Bushfires Assistance a ‘Postcode Lottery’

By AAP
June 24, 2020 Updated: June 24, 2020

Differences in the help available to bushfire victims has created frustration and tension between cross-border communities, the royal commission has been told.

People who live on the NSW/Victorian border are angry they have missed out on assistance because of their postal address, Victoria’s Towong Shire Council told the bushfires royal commission.

“I’m not really sure if there is a postcode lottery around bushfires in terms of grant funding,” Towong’s recovery director Amanda Pagan said on Wednesday.

“Ideally, there’s a package that’s put together that irrespective of what state line you sit on, that’s what you’re eligible for.

“It’s extremely frustrating and it really caused a lot of anger.”

Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements chair Mark Binskin said a postcode lottery encompassed many of the problems the commissioners were seeing.

Pagan pointed to the Victorian emergency relief payment of up to $560 per adult, whereas there was no equivalent assistance on the NSW side.

She said the differences were even more challenging for people who owned properties that straddled the border, who could not apply for the Victorian grant if they had a NSW postal address.

Queensland’s Southern Downs Regional Council was grateful for the funding assistance provided by state and federal governments for bushfire recovery, but said the timeliness of its delivery needed to be improved.

Its deputy recovery co-ordinator Craig Magnussen said the Stanthorpe bushfires in September had a significant economic impact but much of the money had yet to reach businesses.

“The lag between the announcement being made and the funding actually hitting the ground can be really detrimental and lead to a sense that people almost feel forgotten,” he said.

Magnussen said some bushfire-impacted businesses also missed out on state funding because they did not meet the eligibility criteria under established funding streams.

Indigo Shire Council in Victoria’s northeast also argued its small businesses had been forgotten until recently.

The shire was not directly affected by bushfires but the council said there was still a devastating impact on its economy as tourism virtually ceased during the peak trading period.

Indigo chief executive Trevor Ierino said its small businesses needed short-term cash flow to keep them afloat but they were not deemed to be eligible for the $10,000 business recovery grants until recently.

“It was too late for some,” he said.

“They needed it six months ago and they didn’t have it when they needed it the most.”

Western Australia’s Shire of Dundas CEO Peter Fitchat said the council received zero assistance from the state and federal governments for bushfire recovery because it did not meet the eligibility criteria.

“The one-size-fits-all approach has certainly left us scars in our community,” he said.

More than 545,000 hectares was burnt in the Dundas shire in the December-January fires, which isolated the town of Norseman and completely closed the Eyre Highway, a national transportation route, for 12 days.

By Megan Neil