The Business Council of Australia has called on its members to support Australians suffering from the ongoing bushfire crisis by coordinating to provide supplies and relief.
In addition to two key trusts, the BCA is encouraging businesses with employees voluntarily fighting the bushfires to support those staff with a minimum of 20 days paid leave.
Many of Australia's most prominent corporations have already announced they are providing paid leave for emergency services volunteers, including ANZ, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Qantas, Rio Tinto, Virgin Australia, Wesfarmers, Westpac, Woodside, and Woolworths.
Business Council president Tim Reed has commended companies offering paid leave for employees voluntarily fighting the fires.
"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," says Reed.
"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."
While supporting volunteers is BCA's immediate response to the crisis as it exists today, the organisation has plans to support those immediately affected by the fires with two specific initiatives.
Australian Volunteer Support Trust
The first is called the Australian Volunteer Support Trust, founded in partnership with Equity Trustees (EQT). The Trust exists to assist the families of any volunteer in Australia who dies while volunteering.
The Trust aims to raise an initial sum of $25 million from donations to respond to the immediate needs of impacted families and will be managed on a pro bono basis by EQT indefinitely.
"The primary focus of the trust will be on supporting children to adulthood with a particular emphasis on their education," says Reed.
The Trust will be effective from 1 July 2019 and will include the current bushfires but will exist primarily to respond to future emergencies.
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.
"Volunteers have been the unsung heroes of Australian life and will continue to be so in the future," says EQT Chairman the Hon Jeff Kennett AC.
"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."
Community Rebuilding Initiative
Once the dust settles, a significant rebuilding and recovery phase will be essential to maintain the communities devastated by these bushfires.
Thus the BCA is establishing a Community Rebuilding Initiative (CRI) which will be the first point of contact for companies to coordinate during and after the crisis and will work as an interface between federal and state authorities.
"We know that for now the focus needs to remain on responding to the ongoing fires and emergency efforts," says Reed.
"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."
The CRI will be a five-year initiative that will work closely with the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to coordinate help, mobilise resources to where they are most needed and assist with rebuilding efforts.
It 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.
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.
The Australian community at large has so far raised an incredible amount of money for bushfire relief.
This morning Crown Resorts and the Packer Family foundation committed $5 million to support the relief effort, with $2.5 million going to state fire services and a further $2.5 million going to national and state charities like Australian Red Cross, the Victorian Government bushfire fund, and the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).
"Australians are digging deep to support each other in these tough times, it's truly inspiring," says James Packer.
"My family and Crown are eager to do more and the best way we can help, is to significantly increase our donation."
"We hope these funds play a small part in helping our firefighters, and easing the suffering of people who have lost their homes and the poor wildlife caught up in the blaze. We just want to do our bit."
Australian comedian Celeste Barber's fundraising initiative has similarly been monumental, with $36 million raised on Facebook in just three days.
How to donate
If you would like to donate to an organisation assisting the victims of the bushfires the following organisations are accepting any and all help available:
- St Vincent de Paul Society
- Australian Red Cross
- Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
- CFA Victoria
- NSW Rural Fire Service
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