DRY TIMES: Chris Turner may be forced to close the doors of the Union Hotel if conditions do not improve. Also picture Lachlan Millar and David Janetzki.
DRY TIMES: Chris Turner may be forced to close the doors of the Union Hotel if conditions do not improve. Also picture Lachlan Millar and David Janetzki. Contributed

Closure looming as rural pubs fast last orders

BLACKALL could say goodbye to a beloved pub that may be forced to shut its doors due to crippling costs as business dries up.

The Union Hotel has been a part of the Blackall community for more than 100 years.

The iconic pub was first established in 1912 and has served as more than a place to have a beer.

Union Hotel owner Chris Turner said it would be devastating loss for the community if they were to shut their doors.

"We have got a date set if it doesn't improve,” he said.

"It would be a shame to give it away.”

READ MORE: No longer a one pub town: Rural area left with just a servo

The Blackall Pub owner said last year was the worst he'd had in seven years and "this year is not looking any better”.

He described the region as "extremely dry” and said, "the drought is getting worse”.

"There have been little scuds of rain but nothing that's going to pull anyone out of trouble,” he said.

"We just keep watching these lows and cyclones that are going across and hope they would swing back this way and give us some rain.

"The drought is also causing people to definitely tighten up even more.

"There was only a three-week splurge before and during Christmas and now everything has stopped, it has dropped right off.

"I guess people have run out of money or are just being more careful with what they are doing, projecting ahead with what they are going to save in case it doesn't rain.”

Member for Traeger Robbie Katter.
Member for Traeger Robbie Katter. Contributed

He said they were only seeing about six people at the bar before 6pm and roughly 20-30 people on a Friday night, the busiest night for the pub.

"It used to be double that, but since the drought has taken hold its dropped right back,” Mr Turner said.

"We are only making $4,000-$6,000 a week. We've dropped 25 per cent of what it used to be.

"But I think everybody out here is in a similar situation. Some businesses closed down for the week in between Christmas and New Year because it was that quiet.

"Everyone has been saying the same how quiet it is. Everyone is struggling.”

READ MORE: CQ publican tells of the real struggles behind rural hotels

On top of struggling with the crippling effects of the drought, Mr Turner also said he was paying upwards of $3600 a year for his commercial hotel licence, which he said was "unfair”.

The Katter Party initiated the Liquor (Rural Hotels Concession) Amendment Bill in March 2017, which aimed to reduce the cost for small rural pubs down to around $350 a year.

In October last year the Parliamentary Committee report on small pubs licences recommended the Government pass the Bill.

"We pay the same for our commercial hotel licence as the Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane, and we get nowhere near the patronage they do,” he said.

"It used to be on the volume you sold but nowadays everyone has got the flat rate. It's just another one of the bills and it's a big bill to be hit with all at once. It's a bit ridiculous.

"You've also got electricity in amongst that, which is about $5500 a quarter.

"It would just be one thing that we wouldn't have to worry about.”

Member for Traeger Robbie Katter said the Liquor (Rural Hotels Concession) Amendment Bill was still waiting to be put to Parliament for a vote.

"The Parliamentary Committee recommended the bill be passed,” he said.

"We are now just waiting for the leader of the house to bring the Bill onto the floor for debate, so it can be passed, then we can help all those struggling bush pubs who are in drought affected areas and battling for survival.

"A lot of these pubs in the middle of nowhere are considering whether they carry on during the drought or whether they shut their doors. When you shut the doors on some of these pubs they never re-open.”

Mr Katter is expecting the Bill be put to Parliament when sitting resumes on February 14.



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