The impacts of natural disasters on small and family businesses can be devastating and can include damaged and destroyed assets and reduced production and revenue streams. Recovering from this can take a heavy toll on small and family business owners, their employees, and the broader community. Small and family businesses outside of directly affected disaster areas can also be adversely impacted through the effects of smoke taint, supply-chain disruptions, or reduced tourism.

As these impacts are difficult to predict, they may be overlooked in preparing disaster plans and in decisions around recovery assistance and support. While not a panacea, the cost of natural disasters and lengthy recovery time for small businesses and regional networks could be partially mitigated by enhanced preparedness and resilience.

The 2020 Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements found that governments have ‘a vital role in educating communities and providing people with the information they need to make sound and informed decisions about how to manage the risks they face from natural disasters’. Recommendation 10.1 of the Royal Commission’s final report was that State and Territory Governments should continue to deliver, evaluate and improve education and engagement programs aimed at promoting disaster resilience for individuals and communities.

Recognising the importance of small and family businesses to communities, on 23 December 2021 the Australian government requested the Ombudsman to undertake an inquiry and provide a report to the Minister by 18 March 2022. The inquiry looked at existing education and engagement practices, with respect to promoting small business disaster resilience and make recommendations to government on how these could be improved.

Key recommendations:

  • There should be a certainty of response for small business owners, so they are automatically elevated in disaster funding arrangements - including indirectly affected businesses.
  • There should be certainty of support by establishing a business hub after a disaster as a single point to seek help from federal, state, and local government and non-government agencies to provide support.
  • A Government subsidy should be available when workers in a small business are called out for volunteer work for an extended period or a business is required to scale back operations because of volunteer activities.
  • Calls for an integrated response to disaster risk management for identified disaster prone areas that incorporates priority access to mitigation expenditure, co-ordinated planning across levels of government, infrastructure hardening, interest-free loans for asset and activity protection and relocation schemes, and possible use of a dedicated reinsurance vehicle.
Editor's note

Originally submitted to government in March 2022, this report was tabled in the Australian Parliament on 10 November 2022.

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