Lismore businesses unite in plea for help from government after flood

Cathy Adams
Updated June 29 2022 - 3:37pm, first published June 28 2022 - 5:15pm

UPDATE 3.30pm:

In response to a calls from Lismore business owners for more help after the floods, Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt blamed the previous government for dragging its feet when in power, saying grants processes had been fast tracked.

"Unfortunately the former Morrison Government dragged its feet for months after announcing the Anchor Grants Program, delaying much-needed support to large local businesses," Mr Watt said.

"That's why I have fast tracked grants processes since becoming Minister less than one month ago and asked my department to work closely with Norco and other local firms to support their rebuilding. Grant applications are now open and money will start flowing to businesses as soon as possible.

"It will take all levels of government working with industry and community to rebuild the Northern Rivers and ensure the long-term viability of local businesses affected by the devastating floods, and that work is ongoing.

"That's why I encouraged the NSW Government to co-contribute to the program, and I'm pleased to welcome $15 million from the state, which will help support cornerstone businesses across the Northern Rivers region rebuild.

Mr Watt pledged the Albanese Government would stand with the Northern Rivers region on the long road to recovery.

Applications to the Anchor Business Support Grant Program | NSW Government opened this week.

Original story:

Big business leaders on the Northern Rivers have said that lives will be significantly impacted if state and federal government don't contribute more money to the Anchor Business fund.

Norco boss, Michael Hampson, said up to 240 jobs are at stake if more money doesn't flow before July 15.

Lismore leaders call for more government help to recover from the flood. Picture: Cathy Adams
Lismore leaders call for more government help to recover from the flood. Picture: Cathy Adams

Four major businesses and employers on the Northern Rivers region have today united in a last ditch call for help from both the state and federal governments, calling for an increase of funding and expanded guidelines, as details around the Anchor Business Support Package announced by the Coalition more than three months ago remain unclear.

The bosses of Norco, Summerland Credit Union and Mountain Blue Farms, three major employers in region, have joined forces with Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg to spotlight the very real impacts of the information delays and funding limitations on their people, their businesses, and the wider Northern Rivers community; an initiative that is also supported by Sunshine Sugar.

Despite the guidelines for funding being recently released, there remains no further steps or information on how to apply, leaving many Lismore businesses in a state of limbo and unable to plan for the future.

With questions around the size and scope of funding, the $44 million currently being proposed is simply not enough to support the needs of the major businesses, nor the wider Lismore business community. The plea also calls for greater assistance for other businesses that fall outside the guidelines of 'Anchor Business', but have also suffered significant damage and loss.

The deadline for Norco

Michael Hampson, Norco Chief Executive comments that due to the extent of damage to their ice cream facility, they knew early on that they would need government support in order to recover and safeguard jobs, which is why they moved so quickly in having conversations with key decision makers. "We are extremely grateful for the support received to date which has kept our workforce of 240 people gainfully employed for 16 weeks since the floods took place and enabled us to contribute significantly to the cleanup and rebuild of the Lismore community.

"However, that funding is due to end on July 15 and in the absence of any further details from the federal government, and confirmation that the state government won't be contributing to any support package, we've been forced to make some very difficult business decisions," he says.

The future of Lismore relies on greater government support

Lismore Mayor, Steve Krieg fully supports the businesses in calling for greater assistance from both the federal and NSW state governments. "The future of Lismore and indeed its full economic recovery relies heavily on investment and commitment from businesses, especially these anchor businesses which are not only major employers in region but contribute significantly to economic activity throughout the Northern Rivers.

"Without them, the future of Lismore and its economic rehabilitation is certainly at risk, which is why support and funding from both levels of government is so crucial; in fact, the future of Lismore relies on it," Cr Krieg said.

"The reality is, to adequately support the needs of these businesses and safeguard jobs, the Anchor Business Support Package needs to be at least double what it currently is, and the NSW state government needs to contribute. "So today I join these businesses in calling on both levels of government to step up, and to prioritise and deliver on this funding that is so crucial to the future of Lismore and its people," he concludes. Michael Hampson adds that Norco has been part of the Lismore community for more than 127 years, and that they're committed to seeing the community thriving once again.

"This relies heavily on all of our businesses being able to rebuild and recover, which is why we're here today - fighting so hard for our people, our farmers, the many businesses that rely on us to survive, as well as the future of the Lismore and Northern Rivers community," he concludes.

Sunshine Sugar

Sunshine Sugar also backs calls for an increase in support funding and increased coverage period.

"The annual cane crushing season has started, with two of the three NSW sugar mills up and running; the work that has taken place behind the scenes, along with what is still needed to get the third sugar mill fully operational in the short term, is nothing short of enormous. Agriculture across the board in the Northern Rivers region has been shattered, with an estimated half a billion dollars in damages incurred.

"As one of the oldest and largest agricultural industries in the region, Sunshine Sugar's milling and refining operations sustained over $45m in immediate damages. Then there is the damage to cane crops which is impacting on the production of sugar and the availability of sugar for the refinery, which supplies some 20 per cent of the domestic market.

"Outside of the milling and refining operations, we have almost 500 local canefarming families relying on us to process their cane, many of whom have been heavily impacted, losing their homes along with crops, machinery and equipment."

Sunshine Sugar CEO, Mr Chris Connors said; "The Anchor government grant package is incredibly important in the short term, but it just isn't enough".

"We have been consulting with both State and Federal Governments looking to increase the Anchor grant from $50m up to $100m and increase the timeline on expenditure so longer-term projects can receive assistance." Mr Connors added.

"A number of business leaders in the Northern Rivers are calling for an increase in funding and expanded guidelines.

"Agriculture is the lifeblood of the region, supporting thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in contribution to the local economy.

"The fear is that a lack of support for local producers, processors, and manufacturers, ultimately means a lack of support for the entire Northern Rivers communities.

"Furthermore, many businesses, whether large, medium or small, now face the prospect of no longer having any flood insurance cover, making the cost of rebuilding and mitigating future impacts fraught with significant risk.

"The longer-term planning and work required around future flood mitigation needs to be supported by Government, in terms of funding, but also in terms of allocation of those funds over an adequate timeline in order to support the planning and implementation of those mitigation works."

Mr Connors advised: "Sunshine Sugar has appointed WMA Water to provide alternatives to mitigate future flooding, a process we expect will take at least twelve months. With the risk of future flood events and no insurance coverage for this type of disaster, we must implement mitigation measures that will provide protection for the long-term. If more funding is committed now, for the short- and medium-term recovery and mitigation effort, business and industry, and ultimately the broader local community, will be spared from this level of heartache and loss over the long-term".

Cathy Adams

Cathy Adams