Queensland resilience will help small business bounce back
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) said small businesses had taken a huge hit from Cyclone Debbie, but would bounce back with the help of governments, banks, insurance and tourists returning to the region.
The damage bill was expected to top $1 billion as the widespread impact of the cyclone and its 260km/hr winds only became apparent today. Heavy rain and flooding was forecast for southern parts of the state over the next few days.
CCIQ General Manager of Advocacy Kate Whittle said previous natural disasters in Queensland, including tropical cyclones Marcia, Oswald, Ita and Yasi, showed that the indirect impacts of these several weather events were often far worse than the direct impacts.
“We have seen in recent years that many businesses did not have to be directly impacted from flooding or strong winds to be seriously financially impacted. Cyclone Debbie will prove to be no exception and hopefully we can take advantage of those lessons learned,” she said.
Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 system which hit northern Queensland in February 2011, produced a devastating economic impact, with a damage bill estimated at $800 million. Cyclone Debbie’s damage bill would almost certainly be higher as the impact was wider.
“With Yasi, 55 per cent of small businesses lost power and 24 per cent were inundated. The average material damage cost to businesses from Yasi was $90,000,” Ms Whittle said.
“Insurance claims topped 50,000, with insured losses estimated at $655 million. With Yasi, three out of five businesses had to wait over six months for insurance claims to be settled, which was far too long.
“We are urging insurance companies to do whatever they can to help out the business community.”
While the clean-up had only just begun, CCIQ acknowledged that some businesses in the region would be looking ahead to the upcoming school holidays and Easter break. Some had already pleaded with tourists not to cancel planned trips, despite the damage.
“The cyclone has hit one of Queensland’s top tourism destinations – a lot of these towns rely on visitor numbers to keep the local economy healthy,” Ms Whittle said.
“It is imperative that authorities help those tourism-related businesses be in a position to reopen for the holidays and welcome people back to the region, to spend their time and money, and help get business back on its feet.
“We acknowledge that it’s going to be a tough road ahead for some, but we are optimistic that many businesses will be able to reopen their doors in time for the Easter holidays.”
Ms Whittle said businesses should seek out whatever government assistance was being offered. Previously, governments had provided emergency hardship or stress payments and it was likely a similar arrangement would be in place.
“Other types of assistance, such as emotional support, food packages and general relief is also available through organisations such as the Salvation Army,” she said.
“North Queenslanders are among the strongest, most resilient people. They have certainly had their share of severe weather events, which have had a devastating effect on businesses, but they have always bounced back.
“We have no doubt that the communities in the affected areas will once again band together, help their neighbours out, and support their local businesses once the clean-up has begun.”
“CCIQ will provide support to the business community. This includes our employer assistance line for businesses to call and seek advice on how to manage staffing and any other issues.”
Ms Whittle said there would be a wider economic impact on Queensland with the temporary closure of the Mackay, Hay Point and Abbot Point coal ports.
“The Port of Townsville was also closed and this port handles approximately $30 million in trade per day.
“With Yasi, there was definitely a sharp drop in export volumes and that dragged the Australian GDP down sharply. It was estimated that the stoppage of coal ships coming in and out of the ports costed us $100 million a day.
“The Bowen Basin accounts for nearly 60 per cent of coking coal exports and the extent of the impact will depend on whether the damage is restricted to the transport networks or if it includes flooding of the mines as well. At present, it seems the mines were not in the path of the cyclone.
“It was estimated that Yasi caused a $300 million hit to agricultural production, with banana and sugar cane crops particularly badly hit.
“Half of the Queensland sugar cane crop is at risk as harvest was due to start in coming weeks. The extent of the damage will become clearer today and tomorrow – hopefully it is not too significant as our farmers are already experiencing very challenging times.”
CCIQ urged the small business community south of the cyclone impact zone to ready itself with heavy rain, flooding and strong winds forecast for at least the next two days.