The federal government has announced new measures to attempt to help struggling businesses following the mass-evacuation of thousands of summer tourists due to an unprecedented summer season of bushfires.
If something doesn't happen now, businesses will close.Bega Chamber of Commerce and Industry president John Watkin
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $76million tourism recovery package, and financial support funding for businesses affected by the fires.
The decision follows last week's small business roundtable in Canberra, which saw chambers of commerce from fire-affected regions, including Bega, to discuss the immediate needs of small business.
Bega Chamber of Commerce and Industry president John Watkin said the Prime Minister was "very tuned in" to concerns during the two-hour meeting, and said financial support is needed as soon as possible if businesses are to survive the impact of the natural disaster.
"If something doesn't happen now, businesses will close," Mr Watkin said.
"The key thing for us is that businesses are struggling and cash flows have dried up. We told him people need cash flow help right now and that resonated."
Mr Morrison said small businesses and non-profit organisations affected by the fires will now be able to access grants of up to $50,000, as well as tax relief assistance, and loans of up to $500,000 for businesses who have suffered asset loss or a significant loss of revenue.
"Whatever it takes and whatever it costs, we're going to help these regions to recover and rebuild," Mr Morrison said.
Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly, who has been meeting with coastal business owners along the South Coast, said while he supports the government's move, the money "must be rolled out quickly and effectively".
Meanwhile, members of the Cobargo community have turned to online crowdfunding to bypass the wait for government funds.
Former diplomat and Cobargo resident Zena Armstrong took to social media to say the money raised will go to community projects dealing with trauma, forest regeneration and improving the disaster readiness of the town.
"Unity House" - first building up after the fires. Provides emergency accom for Toby, Nicole and 4 yo Layla, began Mon 13th Jan, finished this week. Built with voluntary labour and materials paid for by public donations and collections from members of the CFMEU and MUA. #Cobargopic.twitter.com/QumC3IOwJs— Zena Armstrong (@zenaarmstrong) January 19, 2020
"$75,000 goes nowhere when you have lost your entire dairy herd, bred for local conditions over years of careful farm management. [It shows] shameless disregard of our farmers and willful neglect of Australia's food security," She Tweeted.
On Sunday the community announced the construction of "Unity House", which provides emergency accommodation for a local family, built with voluntary labour and materials paid for by public donations and collections from union members.
Illawarra Business Chamber Executive Director Adam Zarth called on the government to ensure eligibility criteria for the grants be as broad as possible, sharing concerns not all businesses close to closing their doors will be eligible.
He said he is concerned "the grants will not be available to businesses other than those suffering direct property damage, and the tax concessions provide short term relief through deferrals of liabilities that may later still be applicable once businesses return to profitability".
"The government needs to ensure that all those businesses suffering in the current downturn can access some form of assistance through the loan scheme announced today, by implementing the widest possible eligibility criteria."
Some of the lives overturned in Cobargo. Laura bought this last year, refitted it just before Christmas, bought a range of beautiful product, ethically sourced from small producers she was helping directly. Razed to the ground on NYE. Told to apply for Newstart. #cobargo#auspolpic.twitter.com/NiqpRHNMTk— Zena Armstrong (@zenaarmstrong) January 18, 2020
Bega chamber executive member Tim Shinnick said said he hoped businesses will be able to access the government grants quickly.
"Our farmers need grant assistance for the purchase of generators. Power supply is a huge issue during these times," he said.
"Some farmers have had to dump their milk, and cows can also get mastitis if not milked. This can be a big issue for the supply chain."
Mr Morrison also announced the allocation of $3.5million for a Small Business Bushfire Financial Support Line with financial counsellors available via a phone call.
Tathra Chamber of Commerce executive Carmen Risby said she was disappointed a large portion of the tourism marketing money will be focused at the area's smallest market - foreign tourists.
She said many businesses will already have "shut up shop" before any benefit from the investment will be seen.
"It would be great to think that what is being offered would be easy to access immediately, and filter down to actual businesses to use for fixed costs," Ms Risby said.
"I am disappointed that government feels effected areas will benefit from a large portion of that being international focuses promotion. Most of the effected areas need to get the domestic visitors back. That's immediate and it's our biggest market."
Bega Valley Shire Council has also announced $60,000 will be spent over three months on a marketing campaign, focused on promoting the autumn school holidays and the Easter break, via council contracted company Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing.
"I am making sure that any decisions have Bega Valley front and centre - that's my goal, that the Bega Valley is right up there in the thinking of the state government," mayor Kristy McBain said.
The Bega Valley Economic Development Group said it will also continue to meet weekly, she said.