Business community initiatives to support those suffering

7 January 2020

Businesses – big and small, across Australia and the Business Council of Australia are acting to help Australians suffering from the bushfire crisis, by coordinating to provide support and relief.

“Right now, people from our member companies are working on the ground to support firefighters, emergency services and communities in practical ways during this terrible situation,” Business Council President Tim Reed said today.

“Many of our member companies have staff who have volunteered to fight the fires. Some of those staff have lost homes and loved ones. Our thoughts are with those people. 

“We are all proud of these people and all the firefighters and volunteers for their tireless efforts. As a business community we seek to expand our support for them, and for the local communities they are fighting to save. 

“On that basis, we have written to our members to encourage all companies to support their volunteer staff with a minimum of 20 days paid leave.”

“We know that many companies, such as ANZ, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Qantas, Rio Tinto, Virgin Australia, Wesfarmers, Westpac, Woodside and Woolworths have already announced they are providing paid leave for emergency services volunteers. We ask others to follow their lead.

“As a business community we will also be there once the immediate crisis has past and the recovery effort begins,” Mr Reed said.

The BCA has put in place two specific initiatives to help once the immediate emergency is over.

“The BCA, in partnership with Equity Trustees (EQT), has founded the Australian Volunteer Support Trust to assist the families of any volunteer in Australia who tragically loses their lives through their volunteer work.

“The trust will be a permanent and ongoing fund to support the children of volunteers who have died fighting these fires and in future disasters.

“The primary focus of the trust will be on supporting children to adulthood with a particular emphasis on their education.

“It will be effective from 1 July 2019 to include the current bushfires and be administered by Equity Trustees to respond to the current situation and future emergencies.

“The trust aims to raise an initial sum of $25 million from donations to respond quickly to the immediate needs of families,” Mr Reed said.

The trust will be overseen by an advisory panel chaired by the Hon Jeff Kennett AC and supported by Jennifer Westacott AO, David Gonski AC, Dame Quentin Bryce, Lisa Paul AO, PSM, representatives from the Australian emergency service volunteer organisations and other prominent Australians.

“Equity Trustees are pleased to be part of this initiative with governments of Australia and the Business Council of Australia,” said EQT Chairman the Hon Jeff Kennett AC.

“Volunteers have been the unsung heroes of Australian life and will continue to be so in the future.

“EQT’s involvement therefore has two motivations to salute volunteerism in Australia, and secondly to support the families of those volunteers, of any registered volunteer service, male or female, who sadly lose their lives, while volunteering.

“In particular, the trust will provide for applications based on needs, to educate the children of those who have given lives in service, until 21 years of age.

“Equity Trustees will set up and manage the trust, on a pro bono basis, forever.” Mr Kennett said.

The BCA is also planning for the recovery phase of the crisis.

“We know that for now the focus needs to remain on responding to the ongoing fires and emergency efforts,” Mr Reed said.

“But we also need to start thinking about the role ahead and how businesses can work side by side with governments to rebuild lives and communities.

“Our members cover all sectors of the economy, work in communities all over the nation and the people who make up those companies have a vast range of skills and expertise essential to rebuilding communities,” Mr Reed said.

The BCA is establishing a Community Rebuilding Initiative which will be the first point of contact for companies to coordinate during this crisis and will work as an interface with federal and state authorities.

It will be a five-year initiative working closely with the National Bushfire Recovery Agency headed by Andrew Colvin, APM, OAM to coordinate help, mobilise resources to where they are most needed and assist with rebuilding efforts.”

The Community Rebuilding Initiative will be chaired by General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, CVO, MC and supported by a committee including John Anderson AO, Katie Page, Tim Reed, Tony Shepherd AO, representatives from the Australian Emergency Service Volunteer Organisation and other prominent Australians.

Sir Peter said today that it is a privilege to lead this group of eminent business and community leaders to work with government and the community in the rebuilding process.

The initiative will focus on coordinating support from the business community such as providing employment opportunities for volunteers and victims who have lost work as a result of the disasters, additional services for communities, reconstruction support and financial relief.

In addition, this initiative will have two trusts established to receive corporate donations to assist community rebuilding. These funds will be held in trusts managed by Equity Trustees. The trusts will be independently audited and report their activities regularly to the market.

Going forward, the BCA will establish a permanent capability to mobilise and co-ordinate the business community’s response in times of future disasters.

As Australia’s national business publication, The Australian Financial Review is supporting these initiatives.

“This has been a devastating, frightening and shocking time for Australia and our hearts go out to all of those who have lost so much” Business Council CEO Jennifer Westacott said.

“We are so grateful for the efforts of our brave volunteers and emergency services personnel, just as we are proud of the efforts of the entire Australian community to support those in need.

“The BCA and the entire business community is in this for the long haul.

“Like all Australians, the business community is capable of incredible things. We will work with governments to ensure we do everything we can to match resources with need and help in the recovery effort to rebuild people’s lives and communities,” Ms Westacott said.

Businesses who would like to make a financial contribution to the trusts can do so by directing funds to EQT’s account the details of which are:

BSB: 083 092

Account Number: 570 808 888

Please note in the description if you are donating funds to the Australian Volunteer Support Trust or the Community Rebuilding Initiative.

For more information on how businesses can be involved in the initiatives, please send an email to community@bca.com.au.