By JULIE OWENS
IF you live around Parramatta, you get to enjoy one of the most vibrant and diverse dining scenes in Australia.
It’s one of the many things I love about living here. Turkish in Auburn; Chinese in Carlingford; Lebanese and Nepalese in Granville; Indian in all its diversity in Harris Park; Sri Lankan in Pendle Hill; Afghani and Lebanese in Merrylands; and just about everything in Parramatta. Further afield you’ll find African cuisines in Guildford, Korean in Eastwood and Vietnamese in Cabramatta – just to name a few.
Over the past year, the double whammy of COVID and the Parramatta Light Rail has had a devastating impact on our restaurants and cafes.
Businesses navigating lockdowns and restrictions have also had to contend with the noise and dust of construction. Once busy streets have been blocked off with little on-street parking, and there’s fears that customers will never return.
Lately I’ve been sad to see more and more of these businesses closing and those that are open, relatively empty of customers.
Last year businesses on Church Street – once the centre of Parramatta dining – told us trade was down by between 30% and 80%.
And I worry, not just about our favourite restaurants and cafes surviving the hiatus, but about their ability to retain the skilled chefs that deliver cuisines from around the world.
Many of them are temporary visa holders who do not qualify for any government support. Such skills are hard to come by, and once lost, will delay our recovery even further.
Australia has done pretty well in containing the virus, and some parts of the economy have recovered. But it’s clear that industries like hospitality, tourism, international education and the arts have not.
Many businesses in these sectors are relying on JobKeeper to stay open and keep their staff in jobs. According to the latest data, 8,285 businesses and an estimated 30,000 workers in Parramatta are receiving the payments.
Even with this support, the unemployment rate in Parramatta has climbed to 8.1%, compared to a national average of 6.6%.
Young people will hardest hit
Among young people, who are over-represented in the hardest hit sectors like hospitality, it’s 17.8%. 11,006 locals are currently relying on unemployment payments like JobSeeker, more than double the number of people receiving these payments at the end of 2019.
And this figure doesn’t include the many skilled visa holders and international students in our community who are ineligible for support.
On March 28 the Morrison Government (which has already cut JobKeeper twice) plans to cut the JobKeeper scheme altogether. Yet it is hard to imagine that the Parramatta CBD in particular will snap back or even pick up by then.
Construction of the Parramatta Light Rail is expected to overwhelm our streetscape until 2023. Meanwhile there’s still a lot of uncertainty and potential disruption as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks and these are likely to continue until a vaccine is broadly deployed.
Right now Parramatta businesses need support that is tailored and responsive to the economic conditions.
I’m calling on the Morrison Government to consider options for targeted support that will help Parramatta businesses weather this crisis, so the community we love can survive and thrive into the future.
I hope you’ll help me raise the voices of businesses are struggling, so they can’t be ignored. If you’re worried about what will happen when your business or favourite restaurant goes over the JobKeeper cliff, please get in touch with my office.
Meanwhile, we who enjoy the sheer diversity in our dining choices, keep eating! For those that can afford it, get take away, buy and freeze, cater in, eat out. Above all else, businesses need customers (and that’s us) and you just might be able to park for free.
Council in partnership with Transport for NSW is offering free parking at some CBD car parks to people who spend with local restaurants. For details, visit cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/eat-street-free-parking
Go local first.
Julie Owens is Federal Member for Parramatta.