The forgotten fires: bad to worse

Narracan MP Gary Blackwood met with Arlene and Jill Clementson on Thursday. 203660_01

By Jessica Anstice

Bunyip bushfire-affected residents are fuming over missing out on funding that’s being allocated to those affected in East Gippsland and up north.

In December last year, residents were granted access to the National Disaster Relief Funds, enabling a payment of $1000 per adult and $400 per child.

But because the bushfires were more than six months ago, the Federal Government is now denying residents this much-needed funding.

“The thing is, most people are fairly reluctant and want to maintain a level of independence so when we do put our hand out and say I would like that support it’s almost giving a part of yourself, and then being rebut hurts,” Tonimbuk resident Jenny Clarke said.

“My partner died from cancer during the bushfires so I asked the Federal Government hotline if there were any exceptional circumstances and because Roger died in May they said it was outside the period as well and therefore there weren’t any. There was no compassion whatsoever.”

During the March fires, 297 households were directly affected – many still cleaning up, and out of the 30 homes that were destroyed, not one family or individual has started rebuilding.

“Again, we’re cut off from the funding but the NSW November fires are in it which is fully deserved but it’s a total injustice because no one here has actually re-built,” Garfield North resident Tony Fitzgerald said.

“With the $1000, we weren’t eligible because we didn’t lose our house, so you could have your sheds and verandah burnt down but you couldn’t get that money.

“Now they’ve changed the criteria for this fire and if you’ve lost a structure, you can get the funding – it’s ridiculous.”

Another major issue the Bunyip bushfire-affect residents are still facing is the lack of funding available to clean up.

As a member of the Bunyip Complex Fires Community Relief Committee, Mr Fitzgerald says he still encounters either elderly, unwell or emotionally drained victims who are stuck on a property full of debris, and fallen and unsafe trees.

“The State Government is now giving money to those in East Gippsland affected for clean up but we haven’t been applauded the same,” he said.

“People here have been through so much and they are resilient but if you’re entitled, then you’re entitled. If other people are entitled in other fires, it’s not right that your fire doesn’t count.

“I’m so angry, it’s not fair and it’s insulting.”

Narracan MP Gary Blackwood plans to team up with Federal Monash MP Russell Broadbent to advocate for equality in bushfire funding.

“It’s not right – it’s just not right. This is a very small impact compared to East Gippsland or Black Saturday but it doesn’t matter whether you lost a home now or how big the fire is, the impact is still the same,” Mr Blackwood said.

“It’s only been 10 years since Black Saturday and there were a lot of learnings out of that but I look back and compare the two: Black Saturday recovery support was done better in lots of ways than this.

“I don’t understand that because the learnings were pretty clear in terms of the way people should be looked after and treated. It just doesn’t make sense the way they’ve treated this fire – I can’t explain.”

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