opinion

"We have barely our dignity left." An open letter to the Victorian government, from a sole trader.

This open letter was written by Melbourne-based photographer Carly Söderström and has been published with full permission. 

In March 2020, Victorian businesses were thrust into uncertainty and chaos. It was an adapt or die situation, and adapt we did with lightening speed.

We took our offices home and digitised where we could, assuring our customers it was just two weeks to flatten the curve. The reality was much worse than we could have feared. Months of losses in revenue as the bills continued to pile up. With no relief, we dipped into our savings, our super and exhausted our cash reserves, waiting for life to return to a new normal. 

Today, I speak for the creative industry. We are vast and varied and we are taxpaying constituents who have been failed at every turn by the Victorian government.

We are sole traders and freelancers. And whilst we may not be deemed essential to some, our income is essential to our own survival.

When the rest of Australia was opening back up, we were thrust into another unprecedented, unrelenting stage 4 lockdown. We were told, "we’ve done this before, we are all in this together". But how can we be in this together, if for some it means Netflix and Uber Eats and for others it means defaulting on rent or payments, losing more customers and clients, and watching your business fall apart?

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How are we in this together when we have been robbed of our ability to earn income for months on end?

The initial business support packages released in 2020 did not address sole traders. We received no grants and no support. When the Victorian Labor government finally responded to the outcry from these small businesses, they responded with a grant that was unattainable, by creating eligibility criteria they knowingly knew we weren’t going to meet. We don’t have commercial leases. We don’t have employees and we are not registered for GST.

The third lockdown shattered consumer confidence. Not only did we lose five days of revenue, we returned to find our customers and clients disappearing. Victorians are going broke. Again, a small business support package failed to offer any compensation for a third lockdown of loss, devastation and utter heart break. We again don’t have employees, commercial leases and we are not registered for GST. 

We crawled our way out of a third lockdown into an economic wasteland. We were broken. We were exhausted. We had nothing left. Just three short months later, here we are again with barely our dignity left. 

Watch: In May 2021, Victorians went into their fourth COVID lockdown. Post continues after video.


Video via Ten.

Small business is dying whilst this government scrambles to control a fourth outbreak. We are going on 10 months of no income, no support and no one willing to listen. We are single mothers, singles, young families, taxpaying Victorians on our knees begging for some reprieve.

Whilst $250 or $500 million dollars in grants sounds like an extraordinary figure, it means nothing if it doesn’t actually end up in the hands of those who need it the most - the small business community of Victoria. 

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As a photographer, I’ve watched not only my business being decimated, but the businesses of clients, who can no longer pay me, nor pay themselves. 

I’ve withdrawn from my super to be able to set up a studio at home to try to adapt as best I can, only to find my clients and the other businesses I support are no longer there.

This week a $500 relief payment from the federal government was announced, which again, I am not eligible for. I live in regional Victoria and travel the short distance up a highway to meet my clients, which means I am suddenly no longer living in a hotspot regardless of my work being in one. Again, no compensation for the countless losses I have endured through these lockdowns. 

I implore this government to listen to the creative industry, the entertainment industry, the beauty industry, the fitness industry and the hospitality industry as we give you our first-hand accounts of the collateral damage caused by your heavy-handed lockdowns, to chase a COVID zero. This government cares more for political point scoring than it does for the people who are suffering the most.

We are being gaslit by the government telling us we are doing this for the “greater good” as they continue to receive their plump six figure pay check funded by our taxes, as we go broke. We lose our clients, our customers, empty our savings and suffer from crippling anxiety over what our future holds all while we watch our elected leaders bicker and fight like children.

We don’t care about whose responsibility it is, or who is to blame. Listening to bickering between the state and federal government just demonstrates how out of touch they are with the gravity of the situation taxpaying sole traders are facing. This is costing us not only our livelihoods, but our futures.

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The Victorian government's response has been Draconian, disproportionate and has left our economy in disrepair. We aren’t saying 'do nothing,' we are saying consider at what cost can you achieve these objectives?

We demand transparency. The Australian people need to hear these stories from regular people and understand that their inaction and silence has enabled an inept government to fail its people time and time again.

We will not go unheard and stand by and watch the world's most liveable city be destroyed by the hands of an incompetent few.

This open letter was first published on Carlz J Söda's Instagram and republished on Mamamia with full permission. 

Feature image: Carlz J Söda

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