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COVID-19 forces closure of more than half of Victoria’s Indigenous businesses

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18 May 2020

Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander business sector is in severe decline from the impact of COVID-19 according to the preliminary findings of a survey by the sector’s peak body.

Kinaway Chamber of Commerce said it began comprehensively surveying its 150 members early this year, initially in response to Victoria’s bushfire crisis, and then during the ongoing pandemic.

Kinaway Chair, Karen Milward, said the survey had revealed a sector in serious trouble with more than 22% of businesses immediately ceasing operations in March 2020.

“We expect that figure to have increased significantly by now with the survey predicting that by the end of May 58% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned businesses in Victoria would be closed,” said Ms Milward. “Nearly every business surveyed said they would not remain operating beyond three months of the March lock downs.”

“This is a catastrophe that eclipses even the impact on mainstream small businesses,” she said. “And unfortunately, many of the financial packages that have been released by the Federal and Victorian Governments, to assist small businesses have failed to apply to our sector, and we’ve seen no packages specifically targeting Indigenous businesses.”

Ms Milward said the sector was overwhelmingly made up of sole traders who were not eligible for the jobs packages offered by the Federal Government.

“Most of our businesses employ only contractors, who are ineligible for the job seekers package, and most are in the early stages of developing their enterprises so they are particularly exposed to a crisis like the one we are currently experiencing.

“After so many years of our people being denied opportunity, the growth in Indigenous entrepreneurialism and small businesses in Victoria has been one of the great success stories of the past decade and it would be a major setback to lose this momentum simply because Government assistance is not carefully targeted,” said Ms Milward. “We need Governments to urgently consult with our sector to ensure that this is rectified.”

The survey found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business revenue came largely from corporate, education and government sources and specifically from tourism and events.

Ms Milward said the massive hits to the tourism and tertiary education sectors had been particularly hard on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses.

“Government, corporate and university procurement policies have fuelled the growth of our sector and this means that the Victorian Aboriginal Business Strategy 2017-2021, and the Social Procurement Framework will be even more critical in the recovery phase from COVID19.

“We are also deeply concerned at the likely impact of the current crisis on our people’s long-term economic circumstances with 26% of the business owners surveyed indicating they are likely to access their superannuation and most indicating that they had taken this decision without consulting a financial planner.

“This will diminish the retirement incomes of our people, further exacerbating the economic inequality that we’ve experienced over generations.

“There is some good news as well, however, with the survey confirming the incredible tenacity and resilience of our mob, borne out of more than two centuries of repression and neglect, as 95% of businesses surveyed, reported seeing opportunities even amidst the current hardships,” said Karen Milward.

“Kinaway commends the Victorian Government for the initiatives implemented to support and encourage the growth of our sector but it is clear that more needs to be done to minimise the number of businesses lost and the impact on the financial wellbeing of future generations,” she concluded.

(ENDS)

The Kinaway survey, COVID19 Economic Impact Report – Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Business is available here.

For more information and to arrange interview with Kinaway Board Chair, Karen Milward please contact Al Harris, MagpieMedia, on 0409658177.

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