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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15541

Mr NAIRN (12:28 PM) —I speak today to highlight some great news for the people of Eden-Monaro, in particular small business operators severely affected by the destructive bushfires earlier this year. Yesterday I joined the Minister for Tourism and Small Business, Joe Hockey, for the announcement of cash grants under the federal government's small business bushfire relief program. Almost half a million dollars will be paid out to 158 small business operators in Eden-Monaro in the coming days. The federal government announced the special cash grants program back in March, after I took Minister Hockey to the Snowy Mountains. The 158 local small business operators will receive up to $3,000 each after putting forward applications last month. I am also extremely pleased to say that every single qualifying applicant from Eden-Monaro has had a grant approved. The federal government actually increased the original $2 million program by nearly half a million dollars to ensure that every eligible business that applied from right around the country will receive a much needed cash boost.

Applications were lodged from a range of businesses from the tourism, retail, service, food, and forestry and logging industries. Many local farmers who suffered stock, fodder and fencing losses were also eligible. The cash grants were in addition to the generous support received by many from people in the community through donation appeals. They were also in addition to other assistance programs and compensation from insurance companies. All of this assistance will help bushfire victims get back on their feet. These cash grants will be crucial for some, as they will allow many Snowy Mountains businesses to get back on their feet just before the busy winter season.

I was extremely pleased to see that Allan and Jenny from Tinderry Mountain Dried Foods were able to be on hand for the announcement yesterday. They contacted my office seeking help after being forced to shut down their business for a month to fight fires around Michelago. Allan is the local fire captain at Anembo, and Jenny takes care of the communications. This necessary action almost forced them to close their business. But, after substantial hardships, things are on the improve. On top of this, they can now expect $3,000 to be deposited into their bank account within a few days. This will allow staff to be paid and their four-wheel drive to be repaired, which is a must with winter almost here.

I know that Norm and his father, Peter, at the Cooma Motor Lodge were also recipients of this grant, which they greatly appreciated. Their business virtually stopped overnight at the time of the fires. A big part of their business was coaches coming through the area in January. With the fires blazing in the region, those sorts of tours stopped overnight so their business also stopped. There was virtually no income for that month. Unfortunately, they were not given any of the volunteers who were coming down to fight the fires to stay with them. I do not think that enough was done with respect to making sure that all the businesses got a share of that.

These grants are another example of how the federal government listens to small business operators and then delivers. The grants total almost half a million dollars in Eden-Monaro and will also provide a great economic boost in towns like Thredbo, Jindabyne and Cooma. It is reasonable to assume that this money will probably change hands locally at least three times.

I also inform the House today that the Snowy-Monaro Business Enterprise Centre—or BEC, as it is known—recently celebrated its 10th birthday. The federal government has been a major supporter of the Snowy-Monaro BEC over the years. It has in the past provided a $440,000-odd grant to purchase and renovate the former army reserve depot in Cooma that the BEC now calls home. That funding allowed the building to be modified into a modern office complex, providing a valuable resource for the Cooma business community. It has to be said that, because of the BEC's support, many small businesses have not only got off the ground but also gone on to major success.

In particular, I would like to single out John Mercer, the manager of the BEC, for his continued determined efforts for the area's business operators. The BEC is also now an AusIndustry business partner, which provides clients with direct access to the officials they need to deal with. This is yet another example of how the federal government is helping small business, particularly throughout the regional areas of my electorate.