Opinion Editorial – Jennifer Cromarty, Committee for Geelong CEO

While we await an announcement from Victorian Premier Andrews this Sunday regarding a roadmap to ease out of restrictions, there are significant issues we need to think about as a community.

First and foremost, if we are able to be vaccinated, we should. The level of vaccinations in our community will provide a clear path for us to transition to a ‘new normal’. It is truly a testament to the commitment of Geelong residents and the excellent work of Barwon Health that we are leading the state with the highest level of vaccinations to date.

Another key discussion is not only how we minimise health risks that the pandemic presents, but also how we support economic and social recovery. Federal and State Governments are considering balancing these priorities in their roadmaps.

A key initiative is the potential use of a ‘vaccination passport’ which would provide the ability for those who are fully vaccinated to have priority access to travel, attends events and re-activate work and social networks in a face-to-face environment.

Over the past 18 months, Geelong businesses who have managed to trade and welcome patrons to their events, facilities or venues have been asked to check ID to ensure that our friends who live in Melbourne abide by travel restrictions. Unfortunately, this compliance activity has caused significant challenges for businesses.

With the aim to keep businesses open and comply with government mandates, some members of our community have directed their frustration and abuse at those workers requesting ID checks.

According to a June survey conducted by the SDA of 2,300 retail workers, it was revealed that nearly 90 percent reported being subject to verbal abuse, with one in five respondents reported being coughed or spat on during COVID-19. SOURCE: COVID lockdowns are not an excuse for abuse – National Retail Association (nra.net.au)

These behaviours have also been reported at local restaurants, cafes and events where ID checks have been required. This has led to several Geelong businesses reaching out for support and advice. They are concerned about their frontline workers who are often in a younger age bracket.

Dominique Lamb, CEO at the National Retail Association (NRA) says, “Retailers are doing everything within their power to accommodate for the changing regulations, and that responses such as abuse and violence is only contributing to a tense environment. Customers must treat retail workers with the respect they deserve, even if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by things.”

As reported in the media, the Committee for Geelong is willing to work with the Victorian Government to trial the new vaccination passport technology as we plan for our 20th Anniversary Gala event. We believe it is important to provide leadership and work with the government to trial this technology and assist with any issues that may arise.

Taking this action also aims to provide hope and certainty to those most affected and who need to feel optimistic about the roadmap to opening up the economy safely. The Committee for Geelong will also be talking to government about the need for greater support and advice for businesses who will need to prepare their staff to deal with any confronting or abusive interactions. We believe that a broad-based awareness and education campaign needs to be implemented to make the community aware of the potential issues for frontline workers. Geelong is a very caring community, and we all need to step up and call out these negative behaviours if we see them, so we can work through our next challenge together.