Subject/s: Small business recovery grants, drought
NATARSHA BELLING: Okay, well today talking about bushfires, the Federal Government has unveiled a package of grants, loans and tax assistance to help small business operators and their families in the fire‑ravaged areas get back on their feet. Here to tell us more and the details of this support is Small Business Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash joining us from Canberra. Senator, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
MINISTER CASH: Good morning, and good morning to your viewers.
NATARSHA BELLING: Now what will the loans look like and how much is being allocated?
MINISTER CASH: Okay, so in the first instance under the disaster recovery fund assistance, we are increasing the amount that a small business is able to claim to up to $50,000 tax‑free. So, if you're a small business and you are in one of the disaster‑declared areas and you have been directly impacted by the fire, you can now apply for up to $50,000 as a grant tax‑tree to ensure that you're able to clean up and rebuild your business. We're also, providing to small businesses in the affected areas. So, for example you could be a small business that's not in a disaster‑declared area, but you're a small business that has been affected by the fires by way of, say, loss of income. We're providing you with the ability to apply for a concessional loan up to $500,000. No repayments, no interest accruing for two years. The term of the loan is up to ten years and the interest rate that would accrue after that 2‑year holiday period is around 0.6%. So, this is all about responding to the needs of small businesses on the ground so that they can build back better and get back to doing what we know they want to do, which is to be the life‑blood of the local community.
KERRI‑ANNE KENNERLEY: Indeed. Senator, what sort of numbers are we talking about? The number of small businesses affected?
MINISTER CASH: So, in the disaster‑declared areas there are approximately 192,000 small businesses and sole traders but, of course, we do not expect all of those businesses to apply and they certainly won't all be applying for the up to $50,000 grant. But certainly, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made it clear ‑ this is an uncapped program and our number one priority at the moment is ensuring that these small businesses, the lifeblood of the community, have access to the funding that they need to clean up, to rebuild and get back on with business. That is why we're making these really important announcements today.
ANGELA BISHOP: Senator, small business ombudsman Kate Carnell says low‑cost loans will be meaningless if they're offered to small businesses that have no prospect of paying back that money. How are you addressing that very genuine concern?
MINISTER CASH: Yeah, so certainly the feedback that we've received across the board, but in particular from the small business roundtable that we had last week, was that these loans are required. So I'll need to disagree with the ombudsman in that regard, but certainly to qualify for the loan you do need to show that you have a sustainable business and that you intend to continue to operate your business in that community. Look, we have got different grants, different loans available for different situations and certainly, we're responding to the needs that we have been told businesses require on the ground. That also includes ‑ and this was a really fundamental one when I've been talking to small businesses over the last few weeks and certainly at the roundtable last week ‑ the deferral of the BAS and the income tax return until May the 28th. Something that sounds so simple is something that was so desperately needed on the ground and it is also something that the government has responded to.
RICHARD REID: Well, you've presented this very well, sounds good so far, but in the past small business owners have complained about the right of red tape, the time it takes with accessing Federal Government grants. Are you going to expedite this, or are they going to be complaining about all the red tape again?
MINISTER CASH: The Prime Minister has made it very, very clear. It does not matter what the grant you are applying for is, or a concessional loan. We need to make this process as simple as possible. Around $50 million has already been paid out by way of disaster recovering grants. We are working with the States. The States already have in place the processes. We are not going to swoop in and put in place another process at a Federal level. This is all about working with the processes that are already available and making them as simple and effective as possible and the Prime Minister's been clear. We want that money out the door now.
KERRI‑ANNE KENNERLEY: And while the Prime Minister's been fast and forward on that Senator, he was not last year, so fast and forward with people who are experiencing drought, which is affecting the whole country and will continue. We saw the dust storms blowing in over Dubbo and those areas. These are people who were also suffering and, of course, we cannot overlook the bushfire response that you've had, but what are you and what is the Prime Minister going to do about that issue?
MINISTER CASH: Well again, we have comprehensive plans that are already in place and being rolled out. And even if you look at, for example, last week the announcement that was made in relation to primary producers albeit in this case affected by the bushfires, we look at a situation, we assess the need and we respond. In terms of my focus at this particular point in time and certainly the announcements today, it is all about responding to the needs of small businesses and sole traders. We can't forget that there are tens of thousands of sole traders out there whose businesses have been impacted and ensuring that they have the capacity to get back on their feet, build back better, but also do what we need them to do and this is of course, return to being that lifeblood of their local community.
NATARSHA BELLING: But will you be giving the drought affected fires everywhere across Australia and Federal and businesses, will you be giving them the same leg up you are giving others?
MINISTER CASH: Again, there are different processes in place. My role today is in relation to the bushfires. There is a separate process already in place for the drought and that has been rolling out now over a very, very long period of time. There was also a separate process put in place in relation to, for example, the floods in Queensland. So as a government our role is to listen and to respond. In particular from my perspective on the bushfires, it is to respond to what small businesses are telling us they so desperately need now on the ground. Not just in the disaster‑declared areas, but more broadly in the affected areas. And if I could give one message to your viewers, it's if you could get out and go and visit one of those small businesses. For example, I know that so many people went down to Braidwood on the weekend and it has been a great success in getting money back into those communities. You know, do that, because it's all about ensuring that we as consumers to the extent that we can, are also able to support those small businesses on the ground.
NATARSHA BELLING: Senator, thank you for your time, let's hope those people that so desperately need the support get it. Thanks so much for joining us.
MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, thank you.