Seymour Flood Hearing: Insurance and grant barriers to business support

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Seymour flood hearing reports by Jordyn Grubisic

Ninety-nine Seymour businesses were flooded in October, 2022, with many still suffering ongoing difficulties to operate.

The Seymour hearing of the Inquiry into the 2022 Flood Event in Victoria on Thursday heard that one major retail chain in Seymour was closed for nearly six months, with many stores closing their doors permanently or only operating online.

Bakers Delight Seymour was also closed for almost a year due to insurance issues.

President of Go Seymour, a business and tourism group, Stuart Locke said many businesses were affected by the ripple effect of the floods.

“Communications were cut, streets were closed for days, loss of trade and then of course not only that but it’s the publicity that comes with it,” he said.

“So when a flood comes it comes and goes but the publicity and the media still tell everyone ‘Seymour’s been destroyed by a flood’.

“It’s just the perception but a lot more businesses than those initially inundated were affected.”

More than 80 businesses remain affected either through insurance claims, remaining uninhabitable due to damage, or small businesses unable to resurrect the business including the Wattle Motel in Seymour.

Owner Shelly Hamilton told the inquiry she had only had a bathroom installed last week.

“The business was entirely flooded so we lost everything. All the belongings, we had to replace fittings in our business and also our home,” she said.

“It took us about six months and its still going. When you drive through the motel, you can see all our water damage. We’re still ongoing with the renovation and rebuild.

“If it ever happened again, I might be unable to recover my business because I’ve got no more money. All my savings are gone and we redrew on our mortgage.”

Houses and businesses in High Street Seymour were hit hard by flooding last year. Photo: Bev Spargo

The submission by the businesses highlighted difficulties accessing grants and insurance.

“In terms of support for the business, the second-tier grant we found quite complicated and challenging,” Ms Hamilton said.

Groups not fitting into available grant streams, sporting clubs or businesses primarily, were often left without grant support.

Seymour Agricultural and Pastoral Society secretary Pam Beerens said the group was ineligible for the business grant due to not being registered for GST.

“We’re not the only organisation in Seymour that fell under this with the art society, Spinners and Weavers and a few of the other clubs that were in the same boat – they did not fit into those two breadths and thus missed out,” she said.

Many businesses, and residents, also had difficulty with insurance claims.

Independent hydrologists conducted reports in Seymour with varying answers on where the water came from – changing the outcome of insurance claims for applicants.

Go Seymour committee member Graeme Dove supported the establishment of an independent hydrologist who was from a government department.

“That’s precisely what we need because I’ve heard from half a dozen people who have heard half a dozen different things,” he said.

“It’s so damn ridiculous you have to go through some paperwork system, upload it onto your email and send it in, and then if you went over the $20,000 or it’s not exactly right, it gets rejected.

“We need people on the ground when these things happen.”

Member for Euroa Annabelle Cleeland said the need for an independent hydrologist was an issue raised throughout the submissions.

“In Seymour in particular we had anecdotally up to 15 hydrologists come to town and they’re employed by insurance companies,” she said.

“There’s a lot of conflicting information about the true movement of water, where it came from, where it went and the impact of that.”

Read more from the hearing:

Hearing recap: Everything you need to know

Farmers feel frustrated and forgotten

Council highlight lack of resources

Hidden impacts of the flood revealed

Community forced to fill recovery gaps