Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford has been challenged to say why gyms and dance studios are considered a ‘high risk’ setting for COVID-19.


MINISTER for Small Business in the State Government, Jaala Pulford, has acknowledged that dance studios and gyms are among a small group of businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdowns.

However, despite the questioning of local MPs Edward O’Donohue and Melina Bath, Minister Pulford has not addressed the crux of the matter for gym owners, show us the data which supports the lingering nature of the lockdowns.

“My question is to the Minister for Small Business. Minister, my constituent Mr Jake Wright, the owner of multiple gyms in regional Victoria, including in the Eastern Victoria Region at Wonthaggi, Leongatha, Moe, Pakenham and Warragul, has lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue because of this fourth lockdown. Further, he advises that his casual staff have missed out on thousands of dollars of lost wages, with a significant impact on the local regional economies in which they live,” said Mr O’Donohue.

“Minister, do you accept that for businesses such as Jake’s, the compensation on offer, taking into consideration as well the announcements made by the Acting Premier today, is so token as to be next to meaningless and insulting in the context of the losses that he has had to bear to continue his business?”

Ms Pulford acknowledged that gyms raised by Mr O’Donohue on Wednesday, June 9, and the dance studios, raised by Ms Bath on Tuesday, June 8 “are recognised as being in this particular predicament, as are indoor swimming centres and a small number of other types of business. We recognise this is extraordinarily difficult for them, and the lack of income support is particularly challenging for casual employees and indeed for employers and business owners and operators who had previously depended on it.”

Mr O’Donohue went further, challenging the Minister to release the data for keeping gyms closed.

“Minister, Vic Active, which represents the owners of around 500 gyms and fitness centres around Victoria, including those of Mr Wright, issued a media release yesterday calling on the government to release the data that supports the chief health officer’s statements that gyms are high-risk settings even when stringent COVID-safe protocols are in place. Will you now advocate to your cabinet colleagues for greater transparency and the release of the relevant data that has justified the lockdown of large swathes of our economy, including the gyms operated by my constituent Mr Wright? I must say I know Mr Wright takes his COVID-safe practices very, very seriously.”

Minister Pulford said the chief health officer had addressed the reason why gyms had been singled out many times over the past 12 months.

“I, as Mr O’Donohue would appreciate, have no portfolio responsibilities for public health advice. But I have absolutely no doubt about the exceptionally high standards that gym operators are applying. I have observed this in my own community, and I have observed this in my work with the small business community but also as a very intermittent attender of my own gym.

“Overwhelmingly our business community are deeply, deeply committed to doing the right thing and they absolutely understand the relationship between the restrictions and the ability to resume trade as quickly as possible. It is a source of great challenge, and we recognise that the packages seek to respond to that.”

Ms Bath also addressed the hardships for dance studios in questions to Minister Pulford in Parliament on Tuesday.

“My question is to the Minister for Small Business. In Victoria’s fourth lockdown Gippsland has had not one active COVID case nor any exposure sites, yet small businesses, like the owners of 12 dance studios I met with yesterday, are shut and are losing money hand over fist. Minister, what is, and will you release the health advice behind the government’s decision to allow 10 children or adults to attend creative arts rehearsals while banning 10 children from attending a dance class?”

Minister Pulford encouraged Ms Bath to assist her dance studios in accessing the government support but noted she was not the health minister.

“In relation to public health advice, I am not the minister responsible for that, and so I would suggest Ms Bath direct that question to the Leader of the Government, who represents the Minister for Health in this place.”