What is the Morrison government doing to help communities recover from the bushfires?
The Bushfire Recovery Agency was established in mid-January to provide immediate and longer-term relief for people and communities affected by the fires. The Prime Minister has said “we will do whatever it takes … and if we need to do more, we will.” Former AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin has been appointed to lead this agency.
When people returned to their homes, we provided immediate financial assistance in the form of a $1000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child payment, and given it was the beginning of the school year, the grant for children was doubled to $800. So far $52.6million has been paid to 44,150 claims (checking for updated figure, do not publish until I have this).
For the shorter-term relief, affected people will receive up to 13 weeks of income support from the Australian Government Disaster Recovery fund; and volunteer firefighters can receive up to $300 a day for lost income, up to $6000.
Charities such as the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul have been given $40million to distribute directly to people on the ground by way of food, fuel and cash – the flow on effect of this will be that local businesses will receive income.
Primary producers who faced the tragic loss of livestock can apply for up to $75,000 in grants, and that fund has an initial $100million.
And the National Bushfire Recovery Fund has been allocated $2billion to rebuild the homes, businesses and communities affected by bushfires.
In late January the government announced $50,000 grants to affected businesses and loans of up to $500,000 are available with deferred payments and concessional rates available. To make it easier for businesses to access the grants, there will be a single point of contact and 10 additional financial counsellors will be made available. And the ATO has announced they will offer extensions to businesses due to file with them.
The $2billion fund will also assist local governments to prepare economic development plans to stimulate their economies and ensure employment is restored, and $60million has been committed to support severely impacted local governments.
The impact of the fires on the mental health and wellbeing of those in the affected areas cannot be ignored and for that reason, $76million has been committed for mental health support, and $8 million for mental health support to fund an extra 25 Beyond Blue liaison officers and clinicians to support local schools and early childhood services.
These fires aren’t unique in that wildlife has been impacted by the decimation of their habitat, but what is unprecedented is the scale, therefore $50million has been committed to help feed wildlife while their habitat regenerates, and to provide medical care for them while they recover injuries and burns.
And the States will be given more than $100million to clean up building sites and $76million has been committed to ensure overseas visitors know Australia is open for visits and to encourage domestic tourism to fire affected areas.
This is just part of the way the government is trying to ameliorate the impact of the bushfires, but the fact is those communities who faced the fires will have a long recovery ahead of them. And we can’t forget that when bushfire season is over and the cooler months return, they will continue to need our support.
The generosity of Australians from all walks of life should be acknowledged as they opened their hearts and their wallets to support the rural fire service and people affected. It’s wonderful to be reminded that our culture of helping one another endures.