Australia needs a plan to combat the impact of climate change on the economy, Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell has said, ahead of a business roundtable on the bushfire crisis.
The Morrison government is expected to announce a support package for businesses affected by the bushfires later this week, following the meeting with interest groups on Tuesday.
Ms Carnell said most of the businesses that had reached out to the Ombudsman for help were not directly affected by fires, but had lost all their customers because of them.
The former Liberal ACT Chief Minister said the Ombudsman had been approached by small businesses seeking no interest loans, similar to those offered to drought-afflicted farmers.
"One business down on the South Coast was telling us that ... they in December get large amounts of stock for the Christmas January trade and now they've got to pay for it," Ms Carnell said.
"They'll sell it eventually but certainly not in January this year or possibly February either so they need an affordable loan to be able to pay current creditors."
Businesses were also looking for government support to avoid laying off staff.
"They don't want to lose their staff and we don't want them to lose their staff either because it's important to keep people in those local areas that are affected by fire. The worst thing that can happen is that they all pack up and leave because they can't get employment," Ms Carnell said.
Ms Carnell said these businesses would not be able to hang on without significant help.
"A very large percentage of businesses on the South Coast and even in our region rely on the Christmas holiday trade for their profitability for the whole year," she said.
"January is the cream, January is the thing that really makes the business work. January trade isn't happening this year but it's not just a bad January - it's almost a non-existent one."
And it proved Australia needed to better plan for the changing climate.
"The message to all of us is climate change is happening, we all know that. It's not going to stop happening in the foreseeable future regardless of what the world does, we know the impacts of carbon emissions are with us, probably for the next 50 years even if we get all countries stepping up to the mark on reductions," Ms Carnell said.
"We've got to focus on adaption, we've got to focus on what our economy looks like in a time where we're going to have longer, hotter summers, bushfires, natural disasters, those sorts of things, and so looking at how as a nation and as an economy we deal with that is going to be pretty fundamental."
Meanwhile, Canberra businesses and institutions are counting the cost of a summer blighted by bushfire as thick smoke continues to blanket the national capital.
Though the ACT has so far escaped direct fire threat, persistent pollution has had a mixed effect, with some operators experiencing a steep decline in trade while others report an increase in visits as poor air quality has forced families to spend the summer break indoors.
ACT Business Chamber chief executive officer Dr Michael Schaper said there was "no question" that the smoke had had a significant impact on commercial activity in the city.
Dr Schaper said that, faced with hazardous air pollution, many had opted to remain shut up at home, at a significant cost for businesses that rely on a busy summer to see them through.
"It is almost parallel to those cold winter days when everyone hibernates a bit," he said, adding he was particularly concerned about cafes and restaurants that typically operate on narrow profit margins and rely on passing trade.
"You are not going to have a cheap and cheerful coffee down the road if you have to wear a face mask," Dr Schaper said. "There will be a whole bunch of summer-based businesses whose cash takes will be down.
"They rely on summer time to be a major source of income or profits, and when you lose that, it can be difficult to remain open."
Although much of the construction industry has observed the traditional Christmas-New Year shutdown, Master Builders ACT chief executive officer Michael Hopkins said those who continued to work through the period have been badly hampered by the smoke.
"While many construction businesses are prepared for working in extreme heat, cold and wet weather, the prolonged smoky conditions have provided unprecedented conditions for Canberra's construction industry," Mr Hopkins said.
Employers have been advised to limit outdoor work, increase breaks and provide face masks where necessary.
"The smoky conditions have put extra stress on the construction industry because it comprises mostly small and family businesses who conduct most of their work outdoors," Mr Hopkins said.
Dickson Aquatic Centre spokesperson Taryn Langdon said the smoke had had a massive impact on the venue and its staff and patrons.
Ms Langdon said the centre had been forced to close "on a number of days" and had cancelled all five weeks of its planned intensive holiday swimming program because of uncertainty about air quality.
"We would normally have tens of thousands of visitors coming through on days we have been closed, and there is a reluctance for families to come out now," she said.
Ms Langdon said the shutdowns and lack of numbers had significant knock-on effects for staff, most of whom are employed on a casual basis.
"A lot of people have not been able to earn income during this period, and our suppliers have not been supplying, so it has downstream effects," she said.
Ms Langdon said the centre had bookings to host 29 school carnivals during February and March so was hoping that conditions cleared up soon.
Canberra Aqua Park operations manager David Watts said that, overall, the business was "tracking along nicely", though smoke and high winds had forced it to close on four days during the summer.
Mr Watts said numbers had been down on other days as well as lingering smoke deterred people, particularly those with breathing difficulties, from venturing outside.
But while some businesses have suffered from the smoke, others have benefited.
Both the Canberra Centre and the National Museum of Australia said they were busier than usual as people sought refuge.
The National Museum, which has a modern air filtration system, has been able to keep its doors open as scheduled during the Christmas-New Year period and has experienced a significant influx of visitors.
"We have seen an increased number of visitors as people take refuge from the smoke," a museum spokeswoman said. "The Museum values the role it can play in providing a comfortable place for the public to come for respite with their families and be part of a community during these difficult times."
Canberra Centre senior marketing manager Kelly McGufficke said activity at the retail venue was up compared with previous years.
"As a key community hub for our region, Canberra Centre has been a destination for people seeking respite from the smoke haze and those wanting to stock up on essential supplies, evidenced by strong visitation numbers," Ms McGufficke said.