Matters of Public Importance – Economy

An additional $185 billion in the budget does not sound like restraint to me. When we look at cost of living and the cost of doing business for small and family businesses, there is no doubt that inflation is a real issue for them every single day. Input costs are constantly going up for small businesses in the same when they do for a family budget, but for the small business owners that have mortgaged their homes to buy businesses, the increases in interest rates hit them particularly hard. They are actually exhausted from what they had to do during COVID-19. If you’re a small family business, you know this well. There is a lack of workforce out there to help you in what you do at this moment. You are now working even longer hours simply to make ends meet, because of those same labour shortages and the extra costs that are imposed on your business through high inflation. We know they will be higher for longer because of this budget.

I was recently talking to Scott Lane, who is co-founder and a director of Premalayer, which is an accommodation and wellness venue in Yallingup in my electorate. As a small business, he has seen around 100 per cent increase in his utilities costs, whether that is power, interest, gas, insurance. He is supposed to keep running his business. His customers cannot afford to pay any more for the services that he provides, so he either has to absorb those increases as a business or go out of business. He has had a 34 per cent increase in other operating costs, in wages and consumables, and an insurance cost that has gone from $6,000 to almost $30,000.

I went and spoke to a number of other small businesses that I used as a litmus test throughout COVID-19 and throughout my time to get a sense of how the local economy is running. One of the areas of discretionary spending that is most affected by inflation and high interest rates and where people find themselves having to meet those significant extra costs in their mortgage is in discretionary spending in places like toy shops. In the toy shop I visited last week, the owner said that people are now only buying what they need for those times in their kids’ lives that are most important. There is little being spent in a discretionary sense.

In the retail space, there is a real cooling in the market, particularly in women’s clothing. In hospitality, I spoke to the cafes and the small restaurants. In the cafes they are finding that people have come back from possibly getting two or three perhaps coffees a day to one at best. If that is what your business depends on, there are real issues with these increases in costs. I had a chat to an owner of a business called Corners on the Bay after the ceremony on Australia Day. I asked, ‘How are you doing?’ They said, ‘The cost of everything in our business has gone up. The ingredients that we use, what we’re putting on tables, have gone up so much that we are struggling to make ends meet. We are working longer hours ourselves and, in fact, we have put up our prices, but the customers are struggling to pay.’ So that restaurant is no longer there; they shut. As I said earlier, they are the options you have in small business. You can cut your costs, if you can pass your cost onto the consumer. That may be the case for some. But as a dairy farmer, that is not something we get to do in our business. We have to absorb the extra costs of doing business. When you look at things like fertiliser and energy and the other increases in our costs of doing business, there is no way to pass those on. That was where this small business found itself.

I spoke to John Ablett at Featured Wood Gallery in Australind. It is a tourism operation. He said it has just gone cold. That is what keeps coming through—it’s gone cold. I spoke to some of my livestock transporters, particularly in WA, where we see those affected by the closing of the livestock export industry in WA. There’s a significant impact on all those businesses and every other small business in the community that depends on them. They’re the ones also absorbing these extra costs of doing business. And we’ve seen significant uncertainty created around the Aboriginal Heritage Act in WA for farmers and pastoralists; I think 600 got together in Esperance, and 400 in Merredin, to talk about this. And we’re not even going near pharmacists and what impact the government’s changes will have on particularly those small regional and remote pharmacies.