ACT government ‘snubs’ struggling small business

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Tom Adam with dogs Bear and Busby… “Phillip is broken. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. There’s very little maintenance done.”  Photo: Danielle Nohra

Phillip Business Community president Tom Adam is frustrated by the lack of ACT government support to small businesses in the past year and can cite multiple small businesses that have been forced to shut or move during the pandemic. DANIELLE NOHRA reports

SITTING at a cafe table on a deteriorating pavement, next to a broken gutter on Colbee Court, Phillip Business Community president Tom Adam asks where ratepayers’ money is going? 

Tom, 41, of Fadden, leases a space on Townshend Street for his business Canberra Martial Arts and Fitness, and is frustrated by the legacy of issues in Phillip.

He’s also frustrated by the lack of ACT government support to small businesses in the past year and, being the head of the business advocacy group, can cite multiple small businesses that have been forced to shut or move during the pandemic. 

In some cases, he says, businesses moved because the rent was too expensive, one business bought a building because it was cheaper than renting (over the long run), and other businesses moved or shut because their landlord refused to help during the pandemic. 

“The ACT government offered no support. Unless you paid some sort of fee, [such as] a licensing fee or a payroll tax, there was no consideration for you as a small business,” he says. 

Landlords were eligible for a concession if they negotiated with the tenants about dropping their commercial rent, however, businesses had to go through a commissioner, and by then some were being sued by their landlord, Tom says. 

Meanwhile, he says, other state governments – during the height of the pandemic – offered money to small businesses, and while he’s not asking for hand-outs to each business, he wants to see the ACT government support those that are still hurting financially. 

“Where’s the local support? Do an audit and support local businesses that are still struggling post covid,” says Tom, who rejects the Chief Minister’s sentiment that small business is a “federal government issue”. 

“Small business is not a federal issue, it’s definitely a territory issue. 

“We’re employing local people who spend their money locally, who support their families, who invest in other sporting communities and local shops.” 

Tom recommends that the ACT government should go out and survey businesses and ask: “Are you still suffering from covid?”

“I know there’s a lot of Phillip business owners that are refinancing their homes to pay off tax debts because they still had to pay all their GST and their payroll tax,” he says. 

Tom’s also been struggling with debt since covid started, and says he’s had to personally put money into the business from his house to get through.

“And it looks like I have to do more,” he says. 

“I’ve still got to figure out where I’m going to find the GST and the PAYG from the last quarter because I quickly made sure that I could afford the previous one.”

He’s now inviting the ACT government to sit down with him and look at his books.

“Go through it and you’ll see what I’m talking about. See what keeps us up at night,” he says. 

Small businesses are also fed up with the ACT government talking about what it does for big businesses, such as giving them payroll tax concessions, while giving little support to them, Tom says.

“I feel like the Labor government has anaphylaxis for small businesses,” he says. 

“Start talking about small businesses and how you can support them.

“Fix the footpaths, do the work to make it look like you actually care, and ensure that you’re really actually engaging with small business groups about the future plan for the ACT.”

For a place with high commercial rates, Tom wants to know where the money is going? 

“If the people are paying the rates then the rates should be invested into the suburb,” he says.

“The money here doesn’t look like it’s being spent here. 

“The suburb is broken. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. There’s very little maintenance done. There’s trip hazards, there’s white marks that have suggested they are going to fix the pavements for three years. 

“They’re not fixing the broken gutters, they’re not fixing the footpaths and the roads.” 

Rent needs to be reduced, too, says Tom, even though people often say: “You’re paying for the location.” 

“There’s no competition so there’s no incentive for the landlords, particularly the older ones that don’t owe any money on their properties and don’t have to spend any money in the upkeep because it’s all the tenants’ work, to innovate,” he says.  


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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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