Lismore business owner Stephen Kreig put the hard word on prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday, calling for government grants instead of low interest loans to help flood ravaged small businesses rebuild.
La Baracca owner and father of five asked Mr Turnbull if grants of hundreds of millions of dollars were offered to car manufacturers to continue production in Australia, why couldn’t the government provide the same assistance to the hundreds of Lismore small businesses devastated by flooding.
‘A loan won’t do anything for me,’ Mr Kreig said.
‘I’m facing the fact that if I don’t open my doors, I’m going to have to sell my house.’
Staff and friends who rallied to help Mr Kreig clean up his Keen Street premises on Sunday, continued on Monday, assisted by Mr Turnbull, who got down on his hands and knees to lend a hand.
After visiting La Baracca, Mr Turnbull and Page MP Kevin Hogan, pursued by a large media contingent, walked through the Browns Creek car park to Molesworth Street, surveying the damage and chatting to several locals.
Lismore mayor Isaac Smith greeted Mr Turnbull outside Centre Church and thanked the prime minister for coming to view the destruction.
He then presented Mr Turnbull with a heart shaped Lismore pin, which the PM promptly attached to his shirt.
$40m damage to roads
Cr Smith told Mr Turnbull council staff had estimated flooding caused by the remnants of tropical cyclone Debbie had caused $40 million damage to roads in the Lismore local government area.
After meeting members of Centre Church who were providing free food and drink to people involved in the clean up, Mr Turnbull held a media conference, praising the solidarity and community spirit of the people of Lismore.
Mr Hogan thanked Mr Turnbull for visiting Lismore to see the devastation and experience the heartache of locals.
‘Lismore as a community and indeed the wider region has been absolutely devastated by this flood event…to the extent that you do not have to walk far around this CBD area to hear heartbreaking stories,’ he said.
‘I invited Malcolm immediately to hear those stories because it’s one thing to see things on the TV, to hear stories on the radio or to read stories in the newspaper, but there’s another thing about eyeballing someone who is devastated and heartbroken by an event.’
Mr Turnbull said after nature flung the worst at Australians, it always brought out the best in people.
‘You see the resilience of the business people here and the families here cleaning up and getting on with life,’ he said.
‘To see treasured possessions, all of a life’s work, all of the assets of a business flung out onto the pavement, that’s gut-wrenching stuff.’
While Mr Turnbull wouldn’t commit to providing grants to help businesses and families rebuild, he said funding was available through both state and federal governments.
‘There is a full suite of support for a region like this that is recovering,’ he said.
‘We have got more support for flood recovery now than we ever had in our nation’s history.
‘Grants are available to homeowners through the state government’s program which we fund 50 per cent of.
‘As far as businesses are concerned…the support is through a low interest loan – and that’s been very important for farmers and businesses.’
Cr Smith echoed Mr Turnbull’s comments and praised the community spirit shown during the clean up.
‘It has been a fantastic effort,’ he said.
‘People are staying positive and we know that we can recover from this and everyone is pulling together to make sure it happens.’