When I introduce myself and our organisation, I’m occasionally asked, “What does the Australian Hotels Association (ACT) do?”

Simply, we’re the advocacy organisation speaking and fighting on behalf of the hospitality industry. We seek legislative and regulatory change that makes our industry more vibrant, sustainable and profitable, with the flow-on effect that we can employ more Canberrans.

Sometimes it is difficult for hospitality business owners to emotionally comprehend the importance of this work. These owners are immersed in the operational running of their businesses, and rightly have little time to consider the myriad external regulatory threats that constantly imperil the sustainability of our industry.

COVID-19 has shown how quickly and devastatingly these external threats can decimate our industry. Over the course of ten days to 23 March, we all went from business-as-usual to a complete shutdown. Despite the millions of dollars of ACT Government support that the AHA ACT has secured for our industry, our members have been eking out an existence ever since.

COVID-19 has also shown the importance of a strong, united voice like the AHA ACT to fight for our industry, and to achieve the regulatory and legislative change that allows our industry to survive – and eventually thrive.

As well as the hard work and compliance of the Canberra community, it is the AHA ACT’s relentless advocacy and strategic engagement over the past three months that sees us in this position to re-open with 100 patrons per space from noon this Friday.

I won’t share the AHA ACT’s trade secrets, but consumers and businesses can see our effectiveness through looking at our results. The proof is definitely in the pudding.

The new 100 patron limit per space is one month ahead of the ACT Government’s schedule announced in late May. This is a monumental turnaround from Chief Health Officer within three weeks. The new limit gives struggling hospitality businesses some hope that, sooner rather than later, normal business conditions will return.

We also knocked off the ridiculous requirement that mandated table-service. Once again, bar service will be permitted. We eliminated the requirement that alcohol could only be served if accompanied by a meal – a rule that was unsupported by science. TABs and KENOs will re-open, and live music can resume.

Unfortunately for hospitality businesses, the 1 patron per 4 square metres social distancing requirement has hung around like a bad smell. This rule effectively limits capacity to 25%. In an industry like hospitality which is dependent on creating vibrancy and dynamism, this rule is incompatible with profitability.

When the Government shut us down in March, we were knocked flat off our feet. On 15 May, with ten patrons, we began to crawl again. On 29 May, with twenty patrons per space, we started walking. From noon Friday, I hope our industry will be able to break into a light jog.

But we will not be able to go any faster whilst the 1 patron per 4 square metre rule remains mandated. While it is appropriate and proper that we move cautiously and safely, if our COVID-19 caseload remains steady over the coming weeks then there is no justification for not steadily moving to a new 1 patron in 2 square metre rule.

This will allow effective occupancy limits of 50%, and is absolutely necessary for hospitality businesses if we expect them to once again be viable and profitable.

Moving forward, a new 1 in 2 rule will become the entire advocacy focus of the AHA ACT.

Watch this space, and judge us by our results.