Imagine taking the left turn off the bridge onto Orient Street in Batemans Bay for the first time, to one side there’s one of the most spectacular views of the water in town while the other is lined with a haunting amount of vacant shops. I stopped counting after eight.
Across the river, just north of the town’s commercial heart, the plight of the Maloneys Beach Cafe & Cellar perhaps points to some of the issues at play locally. Owners Sylvie and Pascal Siteaud dreamt of selling the business they moved from France to start eight years ago.
“The lessors (landlords) were great at the beginning because we did all the painting and renovations, they haven’t spent any money on this property in eight years,” Mrs Siteaud says.
Mrs and Mr Siteaud had a couple of eager buyers sign contracts to buy their business, they were retracted after the landlords increased the rent.
“They made it impossible for us to sell, every potential buyer pulled out because they were too greedy with rent,”Mrs Siteaud says.
“We pay $4,100 per month. This is more rent than most shops in Stocklands Mall in town.”
The rent has increased 6% every year which Mrs Siteaud says is much higher than the CPI of 1.5%.
After the owners refused an evaluation, the Siteaud’s booked their own through their solicitor leading to a decrease in rent and an even more fractured relationship with their Sydney landlords.
Region Media did approach the Siteaud’s landlord for comment, keen to share their perspective, we have not received a response.
The future of the Maloney’s Beach shop is unknown, however, Sylvie and Pascal Siteaud are counting down the weeks to their June closure.
“We will be very relieved and can’t wait for the closing party, I have a new job as a function and event manager for a motel in town. The future is looking bright for me,” Mrs Siteaud says.
The Siteaud’s speak with sadness about the vacant shops that line the Batemans Bay CBD.
“It’s like a ghost town,” Mr Siteaud says.
Aside from the number of empty businesses, the other number that looms large over Batemans Bay is the unemployment rate – 14.8%.
It doesn’t take much to connect the dots between the two.
One passer-by I spoke to asked where all the shops had gone? While another spoke of seeing the town gradually change over the last eight years.
Anne North and her family are feeling it too, the cost of living increasing beyond wages, her budget getting tighter and tighter, to the point of hardship.
“The empty shops are depressing, it doesn’t give people much hope for our economy,” Ms North says.
Her eyes well with tears as she speaks about who she is voting for, “I am voting Labor because we need them to fix this,” she says with huge hopes.
“I was casual for three years down the road here, we worked 7-hour shifts with only one 15 minute break, we worked like slaves,” Ms North says.
“Our boss guilted us to work harder by saying she hocked her jewellery just to pay our wage.”
Ms North is 61 next week and on Newstart. “I don’t know where I’m going to get a job in this town at my age.”
She wants big companies to stop getting everything, “it’s absolute greed, greed, greed.”
All the major parties talk of small business being the engine room of the Australian economy and point to different and competing ideas to support the sector and create jobs.
Let’s hope Saturday delivers the spark Batemans Bay needs to support people like Anne North, and Sylvie and Pascal Siteaud. In regional towns like mine, our futures are connected and dependent on each other, we succeed and fail together.