PRIME MINISTER: Can I, first of all, thank all of you for coming today at relatively short notice. Can I particularly thank those who are on the call today because you are in the fire-affected communities as we speak and can I thank you for the incredible jobs you are doing on the ground during a very difficult period. There is a lot of anxiety, understandably, there are a lot of questions I think people have, and I think the people sitting around the table today, as well as those who are on the call, are in a position, I think, to work through many of those answers as to how we ensure that Australia responds to this bushfire crisis as it is extended across so many state borders in a way that is consistent with the great spirit of our country. We are a country of overcomers, we are a country of great spirit and nobody, I think, demonstrates that tremendous spirit and passion and enthusiasm than the small business owners and operators of this country. They have a passion which is extraordinary but it is a passion that I know would have been under extreme threat and extreme challenge as we work through these terrible circumstances on the ground and it’s important that you are able to know that the Federal Government, state governments, local governments, large businesses from around the country, whether they be large retailers or banks or others, are all working together to look at everything that can be done to ensure that our small business communities in these local economies are able to rebuild and restore and be able to move forward.
I’m joined today by the Treasurer, he is going to run through a couple of things and he will be followed, I understand, by Coordinator Colvin who is leading the Recovery Agency. I want to thank the state authorities who are here with us today as well. This has been a partnership with state governments right from the start of these fires back in September in Queensland and I want to assure everybody that whether you’re in one of those communities that has been most recently impacted in south east Victoria or south east New South Wales or you’re up on the north coast or mid coast of New South Wales or you’re at Scenic Rim in Queensland or you’re over in Kangaroo Island where more than half of Kangaroo Island has been burnt, or in the Adelaide Hills or even parts of Western Australia which have also been affected or indeed on the eastern coast of Tasmania. This is a bushfire season that has touched all of the country and the measures that we have been working on and we want to consult today, we are in the middle of a fairly extensive small business package. I have just, with the Agriculture Minister, announced our agriculture package which is payments of $75,000 to primary producers, to farmers and graziers, which is consistent with the response that we provided up in the North Queensland floods and that is also ensuring a level playing field too with what is being provided on the ground in each of the states and territories under the Category A to C assistance. Much of that Category A to C assistance is already rolling out but the Category D assistance, which is fully funded by the Federal Government, is what the Treasurer and I and the Minister for Small Business and Coordinator Colvin and David Littleproud, the Minister, are working together on at the moment as there has been a lot of consultation with the sector. I want to thank those representing the sector that have been doing that with us, as well as our state counterparts as well. So with that I again want to thank you for your strength, I want to thank you for your commitment. Most of all, I want to thank you for your hope and for your optimism because that is something that small business people have in large doses and we want to fill that hope tank up again for small business. We want them to be able to see the bright future that enabled them to first commit to starting a small business in the first place in these wonderful parts of our country and we want them to be able to rekindle that enthusiasm again and see how they can get through this and we’ll get through it together. So thank you very much and I appreciate you all spending the time today. Josh.
THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: Well, thanks Prime Minister, thanks Michaelia. Small business is the engine room of the Australian economy and nowhere is that more clear than in local regional communities. The Morrison Government’s response to this natural disaster has been comprehensive and immediate with the establishment of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency. The initial and let me emphasise additional $2 billion we have already committed, as well as the comprehensive call out of Defence Force Reservists and personnel. Some of the money is already making its way into people’s pockets. We’ve already provided over $40 million to state governments to provide to local governments. There have been around 36,000 people who already have received more than $40 million in direct payments. The Prime Minister has made a major announcement about mental health support and yesterday about supporting wildlife and the support we’ve announced today for primary producers and as the Prime Minister has indicated, we’re working through a small business package.
Our focus is on a local-led recovery and an economic recovery of these communities, bearing in mind that a lot of small businesses have been directly affected but there are also small businesses that have been indirectly affected. So we’re here today to listen, to hear about some of the challenges that small businesses are facing, to hear about your needs and to talk about how we can work together to help small businesses get back on their feet and therefore ensuring that those communities get back on their feet.