TIME TO SHOW US THE MONEY
Unrest in business community over cyclone grants
IF YOU are in business in the Whitsundays and have been knocked back for a cyclone grant or loan, or are finding it too hard to apply, you are not alone and should not give up.
This is the message from the Whitsunday Coast Chamber of Commerce whose executive have been following up on growing unrest within the business community over the past week.
Kevin Collins applied for the $5000 cyclone recovery grant after he was “encouraged to”, having suffered damage to stock and his premises at Fish D’Vine, D’Vine Catering and the Airlie Beach Rum Bar.
Mr Collins, who employs 50 staff including a full-time accountant capable of handling the forms, said he was surprised to be asked for additional information including the company and directors’ tax returns.
Even after jumping through these hoops, and on a claim Mr Collins started two weeks after Cyclone Debbie hit, the outcome is “still under consideration”.
Terry Lawn meanwhile wanted to apply for the 1.16% low interest loan being offered to businesses in need, for his Airllywood fashion store in the Airlie Beach CBD.
“But then it went on to ask for forecasts by the month going forward, which we had no idea of,” he said.
“How do we know what’s going to happen now in Airlie Beach? Businesses are closing left, right and centre.”
Mr Lawn called his reputable accountant for help – an accountant already in the process of handling a loan application for another client but finding it difficult.
“And at that point I gave up because if they were having trouble as accountants, what hope did I have,” Mr Lawn said.
Property developer and mortgage broker Terry Archer is another example of a Whitsunday businessman hitting a stumbling block.
Mr Archer said he lodged an application for a grant to cover legitimate cyclone damage to his development on Botanica Estate, only to be told his enterprise didn’t qualify as a small business because it didn’t employ “full-time equivalent” people and wasn’t his primary source of income.
All three men were at an information night held in Proserpine shortly after the cyclone hit, where applications for the $5000 grant were described as relatively simple, with loss of power given as an example of a direct impact.
But this week, Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority (QRAA) manager for customer relations, Craig Turner, told the Whitsunday Times the grants were for up to $25,000 with $5000 as a first payment.
“And one thing is for certain, we are seeking proof of the impact of the damage, so yes, for that initial $5000 we may ask for photos… (and) for quotes for repairs,” he said.
“It’s not carte blanche that just because someone is in the Whitsundays that guarantees that grant.”
Mr Turner said the guidelines were very clear, in that any business suffering direct damage from the cyclone was encouraged to apply.
“But loss of power is not deemed to be direct damage,” he said.
“Having said that, we’ve certainly been able to assist businesses with perishable stock that have lost that stock, with replenishing it for the immediate resumption of business.”
As for the complexity of the application processes, Mr Turner said they had been “honed over years” and were based on the QRAA’s day to day work of lending to primary producers, with $120 million in successful loans over the past year alone.
But Mr Archer said he felt like this had all been a
“And when I advised the clerk from QRAA that I would be taking my concerns to my local State and Federal Member, he smugly replied that it was them that set the guidelines,” he said.
Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen said there had to be strict guidelines “because it’s essentially free money”.
“And you’ve got to have some sort of level of scrutiny around it otherwise people rort the system… but it sounds like there is some poor interpretation and lack of consistency in what people are being told, and if that is the case and it is happening repeatedly that’s a substantial problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.
Mr Collins meanwhile went so far as to say he’d had a “one-on-one” conversation with a QRAA representative who told him, “they’ve actually been instructed to make it difficult”.
“He did say QRAA grants had been abused in the past – and that’s fraud. Fair enough, tell us that in the first place, that would have been accepted and a better message for businesses,” Mr Collins said.
“My beef is the politicians came up here beefed up their chests, said ‘Fill out the paperwork and it’ll get paid’, which seemed too good to be true – and it was,” he said.
“It was a PR stunt. It was just cynical politics.”
Mr Turner however said far from seeking to put impediments in place, QRAA staff had been going out of their way to help.
He said as of last Friday, in the Whitsundays alone, 157 businesses had been approved for cyclone grants totalling $750, 130.68, with a further 75 primary producers approved for grants totalling $483,000 and 13 not for profit organisations approved for grants totalling $78,000.
Mr Turner said there were still 90 applications to be assessed, with more received every day and only 50 deemed ineligible to date.
“But in real terms the majority of businesses we’ve dealt with have been successful and are recovering,” he said.
Nonetheless Whitsunday Coast Chamber of Commerce President Allan Milostic said across the businesses he had spoken to it seemed like a “bureaucratic web”.
Mr Milostic said there were two reasons for Whitsunday businesspeople to get in touch with the chamber now, whether they were members or not.
“One is we might be able to progress claims rather than accept a ‘no’, but secondly we’re also gathering data so we can feed that information back (to council),” he said.
To contact the chamber email info@ airliebeachchamber.com.au or call Allan Milostic on 0419 343 345.
To contact the QRAA direct, free call 1800 623 946 from 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
It was a PR stunt.
— Kevin Collins
CONCERNED: Whitsunday Coast Chamber of Commerce secretary Judy Porter, president Allan Milostic and vice president Mark Beale.