• Jobs & Services Australia

Many WA businesses 'confident' they will survive pandemic, state-wide survey finds

Amidst widespread shutdowns, surging unemployment and growing talk of a recession — the coronavirus pandemic is understandably weighing on the mind of Australia's business sector.

Key points:

  • Western Australia's Regional Chambers of Commerce and Industry has found business confidence has risen across the state

  • Businesses said they're grateful for government financial supports that have been put in place and attribute this largely to their growing confidence

  • Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington has urged Western Australians to holiday local once travel restrictions are lifted, to help regional tourism operators

NAB's closely watched monthly survey showed that Australian business confidence fell in March to the lowest level since records began in 1989.

However as Australia's two largest economies, Victoria and New South Wales, are still ground to a standstill there are some early signs of green shoots west of the Nullarbor.

Western Australia, alongside the Northern Territory and Queensland, has moved to reopen parts of their state much sooner because of sustained low numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Now some of the hardest hit businesses, including hospitality and tourism operators in cut off regional areas, are reporting back to their industry body with unexpected assuredness.

The state's Regional Chambers of Commerce and Industry recently polled 371 businesses across WA and over three-quarters said they were confident they would outlast the pandemic.

"Last time it was 60 per cent, the time before it was [half] so what that's telling us is that people are feeling confident that their business is going to survive or that they're going to make it through," RCCIWA chief executive Kitty Prodonovich said.

"Some of these businesses have in fact closed for now or they've lost 100 per cent of their business, but there is an increased level of confidence that they will be able to survive and recover."

Businesses behind COVID curtain cautiously optimistic

It has been more than a month since the WA State Government implemented the toughest border restrictions in the nation.

In addition to shutting the state border, Premier Mark McGowan drew a curtain dividing the state's eight medically vulnerable regions from Perth which simultaneously bled them dry of tourism dollars.

While Mr McGowan maintains it will be some time before border restrictions lift, Ms Prodonovich said his and the Commonwealth's handling of the crisis had buoyed confidence.

"Our first survey taken in the second to last week of March was taken when there was a lot of confusion and JobKeeper hadn't been announced yet, so the sentiment now is that of course people are hurting, there's no doubt about that," she said.

"[Now] there's a more, I wouldn't say wildly optimistic, [however] I'd say positive outlook that regional business communities are going to be able to survive.

"The stimulus relief and support measures and packages that are being put in by the state and federal governments, they are going a long way to securing those businesses.

"[They're] keeping people in jobs and minimising the economic impact... and we're seeing this wholly collaborative approach to people helping businesses to minimise impact and be there when we enter recovery."

Counting themselves among the cautiously optimistic are restaurateurs Bec and Brenton Pyke, who own and operate three food businesses in the state's south west corner.

"The first couple of weeks were quite stressful because it was mainly focused around the unknown because everything was changing," Mr Pyke said.

"I know we've put a lot of our workers back on, so I'm guessing a lot of businesses have put their workers back on [as well] with JobKeeper [and customers have been] out spending a bit [they're] probably tired of eating soup and toast.

"We feel as though we're in a good position to pick up where we left off, as opposed to a few weeks ago when we were worried about how we were going to find the energy to rebuild and what we would have to rebuild with."

Aussies urged to spend and holiday locally

In the port city of Albany, on WA's southern tip, white sand beaches and caravan parks lie empty.

This is a place where the tourism sector usually accounts for 12 per cent of the city's GDP.

One of the city's longest running whale tour operators Paul Guest said he'd picked up casual shifts as a truck driver, after the humpbacks arrived but the tourists were markedly absent.

"I could probably work seven-days a week and you have to, the bills don't stop although the state government has fortunately put off our rent... [that's] a saving of $20,000 a year," he said.

"I'm hoping that basically what's going to happen is once the regions up... or the state borders open up... that people start travelling within Australia.

"People will say, 'Hey, we've been stuck inside for a while, we haven't been able to do anything, let's go do something we've thought about doing [for a while]'."

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