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Bushfire loans, grants should be easier to get, small businesses say

Her father Ron Snape, a former farmer and cabin owner of five decades in the area, said friends in the local business community were struggling with the paperwork required to access government help.

“I’ve had people tell me there’s so much paperwork, there’s as much as the farmers in drought-affected areas were subjected to,” Mr Snape said. “We don’t ask for handouts and we don’t get them, but by Christ what’s happened down here, we need assistance.”

The federal government has made concessional loans of up to $500,000 available to businesses that have had a “significant loss of income”, including through a loss of tourist trade, or “significant damage” to their assets as a result of the fires. Those that have been physically damaged can also access grants of up to $50,000.

Labor’s small business spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, said businesses urgently needed to know what those terms meant in practice so they could decide whether to apply for a loan.

“Small businesses remain anxious and uncertain about their future, with questions remaining as to which businesses are eligible, how they apply, and if they are eligible, when will the money start flowing?” Mr O’Connor said.

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The Commonwealth has made the money available to the states, which are responsible for administering the loans.

Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash told the ABC the loans would help businesses ineligible for the grants.

“This is all about responding to the needs of small businesses on the ground, getting that cash out to them, so that they can rebuild and get back to … being the backbone of their community,” Senator Cash said.

The government on the weekend also announced a $76 million push to revive tourism in affected areas.

Mr O’Connor said the government’s promise of a Small Business Bushfire Financial Support Line and 10 financial counsellors providing advice was insufficient when 200,000 small businesses were estimated to have been affected.

“That’s one counsellor for every 20,000 businesses, which is completely insufficient,” Mr O’Connor said.

A spokeswoman for Senator Cash said the counsellors would provide advice to about 100 people a day “in making financial choices about the future and recovery”.

“However, as with any policy in this area, the Prime Minster has been clear that we will listen and act if the recovery efforts need to be updated to changes in needs and demand,” the spokeswoman said.

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, said business owners should go to their local accountants and bookkeepers for advice.

“You don’t want to cut their lunch” Mr Strong said.

He said overall the government’s assistance package was welcome but that businesses need to know quickly if they were eligible¬†for help.

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