OPINION

Help heal wounds with power of purchase

Buy from the bush: Senator Hollie Hughes has launched the website gocountryforchristmas.com.au.
Buy from the bush: Senator Hollie Hughes has launched the website gocountryforchristmas.com.au.

This year, many Australians will struggle to enjoy the festive season and celebrate Christmas as usual.

The continued effects of a devastating drought, coupled with unprecedented bush fires, have crippled our regional towns and left a gaping wound in communities already doing it tough.

Undoubtedly for some, the scars of this year's natural disasters will take a lifetime to fade.

So what can Australians right across the country do to help their fellow countrymen and women?

In addition to the exceptional work of volunteers and supporters, there is another way we can help ease the suffering in our regions.

While 98 per cent of all Australian businesses are small businesses, in all likelihood that figure is close to 100 per cent in some regional towns.

And we know small businesses have lumpy revenue streams, with the festive period proving a key time to improve bottom lines.

This Christmas, we can give a gift twice by moving our purchasing power into regional Australia.

There are a number of initiatives and campaigns already underway encouraging people to buy from the bush this Christmas season and in this digital age, it doesn't matter where you live or where the business is based.

Facebook campaign #Buyfromthebush has already gathered more than 100,000 followers, showcasing products from rural towns doing it tough in the drought.

Its sister campaign #Stayinthebush has also been launched, and showcases some of the special places people can visit and support hospitality businesses along the way.

Chambers of commerce and industry associations in our network, and state governments, are helping in practical ways.

And beyond the rhetoric, many politicians are doing what they can to help too.

Representatives such as Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes, who lived in the small NSW town of Moree with her family and has long championed for more regional support, has kicked off this year's festive season with the website gocountryforchristmas.com.au.

Small regional businesses can register on the website to sell their products and services to a wider audience, and those wanting to help can purchase Christmas presents direct.

"Everybody knows that the farmers are doing it really tough through this drought, the worst in living memory," Senator Hughes said at the campaign launch.

"We can help those communities get through these really really difficult times... just one of the ways is by supporting small businesses owned by local families to make sure they survive.

There are a number of initiatives and campaigns already underway encouraging people to buy from the bush this Christmas season and in this digital age, it doesn't matter where you live or where the business is based.

"Whether it's the kids' store, the book shop, the shoe store, we want to make sure those businesses are still there and still thriving when it does rain again. We need to think laterally about ways to support rural and regional economies and this is a very effective way to do that."

It's also important to highlight the flow-on-effects of making that one local purchase.

A dollar spent multiplies quickly in a small town, as the store owner goes on to purchase goods from other neighbouring businesses.

Sustaining local jobs is also part and parcel of the flow-on-effect.

According to our latest census data, retail trade, accommodation and food services account for nearly 20 per cent of employers in regional Australia.

With one in five people reliant on these businesses for employment, a little purchasing power in the bush can go a long way.

From Eudunda to Mildura, Longreach to Lismore, there are unforgettable rural towns where Australians work tirelessly to sustain their families, neighbours and communities.

Whether you make the trip to visit them in person and #StayInTheBush for a night or two, or log on to your computer and make a purchase, we can all make a difference this Christmas for Australians who need our help.

James Pearson, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO