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Bean counters target parliament’s Aussies Cafe with lease hike

Dom Calabria owner of Aussie’s Cafe at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew MearesParliamentary bean counters have proposed hiking the lease of a popular coffee shop after negotiations with the owner stalled.
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Described by the Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Rob Stefanic as “an institution”, the rent for Aussies Cafe at parliament is due to rise from $87,000 a year to $150,000.

Speaking at estimates on Monday, Mr Stefanic denied reports the owner Dom Calabria had been told to ditch the name Aussies.

He also fended questions the department runs a competitive operation and should not have access to Mr Calabria’s financials.

“The reason the amount is so significant is that the proprietor of Aussies has refused to share his turnover information,” Mr Stefanic said.

“In doing so, it became very hard for the valuer to make an assessment of the true, fair market value of the rent.

“The independent valuer had to make an estimate based on a complex formula to establish a licence fee value. He had to make an estimate of the turnover that Aussies achieves in a year.”

The formula included comparisons with the Coffee Club in Civic, with allowance made for non-sitting days.

This drew the ire of Liberal senator Eric Abetz who said: “So the worse he runs the show, the less the parliament or the taxpayer would get. The better he runs the show, the more you want to fleece him. Is that the idea? If his figures were very bad and he were running at a loss, would you be paying him to be there?”

Mr Stefanic said Mr Calabria could challenge the assumptions and the valuation, based on his turnover value, and the proposed licence fee would be adjusted accordingly.

He said the lease and key performance indicators were open for negotiation.

“If he is concerned with any elements of that, it is subject to negotiation and he has been given ample opportunity to do that,” Mr Stefanic said.

“There is no take it or leave it here. He can discuss it with us. He has made no attempt other than, very apparently, making representations to senators and also to the media.”

Senator Abetz questioned if the department was in competition with Aussies and suggested a conflict in officials seeking Mr Calabria’s turnover.

The Financial Review reported earlier this week the Small Business Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, was examining the matter.

“While they’re not bound to do so, I call on all government departments to lead by example and ensure their contractual agreements with small businesses aren’t at odds with legislation outlawing unfair ‘take it or leave it’ contract terms,” she said.

“The reason the government set up the ombudsman’s office is to act on behalf of small businesses who become involved in exactly these sorts of situations.”

Mr Stefanic assured the committee there would be no repercussions for Mr Calabria from the coffee stoush being made public, despite the publicity being “less than desirable”.

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