Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson interview with Ricardo Gonçalves.
SBS On The Money
Subject: Small business natural disasters preparedness and resilience
First, to small business and only one in four have a disaster plan which could help them continue to operate in the event of floods or fires, for example. For more, I spoke earlier with the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson.
Most small businesses are very time-poor and they're really focused on working in the business rather than on it. And maybe a business continuity plan or disaster plan is not front of mind. What we're doing is urging people to make it more of a priority, to realise that preparedness helps navigate the disaster, and that disaster, Ricardo, could mean even an adverse health event for the business owner. Help navigate that and be in the best positioned you possibly can, to recover on the other side.
We've seen lots of natural disasters though lately, the likes of floods especially and in the past bushfires and the likes. Why do you think these businesses need such a plan?
Well, because nature's being less kind to us these days and the UN itself has called out that climate change is playing a role there. More frequent natural disasters, greater severity. And sadly, we've seen some businesses that have had to navigate more than one natural disaster, throw in a bit of COVID and all the consequences of that. That's a tough time. And those dislocations to a business, if we're not well prepared, if we haven't thought about contingencies, where's our key data? How are we going to recover? That makes those disasters, those challenges, even more harmful and makes recovery a real problem.
So, this natural disaster plan will allow businesses to continue operating or at least get help quicker when they need it. So, what are the key checklists that they should go through?
We produced a checklist with some really practical advice that I hope your audience might turn its mind to. It's on our website, asbfeo.gov.au They are checklists and resources that say, well, where is my critical information? Have I stored business vital material in the cloud? Can I easily recover it? Do I have my contact list of my insurer or other parties that can help me support and recover? Do I know what the action steps are I can take?
When I'm overwhelmed by events it's not a great time to be working through what your priorities are. To think about those things now makes it really a more streamlined process to activate, mindful a small business owner is also a parent, a partner, maybe a contributor to the local emergency service organisations, a community leader.
So, there's not just the business to think about, there is a broader context can be factored into those plans and preparations.
Now you've visited 36 communities across Australia that have been impacted by natural disasters. You've heard directly from these small and family businesses. What did they tell you?
A few key things came out. First of all was, gee, we wish we'd known about things before, that we know now. So, what we're trying to do is pick up those learnings and put them in front of people prior to an event so that all that wisdom can be deployed in a positive way.
Secondly, they're saying, look, if I'm going to be preparing for my response and my mitigation activities, can I count on the kind of support that might be out there? What does it look like and a greater degree of predictability would be good.
We also heard a strong message that business, particularly small and family businesses, aren't always front of mind in the emergency service planning and response. And that some of those concerns, you know, an early shutdown of a town makes clearing out valuable stock that might be part of your plan really difficult to do because once you've had an evacuation order, workers compensation stops, you can't get in, those sorts of things.
And I guess finally in the response phase, Ricardo, knowing where that help will be located, perhaps as support hub. Having a triage arrangement where there might be multiple government departments and agencies, non-government organisations and even the private sector ready to help, to be able to be navigated through those choices, have the impacted business tell their story once, have that information then shared appropriately, and then get the help that's most relevant to their situation. They were some of the key recommendations that came out.
So, of those key recommendations, there were 16 of them, what happens now?
Well, some of them, the flavour of them have been embraced by the current government. Minister Murray Watt and Minister Julie Collins, have been really interested in this work and you've seen the ministers trying to have a greater degree of predictability to the support that's available. There's also a broader discussion about more investment in preparedness and resilience. As you would know, Ricardo, of the taxpayer spending when it comes to disasters, 97 cents in the dollar is after the event.
And, you know, we can do things prior to the event, strengthened infrastructure. You know, if there's a mobile phone blackspot program going on, make sure it's robust and doesn't fall over the minute there's a breakdown in electricity supply. That key roads that are arterial connections for exiting a disaster prone area, that they're not too vulnerable. And even some of the strategies about cloud-based services. We all encouraging businesses to go to the cloud, to use digital systems. Nothing quite like when your ATM goes down and everyone's busting to find cash, how challenging that can be. So, there’s real interest from government. We're welcoming that and really pleased to see that these practical recommendations from lived experiences are being treated with great interest.
Bruce Billson there, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.