• Nornie Bero is worried about the future of her business, and her staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Mabu Mabu)Source: Mabu Mabu
The owner of a small Indigenous catering company has lashed out at the federal government for what they say is a lack of support and information for businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Madeline Hayman-Reber

23 Mar 2020 - 5:27 PM  UPDATED 23 Mar 2020 - 5:35 PM

A Mer Island woman and owner of Melbourne-based Torres Strait Islander catering company holds grave concerns for the future of her business, and the welfare of her staff following mandatory trading restrictions in Victoria amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nornie Bero is a renowned chef who has been operating Mabu Mabu, a Torres Strait phrase meaning 'help yourself', for several years. She employs Indigenous, non-Indigenous and international staff.

She initially opened her business at the South Melbourne Market selling small home made goods before expanding into a cafe and catering company in Melbourne's Yarraville.

Since COVID-19 has hit, businesses like Mabu Mabu have taken one too, leaving owners like Ms Bero to wonder how they are going to pay wages, especially after the Victorian government's lock down announcement on Sunday.

“We’re only closing this week because we are trying to keep all our staff. I’m doing my best of how that’s going to work," Ms Bero told NITV News.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday that restrictions on trading of several 'non-essential' businesses would be coming into effect as of Tuesday - this includes the closure of restaurants, bars and cafes. As of Monday, the state has 355 recorded cases of COVID-19. 

Cafes are rushing to find solutions to keep staff employed - looking at options such as take away, merchandise and food delivery services.

But Ms Bero said she is unsure how businesses such as hers will cope without immediate financial assistance from the government.

“Businesses can only do what they can do without the government assistance that we all don’t know about. Collectively we all don’t know what’s going on and people are getting fired everywhere," Ms Bero said.

Although announcements have been made in the media about financial assistance, she and several other businesses are yet to receive any detail.

"I think everybody is a little bit confused by it because there's a lot of information going around. There's no real government letter that's coming from councils so none of us know what's going on. That's not just me, but businesses around me as well," Ms Bero said.

The federal government has announced subsidies for small businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million per year and not-for-profit charities to receive up to $100,000 in tax breaks.

But Ms Bero said she doesn't see how this is viable for small businesses who are severely affected by the current trading restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 lock down.

"Unfortunately we have to pay the wages. No one is saying we don't have to pay our wages. We still have to pay our taxes," Ms Bero said.

"The government is saying pay your taxes but we'll give you back the money afterwards. It's like, we need the money now... Why don’t they have an action plan before all these people are on unemployment."