Robbie Robertson, owner of Top Lake Boat Hire Merimbula and Sunsets Kiosk, addressed a letter last week to the heads of the NSW and the federal governments, urging them for immediate help.
As a business owner on the Far South Coast whose business hasn’t been directly damaged by the devastating fires that ravaged the area, Mr Robertson penned a letter on behalf of all small business owners in his community, urging the government to pay attention to businesses affected by the loss of tourism/trade.
Speaking to My Business, Mr Robertson said that money is in short supply for many of his fellow small business owners, a majority of whom can’t pay their bills and have had to lay off staff.
He explained that while the government is offering grants to businesses physically impacted by the fires, others like his are being overlooked.
“Yes, there is talk of BAS relief and GST relief... on what? If you don’t have business coming through the door, there is virtually no BAS or GST involved.
“We will still have the quarter before to pay for, again, out of what?”
Addressing loans of up to $500,000 for businesses that have suffered significant asset loss or a significant loss of revenue, announced by the government on Monday, Mr Robertson pointed out that a great majority of businesses suffering on the back of the bushfire crisis have an annual turnover of less than $500,000 and make “little if any profit”.
“How would we repay a loan? It’s not as if we get a boomer year and double turnover; mostly our turnover is relatively static.
“As a business owner, I can’t claim any relief as an individual, yet my income is changed as is our staff and those we had to let go. Is it assumed small business owners are wealthy?”
Mr Robertson reminded that while a majority of businesses on the coast are small, they are major employers. He regretfully shared that Top Lake Boat Hire has also had to let four employees go.
“We have two staff left out of six. With the obvious lesser spend both from tourism and locals, we don’t know how long that will last. I’m sure many others are in similar straits. If we don’t get some help, what then?” he said.
“I see farmers can get grants up to $75,000 and I don’t begrudge that in the least. They are our food bowl. Yet small businesses are one of the major employers in the country and so far nothing.”
Mr Robertson urged: “We need help and we need it now.”
On Monday, the government announced small businesses impacted by the bushfires are set to receive new grants, concessional loans, tax relief and a dedicated single contact point to help them get back on their feet.
However, Mr Robertson’s business is likely to miss out on grants because it has not been directly damaged by the fires.
‘We can only imagine the stress’
On Tuesday morning, the Small Business Commissioner for NSW issued a short statement assuring small businesses that it is listening.
“We can only imagine the stress and strain impacted small business owners must be feeling. While we can’t take that away, we’re trying to help by listing in one place all the practical support available to businesses affected by the fires.”
Earlier this month, the commissioner admitted that while the number of small businesses directly impacted by the fires is small, the indirect impacts are still unknown and could be significant.
“The summer holiday season can be the most profitable time of the year for many small businesses located in areas of the state devastated by the fires,” it said, adding that the NSW government is working “hard to provide assistance”.