Australia’s economy grew by a much-better-than anticipated 1.1 per cent in the past year and 1.8 per cent in the March quarter despite the pandemic.
Melbourne business owners say the healthy figures do not reflect their reality as they wonder how they’ll survive this latest lockdown.
Johnny Vakalis, owner of Journal, a literary cafe, is dismayed by the growing number of empty stores around his iconic Flinders Lane establishment.
“People have just closed doors, packed up and left,” he said of neighboring venues, adding that the thought had also crossed his mind during the prolonged lockdown in 2020, but “we’re lucky to have a strong following” which gives him hope, he told Neos Kosmos.
“But we’ve lost so much money, and we’ll never get it back,” he said.
“We still have to pay suppliers and wages, and now all the money has gone.”
Mr Vakalis had food and supplies which couldn’t hold.
“Most of it I gave to my staff and then we decided to do take away. We gave some of our supplies to the homeless and we also threw out a fair bit,” he said.
Looking at the government GDP figures, he said, “maybe others have prospered” but even before Lockdown 4.0, his cafe, located in the CBD, was suffering from the after-effects of last year’s prolonged lockdown.
“People are still working from home, so traffic was 30 per cent down even before the latest lockdown,” he said.
Business owners are also concerned about the welfare of their staff.
Angela Babatsias from Blo Bar said she has five casual workers and she worries how the latest lockdown is affecting them without JobKeeper.
“I am getting calls to explain to them how they will be paid, asking me what they should do,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“They are asking for arrangements to be made for them to be paid in advance, but I’m full of unused stock and the bills keep coming in.”
Ms Babatsias said there is a lot of insecurity in her sector because, as a provider of a hairdressing and make-up services, she knows that “without any events, the beauty and hair industry will be hard hit”.
Something different she experienced during the latest lockdown was customers who had paid deposits asked to have these returned immediately.
“Last time they were happy to leave it and use it later, but no this time,” she said, adding that it would take a while for people’s confidence to return.With the forced shutdown of many businesses, renters with casual work arrangements are feeling the pinch.
The Renters and Housing Union Secretary Eirene Tsolidis-Noyce said the group has been inundated by calls from renters facing problems since Lockdown 4.0 was announced.
“There has been an increase in eviction notices or rent increases,” Ms Tsolidis-Noyce told Neos Kosmos, pointing to a broader issue caused by the loss of wages coupled by the rental increases.
“For some people, 67 per cent of their income goes to rent and two weeks without work has put these people into further precarity unless rental protection measures are reinstated.
“If restrictions can be reinstated, then so too should support measures,” she said.
On the same day RAHU released an open letter seeking for the immediate reinstatement of rental protections, Deloitte Access Economics also released glowing figures of a 1.8 per cent Australia’s Economy – much faster than the Reserve Bank had predicted.
A walk down Melbourne’s CBD, dotted with empty stores to be leased, shows otherwise.
Kosmos Samaras, a political consultant with RedBridge Group and a former state Labor campaign strategist, has been conducting political focus groups which have shown numerous warning signs. He told The Australian that Melburnians feel that other states got off lightly when it comes to the virus and the rest of Australia doesn’t understand what they’ve lived through.
In the question, ‘Do you think the rest of the country has abandoned Victoria?’ – an excess of 70 per cent said ‘yes’.
“People are still suffering a lot of psychological trauma in this city,” he said.