Small businesses across bushfire-affected communities in southern NSW have reported a complete collapse in cashflow being the most pressing operational issue faced in the wake of the recent disaster.

As the regional chamber that supports businesses and local chambers across the South Coast, Snowy Mountains, Southern Highlands and the Shoalhaven, the Illawarra Business Chamber has been talking to businesses on the ground in bushfire affected communities to understand the immediate pressures they face.

Ten key themes emerged in these conversations (listed below), and businesses were also advised of a range of services immediately available to them from all levels of government, as well as the business chamber and other community organisations (also listed below).

Executive Director of the Illawarra Business Chamber, Adam Zarth, said that small businesses across the affected required immediate practical measures to address their cashflow alongside more long-term solutions.

“The viability of small businesses is integral to the survival and recovery of our bushfire-affected communities, but right now the situation is very fragile for many,” said Mr Zarth.

“The majority of businesses across the affected areas are tourism-dependent and many rely on the summer period – so they are now coming to terms with an entire year’s profit being written off following a bad year struggling through drought.”

“Many are concerned about finance; in either their ability to service existing loans or to obtain new loans to rebuild. Others are concerned about being uninsured, underinsured, having their premiums go up or the increased cost of rebuilding if fire ratings are enhanced.”

“In addition, they have been hit hard by costs incurred during the crisis, where many happily donated goods and services to emergency services personnel, tourists and members of the community.”

“Staffing is a worry for many, given the seasonality of trade, with many paying staff despite barely trading, and others believing that they won’t be able to attract workforce back to the region.”

“While its pleasing to see the mobilisation of government assistance, including the state government’s $15,000 recovery grants and the Australian Taxation Office’s lodgment and payment deferrals, there are concerns about how long it would take for other measures to come online and for visitation to resume.”

“In the next few days we will be talking to government about these issues, and will be advocating for all businesses affected through the coming weeks and months of recovery.”

Media Contact: Adam Zarth – 0404 146 829

Ten issues confronting bushfire-affected businesses

  1. Cashflow. Given the near collapse of tourism and other demand in the bushfire-affected areas over the last few weeks, combined with the drought, many businesses have no income. The $15,000 recovery grants are only available to businesses that suffered direct damage to premises or tools of trade. And while it may cover part of the clean-up it will not keep businesses running; even in the short term.
  2. Finance. Many businesses will not be able to service their loans for the foreseeable future. While banks have indicated their willingness to provide hardship provisions, these will vary across banks and are currently unclear.
  3. Insurance. It has been widely reported that many businesses (and individuals) are either underinsured or not insured at all. Many were concerned at how much their premiums will go up in the wake of the fires.
  4. Donated products and services during the bushfire events. During the bushfire period (which is still ongoing) and its aftermath, businesses have been giving away products and services to emergency services, tourists and the community. While this was done out of goodwill, the cost incurred to businesses has been significant.
  5. Payments for services rendered during the emergency. Some businesses are reporting delayed payments from various customers which is further harming their financial position.
  6. Staffing. Many businesses rely heavily on casual staff coming from outside the region through the summer holiday period, and these costs have been incurred regardless of the outcome due to bushfires. Some also provide accommodation, which add to the non-recoverable overheads.
  7. Decline in visitation. Much of the affected areas are tourism destinations that rely on the months of December, January and February to survive the rest of the year. With these months a write-off, many tourism operators and related small businesses do not expect to recover. Some businesses noted that while community safety is paramount, the degree of areas declared ‘no go zones’ combined with major road closures has resulted in harm to nearby communities not immediately bushfire affected.
  8. Devastation of farms. The impacts on farms across these regions is significant, and this includes the need for clearing in the immediate term (including of dead livestock), repairing and replacing fencing. Recovery will be challenged by a lack of livestock, feed and damaged agricultural land.
  9. Environmental damage. A key factor driving visitation to the regions, the slow recovery of the natural environment will impact on these economies.
  10. Electricity outages. While a short-term issue, outages have caused further damage to many businesses, through cashless transactions being unavailable and food spoilage.

Where to turn for help

Government assistance for business:

  1. Rural Assistance Authority recovery grants of up to $15,000 for impacted small businesses and primary producers. They also offer low interest loans of up to $130,000. Call them on 1800 678 593. Information here: https://www.raa.nsw.gov.au/grants/disaster-recovery-grants/bushfires
  2. The Australian Taxation Office has granted automatic exemptions from activity statements lodgements and payments for businesses in bushfire affected postcodes. For more information: https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Dealing-with-disasters/In-detail/Specific-disasters/Bushfires-2019-20/
  3. Lost vehicle registrations and other documents are being supported through Service NSW. Details here: https://www.service.nsw.gov.au/assistance-bushfire-affected-communities

(This fact sheet contains further details: https://www.nswbusinesschamber.com.au/NSWBC/media/GeneralMediaLibrary/Bushfire-Assistance-Support-7-January-2020.pdf )

Assistance from the Business Chamber:

  1. We are offering free employment law advice to all bushfire affected employers on 13 29 59. We may be able to provide support in relation to employer obligations, so that they can feel confident that you are doing the right thing by their employees.
  2. For other issues, all businesses can contact our Business Hotline on 13 26 96 for additional support regarding practical or operational matters.

Businesses are encouraged to call the Illawarra Business Chamber for other forms of advice and assistance on (02) 4229 4722.

Information sourced from NSW Business Chamber.