NSW SMEs hard hit by horse flu crackdown

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Businesses in the NSW racing industry are being hit hard by the clampdown on racing events and horse movements which has been implemented to prevent the spread of equine influenza.

The cancellation of the $20 million NSW Spring racing carnival yesterday was yet another blow to businesses already suffering from a freeze on horse movements implemented last week.

SMEs form the backbone of the racing industry, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars across the country each year, according to Racing NSW deputy chairman of stewards Marc van Gestel.

“There are a lot of these smaller businesses and obviously they don’t have the resources to just keep going that larger ones do, so the shutdown will be crippling for them,” van Gestel says.

The industry, which employs over 50,000 people, provides a source of revenue for a range of businesses beyond those directly connected to racing.

“The transport industry has been hit hard, they have large overheads and the freeze on movement directly affects them, then there are services like farriers, vets, dentists, hospitality and catering is a big area as well. All of these guys are struggling,” van Gestel says.

Farriers, the vast majority of whom are small business of just a few employees, are being devastated by a ban on being able to move from one racecourse or training centre to another to provide their services.

Jim Middleton, a farrier and the secretary of the Master Farriers Association of New South Wales, says some SMEs in the sector are already hitting the wall.

“We may lose some people to the industry – I was only talking to a bloke this morning who’s shut down his business and taken a job in the mines,” Middleton says. “I’ve been in the game for 25 to 26 years, so we’ll be able to hang on for a few months, but a lot young guys only just starting out, they‘ve got nothing behind them and they’re really going to struggle.”

Even for Middleton, however, the shutdown is taking its toll: he has had to let one apprentice go, and two others are on leave until business resumes.

“Our business flow just went overnight, but the big problem is no-one really knows when it’s going to recommence. People say there’s light at the end of tunnel, but at the moment I’m wondering if it will turn out to be a train,” he says.

The Federal Government has already announced an initial $4 million relief package under which affected individuals can claim up to $1500. Middleton says a lot of workers and business owners will be relying on that payment, as well as access to welfare, to get them through the weeks ahead.

Mike Preston


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