Local businesses need better support from bushfire impact, Senate Inquiry told

One of the lessons to be learned from last summer’s bushfire season is ensuring smoke affected ACT businesses are better supported, according to a Canberra Business Chamber Senate inquiry submission lodged today.

“The Canberra and capital region community was uniquely affected by the bushfires,” Chamber CEO Graham Catt said. “We suffered comparatively little burning of houses or commercial premises, yet the severe, extended smoke pollution which enveloped the region had a major impact on residents and businesses, reducing trade and forcing many businesses to close their doors.

“Businesses that rely on summer holiday trade sustained financial losses, especially in the retail and tourism sectors, and others were forced to operate at reduced capacity.”

“Yet financial and practical support for business was limited, as smoke-induced losses and damage were largely ignored by Federal Government relief programs.”

The Chamber gave the example of the business assistance programs listed on the commonwealth’s bushfire recovery website, and specifically the webpage “Small businesses | National Bushfire Recovery Agency”. It lists many financial support measures, but ACT businesses are excluded from the $50,000 recovery grants program.

It is an example of how local businesses were apparently overlooked by policymakers and existing support systems, Mr Catt said.

“Government seemed to regard smoke-induced loss as a nuisance and short-term impact, rather than as a genuine business problem. In practice, though, we learned the hard way smoke-induced losses can be just as significant as a fire itself. A business that can’t open its door because of damaging smoke loses as much income as a business that cannot open its door because there is a fire nearby.”

The Chamber is calling for federal, state and territory governments to work together and develop a consistent set of small business support measures for future natural disasters.

“Australian governments have developed a patchwork of different approaches to business support and recovery during fire and other disasters. Support varies significantly from one state to another; the rules governing their applicability also vary; and information dissemination by governments also varies. This is confusing and inefficient.

“The Chamber would be happy to work with governments on any such initiative. After all, we’re all here to help business and save jobs.”