Queensland businesses left reeling after Cyclone Debbie hits, but there is help available for SMEs

Small business owners have been left devastated in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, with widespread destruction across northern Queensland halting their operations.

The category four cyclone ripped through the north of the state yesterday, and many SME owners are just now assessing the damage.

Owners of Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, near the popular tourist destinations of the Whitsunday and Hamilton Islands, revealed via Facebook they had “literally just finished a refurbishment” before Debbie blew through.

“I would like to thank all of you who have sent messages and emails sending their support and concerns. We are hoping for the best outcome,” the business wrote.

“We have literally just finished a refurbishment and we may have to do it all again. Until this all blows we will never know.”

Speaking to news.com.au, Palm Bay’s general manager Caroline Murray said despite the business experiencing category four cyclones before, she “didn’t think it would be as bad as it was”.

“We’ve had a category four come through before and it didn’t cause half the devastation of this one, because Debbie was so slow moving,” Murray said.

“The foliage, the vegetation, everything has been devastated.”

Murray said she had been calling customers with bookings at the resort, telling them to cancel or change their plans as repairs could take up to three weeks, with costs upwards of $150,000. Murray was unsure if she could endure rebuilding the business.

“We’ve spent two years getting it back to what it was and we’ve just been hit again. Sometimes, I do think how I am going to build this up again,” she told news.com.au.

“We only have a capacity of 60 people, and the money it will cost to repair everything is our entire profit for the year. We’re gutted but we’re resilient, we’ve done it before.”

Further destruction was seen inland, with users on social media posting images of collapsed buildings and destroyed shop fronts.

One small business owner whose motel was destroyed by Debbie told AAP it wasn’t worth rebuilding after the cyclone.

The owner of Shute Harbour Motel Dave McInerney said plans to rebuild “depends a lot on the insurance”.

“More than likely it’ll be demolished and sold as a development site,” McInerney said.

“I think I’ll probably pack up and go now, that’s enough.”

“These days it’s really not worth rebuilding a small business like this.”

Help available for SMEs

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell told SmartCompany this morning while these events can be “life or death” for SME owners, there is help available.

“The federal government is working with the Queensland government to provide support, but it’s really important for other entities to show their support in times like these,” she says.

“Banks in the region have said they’ll support businesses so let us hope that happens. Entities who deal with SMEs all the time like the ATO should know things like BAS statements will be late, and payment arrangements may need to be entered into.”

An ATO spokesperson told SmartCompany it will “provide assistance for people who have been personally affected by Cyclone Debbie to sort out their tax affairs later”.

“For affected taxpayers, we understand that tax responsibilities are not the most important things on their mind right now. We will provide more detail on deferred lodgement dates and other forms of tax assistance to those impacted over the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said.

More information is available on the ATO’s website.

Carnell urges banks and similar organisations to understand the impact of natural disasters on SMEs but says she is “confident” mechanisms were being put in place to help affected businesses.

“It is really important in this situation for these entities to understand SMEs will need time to get back on their feet,” she says.

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