Barnaby Joyce told nearly 100 business owners and operators it was time for them to get off government welfare and "stand on their own two feet".
The Member for New England gave a somewhat pessimistic speech to Wednesday's State of the Nation event. He told the business owners and operators programs like JobKeeper were running up the nation's "overdraft" and would one day "dry up".
"If you're relying on those government payments that's a very bad spot to be in," he said.
"You've got to be able to stand on your own two feet and be resilient.
"Or you've got to plan now as to how you're going to manage it. Don't wait for that moment to come, because it is definitely coming."
Business Chamber President Jye Segboer said the comments showed Mr Joyce was out of touch.
"Until we actually see borders open and the economy get back into a full swing, we really are going to see businesses still struggling," he said.
"We're going to see tourism businesses still struggle, we're going to see transport businesses still struggle, we're going to see the airline industry still struggle.
"Until we see borders fully open in Australia, working as one nation again, we are going to see more struggling businesses ahead."
The former Deputy Prime Minister told the meeting he also wanted borders to reopen as quickly as possible.
He warned Tamworth's business community the world would likely enter a global recession.
And he referred attendees to the Australian Office of Financial Management website, which, he said, showed the nation's "overdraft".
The AEFO website shows Australia currently owes $787.7 billion in government debt, nearly 55 per cent of GDP.
Government debt has never been cheaper. The current interest rate for a 15 year government bond is just 1.12 per cent.
Minister for Small Business Senator Michaelia Cash spoke at the lunchtime event from her home state of WA.
Asked what government was doing to help resolve skills shortages in the Tamworth region, Senator Cash said they had slashed the dole to encourage nearly a million unemployed people back to work.
She revealed government would soon announce additional measures to encourage unemployed people to undertake seasonal work, like fruit picking.
"There will be announcements - hopefully in the next week or so - as to the further measures the government is going to put in place to encourage in particular those 921,000 people, and in particular the job-ready ones who are not ready to go back into their old job to undertake this type of work," she said.
"There will be further announcements."