Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan): My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and the action I seek is that the government review the Retail Leases Act 2003 in consultation with small business tenants and their landlords to find equitable ways for businesses affected by COVID-19 to terminate or renegotiate leases.
My office has been inundated with calls and emails for help from small business owners throughout my electorate. They have been thankful for the government grants and the instructions to landlords to waiver and defer rent, but the reality is that is not enough to ensure the future of their businesses.
The Australian Venues Association advises me that operators are locked into leases that predate the current circumstances and are no longer fit for purpose. They assert that terms, amounts, duration et cetera should all be subject to both market review clauses and early termination clauses, giving tenants the ability to walk away with the preservation of equity in their company if possible and safety from action taken against personal guarantors when not.
Providing the commercial tenant with some leverage would serve to create a scenario where the landlord and tenant can work together towards a mutually beneficial relationship on equitable grounds. It can be a winwin.
The problem many face is that they are at the behest of their landlords. We are in a radically different rental market—what is the use of operating a cafe in a high foot traffic area if there are no people—but many landlords have been unreasonable with their tenants.
Many of the businesses who have contacted my office are going through the mediation process with the small business commissioner, but in the end that won’t save their business. Even when the current restrictions end, many businesses will never get back up on their feet. Those that service international tourists, those that rely on a room packed full of music lovers are not going to be profitable for many months, if not years.
The action I seek is for the minister to review the legislation and enable leases to be subject to market review and small businesses to terminate their lease without losing the shirt of their back.