all, was a pretty good sign. So you know, 10 to 15
people, it's not a raging party, but everyone was pretty excited to have a beer again.

Archival tape -- Tim:

It was the best thing I've seen for a long time. Now the door is open, the music is playing out underneath the verandah and few guys, you know, sitting out there. And just to know that you can drive into Daly Waters and know you can get a beer, you know, we're abiding by all the rules. But it is very costly to sit here, to be open and have a new kitchen running... Yeah, look, it hasn't got that real jive, you know.

RUBY:

Elle, thanks so much for your time today.

Thanks.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

RUBY:

Also in the news -

Australia recorded its 100th coronavirus death yesterday. The country has seen a total of 7,065 cases of the disease, though less than 700 of them are still active.

There were eight new cases of Covid-19 recorded yesterday - six in Victoria and two in NSW.

**

It’s been revealed that more than eight million dollars in fines have been handed out to Victorians for breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

A parliamentary inquiry has been told 5,604 fines have been issued, and as yet none have been challenged in court.

The state’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessey says Victoria Police have been reviewing how they issue fines, and have withdrawn a number of them.

**

Reporting on this episode was by Elle Marsh, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for journalism and ideas.

Additional recordings by Jeremy Conlon in Alice Springs and Elly Zola in Darwin.

**

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

Pubs, restaurants and other businesses across the country are reopening and the government is predicting an economic comeback. But will life, and the economy, really return to normal? Today, what one territory’s reopening can tell us about Australia’s potential recovery.

Guest: Features and field producer for 7am, Elle Marsh.

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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