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Small Business - COVID-19 Impacts

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: COVID-19, State Budget, Small Business

Dr WOODRUFF - In the Budget papers, the Small Business Mental Health Support package is listed under key deliverables. It says it that it is going to allow for continuation of services provided by Lifeline to provide free mental health, first aid training and outreach services to small businesses all around Tasmania, page 337. There is no line item that I can see for mental health support in the expense summaries. Can you talk about how you are specifically providing mental health support for small business owners? What are you doing to help them plan and adapt to the changing circumstances with COVID 19 restrictions, which are putting some businesses under extreme pressure in expecting bills now. If you could talk about where the money is going. Then I would like to hear how you are gauging the concerns of small businesses and how you provide them with support.

Ms HOWLETT - The Mental Health Support Program is important. You can imagine how many small businesses are using that service right now so we are lucky that we have it. We have funding of $1 million that has been allocated as part of a broader mental health support program. That is contained within the $20 million COVID-19 Small Business Sustainability and Recovery Assistance Package. Funding for various mental health programs has been provided to Lifeline Tasmania, for example, the Mental Health Council of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council and the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania.

The $1 million in funding under the Mental Health Support Program is being delivered in three parts. Part is Lifeline Tasmania Minding Your Business program. Funding of $280 000 has been allocated to Lifeline to develop the that program. It commenced in mid October 2020. The program will deliver 1000 mental health support placements to small business owners and employees.

Dr WOODRUFF - What is a mental health support placement?

Ms HOWLETT - That is a program that Lifeline have put in place.

Dr WOODRUFF - What does it mean? I don't understand what a mental health support placement is. It is a genuine question. Is it a person or is an hour with a consultant or a counsellor?

Ms HOWLETT - Correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is it can be online, it can be telephone, it depends on the location of the business.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is it a person or is it something that people do on their own?

Ms HOWLETT - Chair, this is Kate Mirowski from Business Tasmania. She is Director of Small Business.

Ms MIROWSKI - Thank you, Minister. We've provided funding to Lifeline to provide a variety of programs such as mental health first aid. They are also running online workshops directly for the businesses that aren't able to attend one-on-one or group sessions and we're currently working with Lifeline at the moment to develop videos and resources to assist businesses that are not able to attend the sessions that Lifeline are currently running.

Dr WOODRUFF - These are specific for small business? These aren't just general Lifeline phone calls, and they're a combination of workshop with other participants face-to-face or is it a Zoom?

Ms MIROWSKI - Some of them are face-to-face. It's up to the business and the business owner as to what their needs are. Lifeline has arranged for a separate program. It's called Minding Your Business. It is targeted specifically for small business owners. We offer it for sectors as we recognise that several sectors have specific needs for their small business owners, depending on their mental health and wellbeing needs. Lifeline is targeting what needs the small businesses are asking for.

Ms HOWLETT - Just to add to your point, Kate, one of the benefits of that is the fact that it doesn't have to be online. It can be face-to-face. Quite often when you're seeking mental support like that for business assistance, you don't want to be around a group of people. Some people would rather just deal one-to-one with someone. That's the benefit with this program; that there are various options they can take whether it be group, one-on-one, online, depending on their location.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that $280 000 for one year? You said it started last year.

Ms HOWLETT - Yes, it commenced in mid October 2020. The program will deliver 1000 mental health support placements to small business owners and employees. From the program commencement to the end of May-July 2021 the program delivered mental health support programs to approximately 175 000 participants and a further 2500 placements have been secured for bookings throughout June-August 2021.

Would you like to add anything to that, Kate?

Dr WOODRUFF - Was that the right number? 175 000?

Ms MIROWSKI - I'll have to check.

Dr WOODRUFF - If there's 1000 placements it seems extraordinary if it's delivered 175 000.

Ms HOWLETT - That's what I have written here. We will double check that figure.

Mr EVANS - It's delivered 175 programs to 219 participants. There's a comma missing.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. There's 1000 small business placements. Does that mean there's something like 781 left to go, is that correct?

Ms MIROWSKI - That's correct.

Dr WOODRUFF - And that will last as long as it takes. Then will the Government reassess it?


Mr EVANS - Consistent with my previous answer though, we are continuing to monitor all of our programs and we will provide further advice to government if it becomes apparent that this is an issue that requires more funding.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, it's good to hear about the lifeline work that's being done. How are you tracking the mental health impact of the COVID pandemic on small businesses in Tasmania? What data are we collecting about how people are experiencing the pandemic and how it's affecting them on a personal level and as well as on a business level? I assume you've got hard figures about insolvencies and businesses closing? Do we have any information about the mental health impacts that are flowing on from these?

Ms HOWLETT - The feedback that we received is from the peak bodies, the TCCI, the Tasmanian Small Business Council and the regional chambers of commerce to Business Tasmania.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is there hard data, actual figures and numbers?

Ms HOWLETT - That is the data, the people that they have assisted through these various grant programs. I will pass to you, secretary.

Mr EVANS - We don't have hard data but we do constantly monitor this through regular feedback from the peaks, including the TCCI and TICT whose membership is significantly impacted. We also get a lot of intelligence through Business Tasmania.

Last year we held a number of forums around the state, particularly during the COVID 19 lockdown, to get a better understanding about what issues were impacting on businesses. The consistent feedback was that mental health was a big issue and, hence, the response by the Government with direct support to some of the peaks like the Seafood Industry Council, which has a membership that were very significantly impacted, particularly lobster fishermen, and other peak industry groups like the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA) and the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania (TICT) as well as the programs that the minister had outlined.

Dr WOODRUFF - When we're talking about microbusinesses and small businesses they may not necessarily be in contact with some of those peak bodies. I don't think there's a magic solution here but what I'm trying to wonder is when businesses close, how would we know? Is there a way of improving how we know whether it's temporary or whether it's permanent, and the reasons for them closing? There would be some way of gauging and guestimating those measures but in order to be more effective, adjusting our stimulus packages and really understanding the trend and the impacts on people's personal and mental health situations. At the moment it sounds like we're relying on information gathered from people coming forward to peak bodies or by people being connected in the community. The reality is that when people are struggling they often don't reach out, so how are we gauging why businesses shut?

Ms HOWLETT - That is a really important question and we need to work out how we can better access that data. We need to make sure that these microbusinesses know that Business Tasmania is there to assist, help and direct them. Also, finding out which businesses may close that may pivot as well, and go in another direction. It is a really important question that you have. We know we can always do things better and it's about getting that feedback and working out ways to gain more information.

Mr BOWLES - Business Tasmania (BT) has more than 10 000 subscribers to its e newsletter. We're getting through to about a quarter of small businesses directly through Business Tasmania and that's also an indication of the number of businesses or small business operators who have had some sort of contact with BT. We know that in the last financial year there were more than 6000 calls to the Business Tasmania hotline specifically regarding COVID-19 and COVID-19 impacts and how to respond to COVID-19. As well as feedback from the peaks we're having that direct engagement through Business Tasmania.