Bushfire response to business must be swift and accessible

Following the discussions with the Prime Minister, Treasurer and Small Business Minister in Canberra on Tuesday which was attended by a broad group of business chambers and peak bodies, it is clear that while many options are on the table, the government’s response must be swift due to deteriorating economic conditions on the ground.

The Illawarra Business Chamber – which attended the meeting and has consulted widely with businesses and local chambers that it supports across the Shoalhaven, South Coast, Snowy Mountains, and Southern Highlands – says that while a number of sensible options for support and assistance were on the table, the end result must be sufficient to ensure business viability and easy to access.

The government did acknowledge an appreciation of the key issues, which include:

  • The urgent need for cashflow support.
  • The collapse of the peak trading season for these tourism-reliant regions and the need for a coordinated effort for visitation to resume as soon as possible.
  • Eligibility for the $15,000 Small Business Assistance Grants – only businesses suffering direct damage to their premises or equipment may qualify.
  • The insurance status of businesses that did not suffer actual damage from the fires but have nonetheless suffered economic damage from cancellations or a sudden drop in customers.

Illawarra Business Chamber Executive Director Adam Zarth said that a number of solutions were on the table and that a government small business assistance package was expected imminently, following the announcement of $75,000 grants to primary producers impacted by the fires.

“Following Tuesday’s meeting, the Government is fully aware that it needs to offer immediate support to bridge the gap for struggling businesses in these communities, and we hope to see this arrive in days not weeks,” said Mr Zarth.

“We expect to see local contractors prioritised in the rebuilding process, including service providers like accountants and lawyers as well as trades, and want to be sure that all government support is streamlined and simple to access.”

“I favour solutions that will see any revenue stay in the hands of these businesses as they recover, including the temporary forgiveness of state and federal taxes, as well as major domestic visitation campaigns that will boost their economies year-round.”

“Employers are focused on looking after their staff during this period, while complying with the law, which is why our workplace legal advice line service is currently free to all affected businesses.”

Among the potential solutions are:

  • Various short-term cashflow solutions, including the deferral or forgiveness of GST owed to the ATO.
  • A voucher system to allow SMEs to access financial advice from local accountants who can help them navigate available grants or loans etc.
  • A funded tourism campaign to persuade tourists to come back to the impacted tourist destinations, including an idea to run a campaign called “rebook not refund”.
  • A commitment from big business to be patient when seeking payment of invoices by impacted SMEs.
  • The need for the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to work with local representatives to ensure that the solutions offered for each town / village impacted are suitable and tailored for that location.
  • The need to ensure local contractors are given first opportunity to participate in the rebuilding activity.

/Public Release. View in full here.