Earlier this week, ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie joined the CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, Peter Strong, in a meeting with the Andrew Colvin AM – head of the recently established National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

The principal purpose of this meeting was to discuss the secondary financial impacts on local communities and local business as a result of a loss of trade caused by the large scale road closures and mass evacuations of large areas of eastern Australia as a result of the recent bushfires – and what could be done to address these impacts to ensure the ongoing economic well-being of local communities affected by recent disasters (i.e. fires, flood and drought).

The conversation was a positive one and comes as a result of ACAPMA member feedback suggesting that while the financial impact on most businesses in our industry has been mild to date, there are signs that many of the local communities in which our businesses are operating are struggling financially as a result of the recent disasters.

ACAPMA continues to work with all Australian Governments on strategic issues arising from the bushfires. We are also working to ensure that all of the businesses that comprise our industry – and their business customers – are aware of the assistance that is available to small and medium businesses in the wake of the recent natural disasters (see our previous story, Emergency Support For Disaster Affected Businesses.

Just three days after Monday’s meeting with Andrew Colvin, the Prime Minister announced that Australia was enacting an emergency response plan to the coronavirus (COVID19) with a view to preparing for what appears to be an imminent virus pandemic around the globe.

It goes without saying that this announcement is both necessary and prudent and is advanced from a position of preparation rather than panic. Clearly, all precautions should be taken to protect Australians from harm. The activation of the National Coronavirus Health Sector Emergency Response Plan outlines a tiered approach to any future outbreaks, with provision made for government to escalate actions in the face of virus outbreaks – including forced quarantine of geographic areas if necessary.

“Like the bushfires, however, the emergency response to this second ‘disaster’ could potentially result in local communities being locked down to prevent the spread of an outbreak – with consequent financial impacts on business trading”, said Mark

It is interesting to note that countries currently dealing with the outbreak, including Hong Kong and Singapore, have advanced economic assistance for business as part of their total response plan. To date, this is something that the Australian Government has not formally considered, but ACAPMA has commenced conversations in partnership with other national industry bodies with a view to promoting consideration of economic assistance measures.

It is fair to say that 2020 is going to be a difficult trading year for most businesses.

“Any action that rightly seeks to lock down communities to prevent spread of a virus outbreak will undoubtedly impact businesses – particularly small businesses – coming hot on the heels of the financial impacts of the recent fire and flood disasters in the country”, said Mark

“It is akin to a boxer being knocked down and then just as they are picking themselves up of the canvas lifting their head to see another swinging blow coming towards them”, added Mark.

“If we are lucky (and prepared), we might just be able to duck this second blow, but we must also prepare for a second hit just in case”, added Mark

As providers of fuel, we are perhaps more cushioned than most other sectors to a downturn, but if significant shut down of local communities occurs then we too will experience significant and sustained reductions in turnover.

But Australians are resilient. We will get through this – particularly if we turn our minds to how to protect our businesses (and the employment of our people) in a sustained period of low turnover. This means that we need to closely monitor developments of the coronavirus – not with a view to working out when we should panic, but rather, knowing if, and when, the local area in which we are operating might experience a downturn as a result of a virus pandemic.

These are very different times and ACAPMA has altered its advocacy and government engagement activity accordingly. This includes working closely with strategic forums being implemented by Australian Governments to coordinate timely communications on the emergency and economic response to both the recent natural disasters – and the growing risk of a major virus outbreak. In turn, this information will be shared with the industry as it comes to hand.

In the meantime, ACAPMA is interested in hearing from members about genuine need for financial and other assistance of fuel businesses and/or the communities in which they operate.

“We expect to be engaged with government in ongoing discussions about what can be done to minimise the financial impacts of these back to back disasters and are therefore looking for feedback from our members about any specific financial concerns arising from these events – and or ideas about how these concerns might be addressed”, said Mark.

Members wishing to provide input to this process are strongly encouraged to provide feedback by emailing communications@acapma.com.au or by calling Mark McKenzie on 0447 444 011.