Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed A$2 billion over the next two years to a bushfire recovery fund for local governments and farmers.
The fund will support local governments, farmers and primary producers, and deliver mental health supports to first responders.
“The fires are still burning and they will be burning for months to come,” Scott Morrison told reporters on Monday.
“If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”
The prime minister said he will put his policy of a surplus budget on the backseat for now and make allowances in the federal budget for bushfire recovery.
“The surplus is no focus for me,” Morrison said. “What matters to me is the human cost and meeting whatever cost we need to meet.”
The $2 billion we’ve committed is in addition to the Government’s emergency and disaster payments, and the financial support for volunteer firefighters. People affected by the bushfires can claim disaster payments by calling 180 22 66.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 6, 2020
The bushfire recovery fund will operate alongside three levels of existing disaster relief payments available through the Commonwealth.
Twenty Service Australia pop-ups will open in fire-affected communities to help people access disaster payments.
“We have taken a number of decisions to streamline those payments to make sure cash gets into people’s hands as soon as possible,” Morrison said.
Welfare debt recovery and mutual obligation requirements in bushfire-affected regions are also being suspended for at least two months.
The consumer watchdog will set up a hotline for people to report any bogus charities using the bushfire crisis to rip people off.
The tax office will not chase up returns in bushfire-affected areas for two years, giving people in those areas some breathing space.
So far, 497 Army reservists have been called to help in the bushfire response.
New Zealand has committed three helicopters and an engineering team, while Singapore is sending two Chinooks to East Sale in Victoria.
France has offered firefighting assistance as well as engineering and environmental support.
By Daniel McCulloch