Independently owned supermarkets such as IGAs are facing stock challenges – including an oversupply of fruit, vegetables and meat that are at risk of going off as locals and tourists desert the fire-singed communities.
At the same time, some isolated towns in New South Wales and Victoria need to restock supplies for firefighters beating back nearby blazes, said Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Peter Strong.
Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud, who met Mr Strong in Canberra on Friday, said money would flow “in a matter of days”.
He said the tourism, agriculture and environment sectors were among those in line for assistance.
“We are making sure that our response is effective and it’s being led locally,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Those small businesses that are hurting, particularly in those tourism sectors, can take great comfort in the knowledge that their industry leaders are working with us to make sure our response is effective.”
Cash flow struggles
COSBOA’s Mr Strong said small businesses in fire-ravaged communities required real experts on the ground working directly with fuel stations, supermarkets and other businesses central to the functioning of towns.
“There is huge cash flow issues and people aren’t coming back to the regions,” Mr Strong said.
“We’re saying get out and work individually with businesses to make sure they know where money is coming from if they need a quick grant to keep going.”
“The mental health of the self-employed and their staff is also important.”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has launched a website to help fire-affected small-to-medium-sized businesses access critical information in a central location.
“The site lists the available funding and grants from federal and state governments as well information and resources – from financial advice, insurance and tax – to what work health and safety precautions business owners need to take,” ACCI said.
COSBOA is asking big business to stop sending robo-debt messages for late-payment reminders to small businesses and individuals in the affected areas.
Federal and state governments have announced $15,000 grants on offer to fire-affected farmers and small business, including in parts of NSW and South Australia, ot help them rebuild.
Local councils in areas torched by the fires will share an initial $60 million from the Morrison government, including urgent payments of $1 million per council.
Labor slams climate change inaction
Separately on Friday, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese stepped up criticisms of the government’s handling of the fire disaster, including Mr Morrison’s “pathetic” leadership on climate change and energy policies.
Mr Albanese backed a “substantial inquiry” into the fires and an ecological audit after Mr Morrison said he would work with states to set up a holistic review, including the contributing factors in the fire disaster, the response and how to better prepare in future.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley said climate change was a factor in the recent hot and dry conditions that helped fuel the fires, but she flagged intentions to review the amount of vegetation that had built up in bushy areas and increased fuel loads.
Ms Ley said she would discuss this with state environment ministers and investigate the potential to use Indigenous-style fire management measures – known as “cool” burns – in targeted areas outside of the summer fire season.
Hazard reduction debate
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said this week that hazard reduction was only part of the answer.
“Hazard reduction is absolutely an important factor when it comes to fire management and managing fire in the landscape but it is not the panacea,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
There was a “shrinking window of opportunity” for burning periods as fire seasons lasted longer, he warned.
In Victoria, just over half of the planned fuel reduction burns were undertaken last year, and just one-third of the public land recommended by the Black Saturday bushfires royal commission was attended to.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would support an “independent, robust” review into the fires.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean told The Sydney Morning Herald this week as part of an inquiry into bushfire management in national parks that there needed to be more hazard reduction to respond to climate change.
“This season’s unprecedented fire conditions show we need to do more hazard reduction burns,” Mr Kean said.
“While National Parks completed more than 75 per cent of the hazard reduction burning in NSW over the past four years, climate change is increasing the risk and we need to respond to that.”