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Emergency payments for people affected by Australia's bushfires 'seriously inadequate'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 13/01/2020 Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

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(Video by ABC News)

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Australia’s peak welfare body is calling on the federal government to immediately boost emergency payments for those affected by bushfires, saying it is concerned the current amount is “seriously inadequate”.

The Australian Council of Social Service chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, has written to the prime minister, Scott Morrison, with a range of recommendations the organisation says are urgently needed to help provide relief to those affected by the bushfire crisis that has destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

“It is vital that the federal government continues to play its role providing adequate support to the thousands of people so badly affected,” Goldie said.

“Acoss is very concerned that the current Disaster Recovery Payment is seriously inadequate, particularly for people on lower incomes and with fewer assets, family and friends to secure transport, alternative housing options and immediate recovery resources.”

Smoke rises from a fire at the Adaminaby Complex near Yaouk, New South Wales, Australia January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy © Thomson Reuters Smoke rises from a fire at the Adaminaby Complex near Yaouk, New South Wales, Australia January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

The group is calling for the payment, which has not increased since 2006, to be boosted from $1,000 to $3,000, and from $400 per child to $1,000 per child.

Other recommendations include increasing the Disaster Recovery Allowance, which is paid at the same rate as Newstart, which the organisation said was inadequate to cover basic living costs, and providing additional relief for people on low incomes who could not afford insurance.

“As extreme weather events increase in Australia, insurance premiums are escalating and too many people, particularly people on low incomes, find themselves under-insured or not insured.”

Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

According to the Insurance Council of Australia, more than $700m in insurance payments have already been paid out to bushfire victims.

Acoss is also calling on the government to increase funding for food relief, saying the government needs to immediately allocate an additional $30m in funding for the community sector to respond “to the surge in need which is likely to continue for many months”.

TUMURUMBA, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 11: A Rural Fire Service firefighters views a flank of a fire on January 11, 2020 in Tumburumba, Australia. Cooler temperatures forecast for the next seven days will bring some reprieve to firefighters in NSW following weeks of emergency level bushfires across the state, with crews to use the more favourable conditions to contain fires currently burning. 20 people have died in the bushfires across Australia in recent weeks, including three volunteer firefighters. About 2079 homes have been destroyed this bushfire season in NSW, more than half of them since January 1, and 830 homes have been damaged. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images) (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images) © 2020 Getty Images TUMURUMBA, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 11: A Rural Fire Service firefighters views a flank of a fire on January 11, 2020 in Tumburumba, Australia. Cooler temperatures forecast for the next seven days will bring some reprieve to firefighters in NSW following weeks of emergency level bushfires across the state, with crews to use the more favourable conditions to contain fires currently burning. 20 people have died in the bushfires across Australia in recent weeks, including three volunteer firefighters. About 2079 homes have been destroyed this bushfire season in NSW, more than half of them since January 1, and 830 homes have been damaged. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images) (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

“Food relief is critical for people, families and communities that are affected by bushfires,” Goldie said.

Along with a call for the “streamlining” of payments and service delivery, Acoss has outlined a range of medium- and long-term recommendations, including a call for greater action on climate change.

This includes the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, investment in energy efficiency and disaster resilience for low-income households, and government support to ensure a “just transition” for workers and communities affected by the shift to renewables.

WAIREWA, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Brian and Elizabeth Blakeman inspect the bushfire damage to their property  on January 12, 2020 in Wairewa, Australia. Brian and Elizabeth Blakeman remained at their home atop the hill to battle the fire after it encircled the property on the 30th December. Three CFA trucks came to the property to use the high vantage point so firefighters could determine where the fire was coming from and told them that the house couldn't be saved and that they should leave. Brian and Elizabeth used hoses and sprinklers to save the house but the outlying buildings and orchard were destroyed. The large shed contained a caravan, boat, tractor and two stage coaches built by Brian and used to take holidays through the high country. A keen saddler, all Brian's saddles and saddlery equipment were ravaged. They are not sure why their house was spared whilst half of the tiny hamlets 22 homes were destroyed. The Blakemans say they are now feeling a bit of "battle fatigue" from the constant threat the region is facing and are feeling overwhelmed about where to start when it comes to assessing the damage and related insurance claims. Fires in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have burned more than 10 million hectares of land in recent months. 21 people have been killed, including three volunteer firefighters in NSW and a firefighter in Victoria, and thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed. (Photo by Chris Hopkins/Getty Images) © 2020 Getty Images WAIREWA, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Brian and Elizabeth Blakeman inspect the bushfire damage to their property on January 12, 2020 in Wairewa, Australia. Brian and Elizabeth Blakeman remained at their home atop the hill to battle the fire after it encircled the property on the 30th December. Three CFA trucks came to the property to use the high vantage point so firefighters could determine where the fire was coming from and told them that the house couldn't be saved and that they should leave. Brian and Elizabeth used hoses and sprinklers to save the house but the outlying buildings and orchard were destroyed. The large shed contained a caravan, boat, tractor and two stage coaches built by Brian and used to take holidays through the high country. A keen saddler, all Brian's saddles and saddlery equipment were ravaged. They are not sure why their house was spared whilst half of the tiny hamlets 22 homes were destroyed. The Blakemans say they are now feeling a bit of "battle fatigue" from the constant threat the region is facing and are feeling overwhelmed about where to start when it comes to assessing the damage and related insurance claims. Fires in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have burned more than 10 million hectares of land in recent months. 21 people have been killed, including three volunteer firefighters in NSW and a firefighter in Victoria, and thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed. (Photo by Chris Hopkins/Getty Images)

“Some communities will experience negative effects from our response to climate change, such as those heavily dependent on burning or extracting fossil fuels,” Goldie said.

“We must develop transition plans that are place-based, and include the development of new economic opportunities.”

Goldie, who also wants the community sector included on the board of the new National Bushfire Recovery Agency, praised several government initiatives, including the decision to make the disaster tax exempt and the pause on debt recovery actions for affected welfare recipients.

KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Cars are seen at the bushfire damaged Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat at the edge of Flinders Chase National Park on January 12, 2020 on Kangaroo Island, Australia. Over 100,000 sheep stock have been lost so far, along with countless wildlife and fauna since the devastating bushfires took hold on January 4th. The Country Fire Service (CFS) continues to battle a number of out-of-control blazes as road closures towards the Western side of the Island remain in place. Two people have lost their lives, 212,000 hectares of land has been burned and at least 56 homes were also destroyed. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images) © 2020 Getty Images KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 12: Cars are seen at the bushfire damaged Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat at the edge of Flinders Chase National Park on January 12, 2020 on Kangaroo Island, Australia. Over 100,000 sheep stock have been lost so far, along with countless wildlife and fauna since the devastating bushfires took hold on January 4th. The Country Fire Service (CFS) continues to battle a number of out-of-control blazes as road closures towards the Western side of the Island remain in place. Two people have lost their lives, 212,000 hectares of land has been burned and at least 56 homes were also destroyed. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

She also welcomed the establishment of a royal commission, but said there needed to be a national summit on bushfire recovery and preparedness to address the “immediate policy and investment needs for recovery”.

“We need a national summit to draw on the best advice across the community about what we need to do to recover from this bushfire crisis, and what is needed to prepare for the increasing natural disasters that we will inevitably see as our climate changes,” she said.

On Sunday, Morrison announced the government had already paid out $40m in various forms of disaster assistance to more than 30,000 people, with another $40m paid to affected councils.

Gallery: Celebs who've donated to the Australian bushfire relief efforts (SarsInsider)

MSN UK is committed to Empowering the Planet and taking urgent action to protect our environment against the climate crisis. We’re supporting those on the front line tackling the Australian bushfire crisis. Find out more about our campaign here.

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