Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

27 October 2020

Sarah Courtney, Minister for Tourism, Hospitality and Events

Small business grants program robust and accountable

The Tasmanian Liberal Government has delivered nation leading levels of economic support to our small businesses during an incredibly difficult year.

It is very clear that a significant number of Tasmanian small business have been experiencing hardship and many continue to do so.

Our $80 million small business support grant programs have provided more than 20,000 grants to more than 13,000 individual Tasmanian small businesses across the State, including in industries from retail to accommodation, hospitality, construction, fishing, cultural and recreational services.

Many of these small businesses are owned and operated by Tasmanians who have been experiencing severe hardship and as a result are in distress and sadly in some cases suffering mental health impacts.

The strong advice I have received from the Secretary of the Department of State Growth is that there is real potential to cause undue harm through publicly identifying individual grant recipients. The Government accepts this advice.

This is because publicising the name of applicants and recipients could seriously exacerbate the already high levels of personal stress and in some cases mental health impacts suffered by business owners, and often by their employees and families as well.  

Disclosure of applicant business names could also provide information to each business’s competitors regarding its position of distress and vulnerability and this could expose those businesses to disadvantage.

It’s vitally important that we do not inadvertently deter any applicants from accessing current and future support programs the Government may offer. This would not be in the State’s best economic and social interests.

The Government has worked hard to deliver assistance programs that provide a breadth of support services along with grants to small businesses and we remain focused on this task.

I want to be very clear that the Department of State Growth has administered the assessment and allocation of these grants, at arms length from Government, with a robust and proper process.
The Department openly reports on the expenditure of public funds, in accordance with the requirements of Treasurer's Instructions under the Financial Management Act.

Further, the grants are not required to be publically disclosed under the FMA requirements.
As additional layers of scrutiny, I have offered to provide the names of successful recipient businesses to the Public Accounts Committee in-camera. The Auditor-General is also focusing on examining the response and recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, including an audit on the Small Business Hardship Grants program.

This is an unprecedented situation, with widespread hardship inflicted across the business and Tasmanian community. Unlike Mr O'Byrne, I accept the advice of the Department of State Growth and will not take actions that will cause harm to business owners, their employees and families.

It is disappointing that Mr O’Byrne is playing politics with the mental health of hard working small business owners across Tasmania, and potentially jeopardising the ongoing viability of businesses at a time when many are at their most vulnerable.

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