Australian businesses of all size have begun extending assistance to victims of the bushfire crisis gripping multiple states, while employers are being urged to support volunteer firefighters.
As well as more than 1,000 homes being destroyed so far this fire season — the majority in NSW — many farmers and business owners have seen their livelihoods go up in smoke too. These have included the owners of stores in the CBDs of regional towns devastated by fire, farmers whose livestock have been killed and feed stockpiles destroyed.
Larger businesses have also been wiped out, such as the Selwyn Snow Resort in the NSW Snowy Mountains and Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island.
That is on top of the economic losses sustained by many other businesses from lost trade, evacuations and travel restrictions as well as power and communications outages.
Funds, products, services donated
There has been an overwhelming response from Australian businesses to the bushfire crisis, with many donating money, essential products and services to firefighting efforts and victims of the disaster.
Household names including the major banks have collectively chipped in millions of dollars in donations to relief efforts, while Telstra has made public phone and WI-FI services free for everyone and waived the mobile phone bills for firefighters during December and January.
The ABC reported that some farmers, produce retailers and logistics companies have teamed up to donate hay to affected farmers so that they can feed surviving livestock. Other businesses have offered equipment and heavy machinery — along with their or their employees’ time — to help with clearing roads and driveways, burying deceased livestock and other recovery efforts.
Finance company Liberty donated $250,000 to the Red Cross appeal, and said it would match the donations of staff, customers and partners up to a further $100,000.
Lloyds Auctions announced that it would be holding special bushfire relief auctions, with all proceeds being donated to the cause and all sale fees and costs being waived by the auction house.
“In less than 24 hours since going live, our phones have been ringing off the hook. We are astounded with the amount of support from the public, companies and celebrities donating items to support fellow Australians in need,” Lloyds Auctions COO Lee Hames said in a statement.
“There will be zero costs and zero fees, with 100 per cent of funds donated to charities and fire services including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Wires and the RFS.
“We anticipate to now hold a series of auctions in this next week, which could raise millions of dollars due to the huge response from people wanting to donate whatever they can, whether it be an item, service or experience.”
Mr Hames said that hundreds more items will be incorporated as lots over the next week to be auctioned via its website, and said that bidders can walk away with some “very exciting and popular items” while simultaneously helping those in need.
Meanwhile, the Australian Red Cross has highlighted some of the efforts of many smaller businesses to donate funds to its disaster relief activities. They include:
- Small business owners Shannon Logan, of Jet Black Cat Music record store, and Nick Goding, of local bar The End, co-hosted a live music and bake sale event in Brisbane to raise money.
- Brisbane punk rock band The Black Catapult donating the sale proceeds of its cover of the song When the River Runs Dry.
- Mining company RPM Global raising $5,000 after its CEO volunteered to shave his head if the milestone was reached.
- FIA World Rally Championships organisers and drivers hosting a thank-you function for volunteer firefighters and donating $11,000 to the Red Cross after the Australian leg in Coffs Harbour was cancelled due to fires.
Income support for affected staff
Many businesses, particularly corporates, have been offering support to volunteer firefighters, in a bid to offset their lost earnings from being away from work and on the firefronts for extended periods.
“As a business community, we seek to expand our support for them, and for the local communities they are fighting to save,” the Business Council of Australia’s president, Tim Reed, said.
“On that basis, we have written to our members to encourage all companies to support their volunteer staff with a minimum of 20 days paid leave.
“We know that many companies, such as ANZ, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Qantas, Rio Tinto, Virgin Australia, Wesfarmers, Westpac, Woodside and Woolworths have already announced they are providing paid leave for emergency services volunteers. We ask others to follow their lead.”
Small businesses without the financial capacity to offer such paid leave to volunteer staff, as well as people who are self-employed, have been offered support by the federal government, which announced it would establish grants for NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers by the end of January to help cover at least some of their lost earnings.
Do you give or are you considering offering paid leave to your employees who are volunteer firefighters? Have your say on the My Business straw poll.
All of these efforts from the private sector come on top of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement on Monday (6 January) of an initial $2 billion in funding over two years for a new National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which would provide assistance to small businesses and farmers, as well as Australian families, impacted by the deadly fires.
“The agency will ensure the work of state and territory governments is being supported and act as a ‘one-stop shop’ central team to coordinate the response,” he said.
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has also set up a dedicated bushfire disaster support portal for individuals and small businesses impacted by the fires to help them navigate the insurance and financial hardship assistance processes.
How you can donate
There have been many fundraisers and appeals set up by charities, organisations and individuals to help support victims of the bushfires and support those on the front line.
Some of the major appeals include:
- Australian Red Cross
- Westpac’s donation appeal for the NSW Rural Fire Service
- Givit’s disaster and emergency recovery service in Queensland
- The SA Country Fire Service
- Victoria’s Country Fire Authority
- WWF’s (World Wildlife Fund) Australian bushfire emergency appeal
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.