'Hell to pay,' Bell warns State

Friday December 04, 2020

Published by The Border Watch 

By Raquel Mustillo

MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell's frustration over lingering COVID-19 restrictions blew up into anger this week, with the independent warning the State Government "will have hell to pay" if density restrictions are not reversed.

Anger poured off the crossbench as the independent MP told the chamber some businesses will not survive the new year if the one person per four square metre ruling was not immediately overturned.

Although majority of restrictions imposed during the South Australian lockdown have been lifted, the indoor gathering density remains at one person per four square metres.

The relaxation of the density requirement is planned for December 14, but Mr Bell urged the government to immediately revert to the one person per two square metre or risk widespread closures and job losses.

A visibly enraged Mr Bell described the restrictions as being implemented "by stealth" and said had resulted in a devastating cascading effect where bookings have been cancelled.

"[Victorian Premier] Dan Andrews saw the difference in Victoria between regional Victoria and metro areas of that state," he said.

"Yet this government has imposed the same restrictions for the COVID-19 cluster on the Mount Gambier business community.

"The government need to understand that they are not on JobKeeper, that they are suffering, that their people are not employed.

"There is no safety net for them; they are hurting.

"If they do not make this change I tell you what, this government is going to have hell to pay come the next state election because businesses will go under." Mr Bell said the proposed date was too late for the region's hospitality and business sector, who have expressed concerns they will not survive the Christmas period.

"There is no guarantee that 14 December is going to be the date when things return to the one person per two square metres," he said.

"I fear that we cannot delay in making a decision that, if this one person per four square metres is not immediately overturned, we are going to see businesses particularly in the hospitality and restaurant sector of the Limestone Coast not being able to survive past Christmas." Mr Bell urged the government to pressure the highly-credentialed Transition Committee to reinstate the post-lockdown density requirements and provide businesses with a change to survive during the Summer months.

"The Christmas period. is when you make your money in hospitality and entertainment," Mr Bell said.

"The rest of the time in Mount Gambier the weather is not as favourable for making money in the hospitality sector.

"You make money over the three-month period.

"For the other nine months, you break even, or in some months you make a loss.

"If this is taken away from them, I am very fearful of what is going to happen to my hospitality and restaurant sector in Mount Gambier." Mr Bell's backlash against the restrictions follows outcry from Liberal MP Nick McBride on his government's hard lockdown, who last week said the snap closure had exacerbated the challenge for businesses to rebuild following months of closure and restrictions.

He lashed the Transition Committee for not balancing health and economic outcomes in the decision to shut down the state.

"All these people making this decisions, locking down our state do not suffer one day lost wages, no loss of income. and they have no relationship with the small business sector," Mr McBride said.

"They have basically been hung out to dry again because of this tough lockdown which has turned out to be a mistake." During the lockdown, Mount Gambier mayor Lynette Martin told Sky News although the hard lockdown "did seem an overreaction", the community "seemed very happy to be compliant".

The former Chamber of Commerce chair acknowledged the restrictions had resulted in an economic cost to business, but the early end to the lockdown would ensure businesses were back to a better space sooner.

"Throughout the whole pandemic, we have followed the instructions of the Federal and State Government, health and SAPOL, so we were happy to follow the latest restrictions," she said.

"Yes it does seem an overreaction given we are some 450km from Adelaide, but you just never know when someone could land here and expose us.

"We have had a really good outcome from the pandemic, we have only had three positive cases in the early stages and the community seemed very happy to be compliant."