Australia

Regional businesses demand greater support from re-elected Morrison government

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A week on from the federal election, those in power are being urged not to forget the struggles of those in the regions.

In the foothills of the NSW Snowy Mountains, five-and-a-half hours' drive Sydney and Melbourne, the sleepy town of Tumut is generating a buzz.

Tumut River Brewery Co is growing in popularity and size and welcomes around 1,500 visitors each weekend.

It opened in 2014 behind a tyre shop as the smallest commercial microbrewery in the southern hemisphere. 

Tumut River Brewing Co
Tumut River Brewing Co is now one of the largest commercial microbreweries in the NSW Riverina.
SBS News/Omar Dabbagh

The brewery is now one of the largest in the region, operating 10 times its original size of just 15 square metres, and producing 35,000 litres of craft beer a month.

Co-owner Tim Martin told SBS News though, the company is only now starting to break even.

“Sadly it's not the kind of alcohol that the regulars drink, or locals, drink. We do have a certain support base within the locals that are amazing for us, but they're probably five per cent of the population, but the rest of them drink Carton and Tooheys, just like every other small country town.”

“The thing is, craft product just distinguishes you, it gives you a premium feel, it gives tourists something special and exciting to try, it makes the place worth visiting.”

Tumut River Brewing Co
Tumut River Brewing Co/Facebook

Seeking new ventures

In a region still in drought, tourism is also drying up, and business owners are having to get creative.

David McDougall and wife Ellen Webb, owners of one Tumut’s oldest pubs The Oriental, opened gin distillery Pretty Parrot last September.

They hope their use of Australian natives as ingredients will attract local and international interest.

Ellen Webb and David McDougall
Ellen Webb and David McDougall opened the Pretty Parrot gin distillery in Tumut.
SBS News/Omar Dabbagh

“Tumut people were really supportive before Christmas, they came and bought a lot of bottles as gifts so that was really good, and then we approached a Chinese exporter – we just went there last week - and we're hoping that our Australian native range will go off over there,” Ms Webb said. 

"This woman we met has 20 high-end stores [in Dalian, China] and she owns a tea farm, and she was interested in our native Australian range,” Mr McDougall said.

Snowy Hydro 2.0

Tumut is an industrial town, and home to Snowy Hydro 2.0. The $4.5 billion hydro-electricity project is being sold as a game changer by the Morrison government, to help lower energy prices and improve its reliability.

But the local council wants a piece of the profits, to establish what the mayor calls a 'legacy fund' for the community.

Snowy Hydro 2.0
PM Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor announcing a further $1.3 billion for Snowy Hydro 2.0.
AAP

Snowy Valleys mayor James Hayes said: “The Snowy Hydro's a really exciting thing for our community and we expect that there will be advantages for businesses coming out of it, but I'd like to see some of those funds from the Snowy hydro sale stay in the region.”

“As yet we haven't been able to leverage any of those funds. We'd like to see a legacy fund. That fund would go towards helping the community grow and also sort of future proofing it as well."

And, according to councillor Cate Cross, infrastructure is a key priority for the region.

"It was all built when the first round of Snowy (Hydro) came, so it's ageing,” she said. 

“It's not fit for purpose anymore, and we really need an injection of funds to revitalise.”

A 'money drought'

In drought-affected parts of the country, townspeople speak of a so-called 'money drought', where local shops and businesses are struggling to stay open due to dwindling tourism numbers and reduced spending by the community.

And with many shops choosing to stay closed on weekends as a result, brewery co-owner Mr Martin believes it is getting harder for small town ventures to stay afloat.

Tumut River Brewing Co
Tumut River Brewing Co relies heavily on social media to promote its products.
Supplied

“We have never qualified for a grant,” Mr Martin said.

“Every time we have tried to apply for a grant, from when we were tiny, to now, there had always been an excuse. So to start with we weren't a company, and then we were a startup so we weren't qualified, because it had to be for expansions of existing businesses, and then we were an existing business that was expanding and we were a company, but that didn't qualify because we'd only just registered the company.

“It just became this ridiculous chase our tail thing to try to prove that we were valuable and viable for this grant and we've just never been able to get one."

Regional plea

Pub owner Ms Webb believes if regional Australia was properly supported by the federal government, it would help businesses to potentially expand beyond the confines of their tiny towns and bring business into it.

“I love living in Tumut and wouldn’t live anywhere else but I do worry about the future of some of our towns as our young people have to leave to find good, solid, well-paying employment,” she said.

Mr Martin says until then, his brewery will continue to raise funds in an effort to expand – which he hopes will attract more people to the region.

“I love how every box here has Tumut written on the side of it, every time we ship to a new space, every time we move it somewhere different, that's another place that's going, ‘where the hell's Tumut? What is this place, they make great beer, we should go and check it out’.”

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