National

Cash is king for bushfire-hit businesses

By AAP Newswire

Cash is king for bushfire affected small businesses with immediate, on-the-ground assistance making the difference between operators surviving or going under, an inquiry has been told.

In towns like Mogo, on the NSW south coast, a quarter of local businesses lost their land and buildings during the 2019-2020 summer bushfires.

Business Council Australia's chief executive Jennifer Westacott told the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements many of the traders were unique to Mogo and a magnet for tourists.

"The crucial thing for people, both from an income point of view but (also) from a dignity and purpose and sense of hope point of view, they want to get up and running again," Ms Westacott said on Friday.

The BCA had people on the ground in the days following the fires to offer $1 million in vouchers to local businesses.

Lisa Paul, BCA's BizRebuild co-ordinator, said the vouchers were put in peoples' hands on the day with no application forms or red tape.

"The accountability trail came later after they had used it, and we actually do get the invoices," she said.

Together with practical help including new tools and vehicles, people could also use the vouchers to get marketing, accounting and legal advice.

Less than two months after fire had ravaged nearly 80 per cent of the town, the BCA's BizRebuild project trucked 13 demountable buildings donated by utilities group ATCO to create a pop-up mall for six local businesses.

The initiative will run for two years and keep local traders running while they navigate insurance and rebuilding.

"We're looking at something similar at the moment in Cobargo and Kangaroo Island," Ms Paul said.

However, the damage from bushfires extended beyond the smoke and flames, with the loss of summer trade costing some small businesses between 40 to 90 per cent in lost income.

Shortly after the disaster a business round table survey of local councils and business groups found the top two concerns of regional small businesses were cash flow, cash relief and business development.

The BCA will be offering individual and community-based business development advice to help people prepare for the forthcoming summer but have been hampered by the coronavirus outbreak.

"If we can continue to unlock the economy from COVID-19 restrictions, then we can start helping businesses with their development plans for ramping up for that summer period," Ms Paul said.

She called for a national body to streamline recovery, with a community-based group on the ground in the immediate aftermath to help people navigate the claims process and help life get back to normal as quickly as possible.