Australian Hotels Association SA boss Ian Horne confirmed today that a publicity blitz was shelved after the Government’s COVID-Ready Committee moved to increase capacity limits from 25 to 50 per cent in pubs, clubs and restaurants.
The lobby group has been in the spotlight after revelations Horne wrote to members after meeting with Marshall last week, saying: “The Premier was very positive towards us and would welcome some positive industry comment and support if he is successful in persuading the Police Commissioner acting as State Coordinator to support [further] changes at the end of next week”.
Horne today confirmed the AHA had been planning to roll out a broader campaign, which was cancelled two Fridays ago – before last week’s meeting with Marshall.
“Posters had been distributed to members – the nature of the campaign was that hospitality has been doing it absolutely tough and is in desperate need of attention,” he told InDaily.
The posters, which highlight the “uncomfortable” state of hospitality, argue that “our industry and workplaces have been bleeding more than $12 million a day and still the people in power won’t talk to us”.
“On Friday a week ago, before the campaign was actually finalised – other than distributing posters – the COVID-Ready Committee increased capacities from 25 to 50 per cent [and undertook] to review restrictions every fortnight… we could hardly run a campaign asking for consultation on lifting restrictions when in fact there’s a plan in place,” Horne said.
“There’s no point running a campaign when the COVID-Ready Committee, of their own volition, has increased it from one in four square metres to one in two [so] the campaign, which was in its infancy, was pulled”.
Horne said there were “no guarantees of course” about ongoing reductions on restrictions, which were “all dependent on the case rate”.
But he insisted the decision to pull the campaign, which was understood to include print and radio advertising, was “quite unrelated” to the meeting with Marshall.
“It’s not the Premier’s decision – it’s Grant Stevens’s decision,” he said, but confirmed “we sought to meet with the Premier because Grant Stevens doesn’t meet with anyone”.
“We wanted to know what his vision was,” he said.
Horne also noted Marshall had “changed the narrative” in recent weeks, “making it quite clear it’s safe to go back to clubs, pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes”.
But AHA council member Simone Douglas, owner of the Duke of Brunswick Hotel and campaigner with the Hospo Owners Collective, doesn’t share Horne’s enthusiasm about the Government’s response.
“Once again there’s this magical announcement we have to wait for as business owners, and it’s impossible to plan around that,” she told InDaily.
She said while “big hotels with greater access to credit can just hang on, mum and dad businesses can’t”.
“How can we make payroll… how can we put food on the table?” she said.
“It’s impossible to hang on when we don’t know how long to hang on for.”
Douglas argues the “bulk of the damage has been done” and expects to “see a steady stream of businesses closing down over time, especially coming into winter”.
She says “cash resources we would have created over summer” didn’t eventuate because of restrictions imposed after the November border re-opening.
Douglas suggested the AHA campaign was put “on the backburner to see how it plays out” with the Marshall meeting, which she said was “pretty standard when it comes to lobbying I believe”.
But she says her Hospo Owners Collective group is “much more vocal, because we are just owners fighting for our businesses”.
“We’re not playing a long game – we’re fighting for survival,” she said.
Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide today Horne’s leaked email was “his interpretation” of the meeting.
“I do think we need to change the narrative… we were actively telling people not to go out, not to move around, to really limit the number of people they come into contact with,” he said.
“That was perfectly acceptable advice for that period, but we’re now changing that narrative and that was the point I made to the AHA – we’ll be changing our advice to people that they can safely go out back into hospitality, make a booking at their favourite café or restaurant or pub or club and support a sector which is doing it really tough.”
Asked whether he was aware of the negative advertising campaign that was pulled just days earlier, Marshall said: “I would be surprised if that was correct.”
“I do have a good working relationship with the AHA and all industry associations in South Australia – they don’t always agree with the way we have handled the pandemic, but I think most of them can see on balance South Australia has fared better than just about anywhere in the country,” he said.
Horne said the email was “my sense of trying to explain to a management committee the sort of things that we’d talked about”.
“It was not written in a forensic way, it’s my interpretation,” he said.
“[Marshall] did not ask for positive support, but as an experienced person in this sector, I should have said ‘one would imagine’… the AHA and me personally have been some of the strongest critics [of hospitality restrictions so] I was simply saying to my members, ‘hey, he’s talking positively about the industry’ – it makes sense there’d be an expectation of anyone that our narrative would change to reflect the positive outcomes, but at no stage categorically did he seek or want any endorsement.
“After beating the Government up for 18 months because of our perception of being at the end of some very severe restrictions, it would be commonsense for us to say, if there’s any breakthrough we’ve got to be positive.”
The AHA led the charge against Nick Xenophon’s SA Best in 2018 with a well-funded campaign that was instrumental in driving down support for the former senator’s push to return to state politics.
But Horne said the planned campaign against the Liberal Government was not similarly political, despite an election being held in under six weeks.
“The Xenophon campaign was to say ‘do not vote for Xenophon because he’ll kill our industry’… this had a miniscule budget in comparison to that – it was saying ‘please will someone talk to us’,” he said.
“If anyone’s guilty about the email it’s me for being more loose with my description.”
The email said that Marshall, “while speaking off the record, emphasised his belief that based on the number of current active cases which were in decline that SA had passed the peak and he could envisage being effectively restriction free within a month to six weeks, with the exception of masks which he indicated will be with us for some time”.
COVID modelling released quietly yesterday by SA Health suggests the final phase of those restrictions being eased is expected to be introduced in the week before polling day.
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