Confusion over low-interest loans for businesses hit by bushfires

For several months, small business owners in the Mountains have hoped that the federal government would fulfill an election promise to make low-interest loans available to those suffering after the bushfires.

The good news is, it has. In late December, the promise was kept and natural disaster recovery guidelines amended to reflect the new policy.

The bad news is, more than six weeks later, the loans are still not available. The state government — which is now responsible for the scheme — has still to finalise how it will work.

And neither level of government has made any public announcement about the loans, to the distress of Susan Templeman, former Labor candidate for Macquarie.

“What angers me about the failure of the federal government to announce this initiative is that it has extended the difficulties for local businesses,” she said.

 “For the last month, any business that was agonising about whether to try and hang on, and whether they can recover from the hit to their cash flow since the fires, or whether to keep staff on, have had no idea that there was an option available for them to consider.”

One businessman keen to get a bit of a financial boost is Chris Cannell from Hotel Blue in Katoomba. 

“If it becomes available, the second we can apply we will be there,” he said, but he had been concerned about the delay.

“I have wondered whether the government was dragging their feet purposely so by the time they released it [the policy] it wouldn’t apply to the bushfire-affected businesses. I think a lot of people would have just given up by now and said, well the government isn’t going to do anything.”

Mr Cannell said a loan would help him recover from a horror period since October when bookings had dropped off dramatically.

When the Gazette asked the Federal Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, why there had been no press release or other publicity about the loans, he declined to address the question. Instead, a spokesman said: “Labor had six years to implement this type of support for small businesses and never did.”

The spokesman also said that it was now up to individual states and territories to decide what measures would be activated and for administering any assistance “as they are best placed to understand the needs of disaster affected communities”.

The Gazette then asked the NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Mike Gallacher, when the loans might be available and when he might tell businesses that help was on its way. The reply was a single sentence: “I understand that the new concessional loans that the federal government have proposed are currently being assessed.”

Under the disaster guidelines, the loans of up to $100,000, when they do become available, will be able to be used on salaries and wages, to pay creditors, to pay rent or rates or for fuel and other supplies essential to the business.

Springwood-based Senator Doug Cameron called for the immediate provision of the loans.

“A combination of weak and ineffective local members and disjointed state and federal relationships has hindered economic recovery as businesses should have had access to concessional loans weeks, if not months, ago,” he said.

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