RA STEWART is a past president and current board member of the Fremantle Chamnber of Commerce. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED she says Fremantle council rushed to cancel its Australia Day fireworks, which will have a $2.5 million impact on local businesses.
Firstly, let me declare several interests; I am a 20 year resident and ratepayer of the City, I have successfully owned and operated a Fremantle-based business for over a decade, I sit on the board of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce, I held a seat on the Future Freo steering committee (2015), as well as the City of Fremantle’s Economic Development Committee (2010) and I sit on the board of the Small Business Development Corporation.
I hope this serves as evidence of my unwavering passion and commitment for our fair port city, and my understanding of the importance of profitable small businesses to a thriving economy.
Eighty per cent of the Australian economy is small business based; this so called ‘engine-room’ accounts for around 95 per cent of businesses and 50 per cent of employment in the private non-financial sector.
The traditional owners of our wide, brown land have certainly endured injustices, which I sincerely regret, and like them I believe it’s time for Australia to review the day we celebrate being united under the Southern Cross. This very big discussion needs to take place on the national stage, as a bipartisan issue.
At Wednesday night’s full council meeting there was a motion to cancel Fremantle’s Australia Day fireworks.
There was representation, not only from Noongar Wadjuk people, but also indigenous people from as far afield as Australia’s east coast, and it was good to hear their opinion, and that they had been consulted by the Mayor.
The chamber’s CEO and I gave a business perspective; something of a miracle given the council has been working on this since January, but we’d heard nothing until inadvertently discovering it was on a committee agenda a little over two weeks ago.
My, and CEO Olwyn Williams’ request, was essentially to keep the fireworks in 2017 (it’s only four months away) and work out a transition strategy towards another event down the track. The strategy would have given the city, and businesses, time to prepare for this major change in direction.
No approach was made by the council to the chamber, Fremantle’s largest business advocacy group, to seek it’s advice, input, expertise or collaborate on the proposal.
To add insult to injury, when the issue of economic impact was raised with the mayor informally, he indicated this had not only never been considered, but had been overlooked.
How can council overlook the economic impact of any decision it makes?
Why cancel an event that brings 50,000 people from all over the metropolitan area to Fremantle, without a management and transition strategy or an alternative?
The City of Fremantle is in essence a business. The council acts as a board, with the mayor akin to chair. It provides employment, and charges a fee for land and services in the form of rates. It is accountable to it’s shareholders; that is the people who live, work and invest in the city.
When considering a new proposal or plan, a company conducts due diligence, investing significant resources in getting a 360 degree view of the impacts of that decision. This did not occur with the proposal to cancel the Australia Day Fireworks. To make a decision without this action is negligent and likely to have negative impacts on many Fremantle businesses – to the tune of around $2.5m.
There has been much council hype about investment and construction in Fremantle – don’t be fooled, this is NOT an indicator of a thriving economy, particularly when you drive into Queen Victoria Street and see a brand new apartment complex vacant with the sign ‘mortgagee sale’ on the front window. With rental properties at an all time high, how many of these new developments will lie empty?
For people to be attracted to live in these new apartments and developments, there needs to be restaurants, supermarkets, gift shops, quality fashion, specialty retailers and employment opportunities.
The business community of Fremantle is extremely vulnerable at present; everyone is doing it tough. Retailers are leaving the city because of safety concerns for their staff and the high rate of shoplifting. With every shop and small business that closes, it is becomes more difficult to woo another investor or small business operator. Wouldn’t it make sense to nurture those business who are already invested here?
Companies use the term “triple bottom line” which basically measures the investment in and return from social (and cultural), environmental and economic activities. The City places much weight on the social and environmental bottom line, but appears to pay scant regard to the economic bottom line.
For a city to be truly sustainable, it needs a vibrant and healthy economy. Come on Fremantle, wake up!
The council needs to support businesses, not sink the boots in when they’re down.