Ellis vows more help – Tourism, business put support case forward

FRUSTRATED King Island tourism and business operators have taken their case for additional support direct to the Government during a visit by Braddon Liberal MP Felix Ellis.

Mr Ellis visited King Island last week and met tourism operators who are facing disaster after mass cancellations triggered by public health advice to delay travel to the island during a Covid-19 outbreak.

Sudden cancellations have cost tourism operators hundreds of thou-sands of dollars.

Some are facing losses of up to $250,000 in cancelled business in the first five days after the advisory announcement.

So far 137 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in relation to the King Island outbreak which began in early January.

Two recent cases were identified on January 19 and 22.

There are a total of three active cases diagnosed in the last seven days.

The outbreak response team has now been stood down.

Premier Peter Gutwein has announced the first tranche of the new Covid-19 Business Impact Support Program for eligible Tasmanian businesses, offering up to $5000 in support.

However, tourism operators, businesses and King Island Mayor Julie Arnold were disappointed when Mr Gutwein did not announce any form of extra relief or support specifically for King Island businesses directly affected by the govern-mentissued travel advisory.

Mr Ellis, who also attended a meeting of the King Island Chamber of Commerce and spoke with Ms Arnold, said the support package was designed to help businesses get back on their feet.

“Importantly, this is only Tranche 1 of the program, with more support to be provided for the period beyond January 14 in future tranches,” Mr Ellis said.

At the Chamber of Commerce meet-ing members reported that 70 to 90 per cent of tourism cancellations did not fall within the Covid-19 Business Impact Support Program period.

Mr Ellis reinforced Tourism Minister Jeremy Rockliff’s previously announced marketing program through Tourism Tasmania to promote the island.

“I will continue to engage closely with the King Island community as we continue through this transition phase and learn to live with Covid-19,” Mr Ellis said.

The plight of King Island has also now gained Federal attention.

Labor Candidate for Brad-don, Chris Lynch, said it was inexcusable that, in the third year of this pandemic, there was a situation on King Island where businesses were being disproportionately affected by the Covid pandemic compared with the rest of Tasmania.

“The King Island economy relies heavily on tourism, and you can’t just shut that down without causing an extraor-dinary amount of financial stress,” Mr Lynch said.

Labor Senator Anne Urqu-hart has been watching the King Island situation unfold.

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison and local MP Gavin Pearce like to pretend this is not their problem,” Senator Urquhart said.

“King Island holds a special place in my heart. I am a regular visitor to the island and the level of distress and anger I am hearing is causing me great concern.

“It’s clear from talking to businesses on King Island that there is a very high level of anxiety and people are genuinely concerned that some businesses may not survive.

“King Island has been heav-ily impacted by the Covid pandemic. Many of these busi-nesses ate heavily into their financial reserves in 2020/21 when King Island was virtually closed.

“Now is the time for Gavin Pearce to step up and organise some relief for the King Island economy.”

Mr Pearce said Federal Government support was available to those affected by the pandemic and he would work with individuals on a case-by-case basis to access help.

“If you’re currently unable to work and earn income because you have to quarantine or isolate, you may qualify for federal assistance through the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.“

“I know the island is doing it tough at the moment. If you need assistance, are struggling to find the support you need, or you don’t know where to turn, turn to me. My office number is 6431 1333.”

Business owners who attended the Chamber of Commerce meeting with Mr Ellis said bookings were not being rescheduled and the King Island brand had been damaged.

“There’s a long-term loss of confidence. It’s different to the Tassie experience and the assumption that loss of confidence is short term is wrong and the government advisory made sure we couldn’t bounce back but ensured we crashed.

“The cancellations extend to mid-year and beyond,” one operator said.

An accommodation operator said they had also experienced cancellations.

“The two main cancellations have been from Tasmanian State Government departments and the departments were not interested in rescheduling,” they said.

Ms Arnold said she continued to lobby and work with the Gov-ernment to seek additional sup-port for King Island.

“I know that so many of our tourism operators were very disappointed with the first tranche, so we can only hope that with more advocacy and with more understanding through our local members and our MLC Ruth Forrest, that the second tranche payments will be more appropriate for our people,”

Ms Arnold told King Island Radio.

“We’ll do everything that we can. And I personally will do everything I can to make sure that the King Island situation is well understood.”

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