My name is Rinaldo Di Stasio, I am a restaurateur and vigneron with more than 40 years frontline experience. Not since World War II have we had to cope with such a devastating crisis for our economy, for our healthcare system and for our people at large. Never in Australian history has our mental health and wellbeing been at such risk.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis here in Australia I have been involved in much of the discussion about the future of the hospitality industry – my industry. I have had meetings, conversations and arguments with various government bodies, with councils, with consulting firms, hospitality associations and public figures, most of which came to nothing. But I continue to fight! I recognise that we must focus our energy on combating Covid-19, but we must also begin to plan for the future, a future that has a new normal; a Covid normal.
The hospitality industry operates very differently to most others. Our margins are wafer thin and finances are a constant juggle. When Covid-19 forced us all to close we were faced with no revenue and mounting debts. Some in the industry got their employees onto Jobkeeper; many employees were terminated and eligible for Jobseeker; and the rest, sadly, were left to fend for themselves. Those on temporary visas had the bone pointed at them. The neglect of temporary visa workers – skilled taxpaying members of our workforce – is not only shameful, it will cripple hospitality and tourism moving forward.
As a perfect stimulus, money spent within the hospitality industry has a ripple effect. Money spent in our restaurants, cafes, bars and other hospitality venues flows through to bakers, winemakers, market gardeners, butchers, fishers and countless others. The hospitality industry provides a sustainable food economy that benefits all Australians, which we only want to see grow.
The hospitality industry is a major employer and economic contributor, and, other than Jobkeeper it has not received any other material support. The industry has been disproportionately affected by the crisis, yet the financial support remains severely lacking. Do we want to see an industry dominated by soulless, corporate-owned venues with no character or individuality? Do we want our tourism industry decimated even further?
Politicians – those in government and those in opposition – need to adapt to a new normal. Jobs for the boys, zero accountability and preferential treatment all need to stop. It is becoming increasingly obvious how political agendas have failed us.
I present a simple five-point plan for consideration:
Extend Jobkeeper at the original $1500 rate to Victorians beyond the September deadline, and extend it to temporary visa holders. Aren’t we all in this together?
Provide access to funds to allow us to trade out of this cash-flow hole. Put real pressure on the banks, or underwrite them properly, to ensure that cash flows back into the economy.
Abolish the national fringe benefits tax. It raises no revenue and stifles spending. Do you want to stimulate the economy?
Abolish the state-based payroll tax. It is a tax on employment and is surely redundant in a post-Covid-19 world.
Reform industrial relations. Provide an alternative to the archaic and punitive federal award. Create a new system that allows flexibility, surety and confidence for all employees and their employers alike.
I want this letter to stimulate conversation. To make people visualise what restaurants could look like and to make absolutely certain that there is indeed a future for the hospitality industry.
I am writing this letter as a cry for help. I am worried beyond measure that the industry I love is facing total ruin. I invite our leaders, and you, to come to the table and make a positive contribution.
I would appreciate letters from anyone who has a suggestion (c/o Di Stasio Citta, 45 Spring Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000); comments at #SaveHospitalityandTourism or @distasiocitta on Instagram; or email me direct.
To all of you, to your families, your friends, please stay safe and take care.
Rinaldo Di Stasio