By Danielle Kutchel
Fire affected residents have welcomed announcements of a swathe of funding to support them as they continue to rebuild their lives.
On Friday 6 December, Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud announced that the areas worst hit by bushfires in February and March would be able to access 13 weeks of income support to help get them back on their feet. Claims open from Monday 9 December.
In addition, disaster recovery payments from the Federal Government have now been “activated” for residents impacted by the Bunyip bushfire in March.
Payments of $1000 per adult and $400 per child are now available for those worst-hit by bushfires in the Baw Baw, Cardinia and Latrobe council areas.
Assistance is being provided through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.
“The payment is for people whose homes have been severely damaged or destroyed, who have been badly injured or who have lost a family member,” Mr Littleproud said.
“This has been a long recovery and these payments will help those worst-hit get back on their feet.”
“We will keep making recovery assistance available in these communities as it is needed.”
This follows an announcement on Thursday 5 December of grants of up to $10,000 for farmers in Baw Baw, Cardinia and Latrobe who were hit by bushfires.
The grants are provided through the Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements and aim to help farmers begin work while waiting for insurance payments to come through.
Concessional interest rate loans of up to $200,000 are also open to primary producers, small businesses and non-profit organisations, and a $2.5 million Community Recovery Fund for local projects has been established.
The funding announcements are hot on the heels of a visit to the bushfire recovery centre at Tonimbuk Hall on Wednesday 4 December by Narracan Liberal MP Gary Blackwood and Eastern Victoria Labor MP Harriet Shing.
Monash MP Russell Broadbent, who has advocated for greater support for the fire-affected community, said the funding would be a vital support for residents.
“While it is some time since the fires, it is important that this funding and support is available in order to provide the support and assistance that our community requires rebuilding and recovering from the devastating fires earlier this year,” Mr Broadbent said.
Tony Fitzgerald, president of the Community Recovery Committee based in the bushfire affected area, has long called for further financial assistance for residents. He has said that residents feel forgotten by those in power, especially after watching how much support has been given to residents in New South Wales and Queensland by the federal and state governments as bushfires ravage the northern states.
“The Bunyip Fires, Community Recovery Committee met with MP Russell Broadbent eight weeks ago to take up this issue and expressed its profound disappointment with the inequity of the Morrison government Community Relief funds practices,” he said.
“The CRC is extremely grateful to Russell for working so tirelessly to get these grants over the line for our community.
“It was a miscarriage of justice that needed to be rectified and also a question of equity.”
Mr Blackwood also welcomed the funding, but added he was disappointed that it had taken so long to arrive.
“This is a late start for communities who have been dealing with this disaster for nine months.
“We now need the State Government to step up and provide real assistance to local government, particularly in the Bunyip North and Garfield North areas, where planning issues are ongoing and causing unnecessary delays in the recovery process,” he said.
“There are serious concerns about roadside vegetation management, planning, property valuations and forest fuel that are hampering the recovery of residents affected by the Bunyip Fires.
‘This is a great announcement for farmers but many small businesses have also been impacted or lost revenue and they deserve support.”
To determine eligibility for a recovery grant or concessional interest rate loan, small businesses, primary producers and not for profit organisations can contact Rural Finance Victoria on 1800 260 425 or online at www.ruralfinance.com.au.
Information on disaster assistance is available on the Australian Government’s Disaster Assist website at disasterassist.gov.au, the Department of Health and Human Services website at Services.dhhs.vic.gov.au and the VicEmergency website at emergency.vic.gov.au/relief.