2 February 2023

Opinion piece: Help is always at hand


Published in The Daily Telegraph

Australia’s 2.5 million small businesses play a crucial role at the heart of their local communities and in building a strong national economy.

Despite contributing more than $430 billion to the economy each year, we know it’s been a difficult period for so many small business owners.

A series of extraordinary challenges – the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters including floods and fires, and more recently staff shortages and rising costs – have heaped significant pressure on small businesses.

Listening to small business owners across the country I am always amazed by the resilience they have in the face of challenges, but we know the impact takes its toll.

Last year the Treasury released a significant new report on this issue, Small Business and Mental Health Through the Pandemic.

This important report sadly underscored the significant number of small business owners that have struggled with mental health challenges.

Most concerningly, the report’s survey revealed just over one in five small business respondents reported having been diagnosed with a mental ill-health condition by a doctor or health professional in recent months.

This is exactly why the Albanese Government committed more than $15 million for tailored programs to support small business owners’ mental health and wellbeing in last year’s Budget.

This included funding for the NewAccess for Small Business Owners program, delivered by Beyond Blue, and the Small Business Debt Helpline, delivered by Financial Counselling Australia.

Beyond Blue’s NewAccess for Small Business Owners is available nationally by phone or video call, and no GP referral is required.

All mental health coaches who manage the program are specially trained and have a small business background, so they understand owners’ unique challenges.

The program is also completely confidential.

This is critical, as Treasury’s report indicated that small business respondents would be more likely to seek mental health support if they could remain anonymous.

The research also found that the cost associated with seeking help was the biggest barrier to accessing support, so I want to assure small businesses that NewAccess is free of charge.

The Small Business Debt Helpline is a dedicated small business financial counselling service delivered by Financial Counselling Australia.

It provides free, independent, confidential and impartial phone-based support to small business owners nationally regardless of the cause of their financial hardship.

I would urge small businesses to access these free government funded programs from experts who understand how small businesses work.

More information about the NewAccess for Small Business Owners program is available by calling 1300 945 301 or on the Beyond Blue website.

Small business owners can contact the Small Business Debt Helpline by calling 1800 413 828 or via the Small Business Debt Helpline website.

The Albanese Government will keep working hard to help improve the long-term resilience of Australia’s small businesses and help them bounce back following significant challenges in recent years.