Thursday, 12 November 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail
My part of Home Affairs is Emergency Management Australia. Over the last couple of years, we have faced many disasters, starting with the floods in north-west Queensland, fires and the Black Summer fire events, and we are continuing to make sure that the programs we've put in place are targeted and continue to reach them. The Black Summer events were ones that this country has not seen and may never see again. Thirty-three people lost their lives, there were over 3,000 homes and premises destroyed and there were countless hectares of burn scar from this event. Tragically, there were 10 emergency service personnel who paid the ultimate price and lost their lives trying to protect Australians and their homes. In fact, three of those were from overseas. It's important we acknowledge the contribution and sacrifice that they and their families made to this country during those solemn times.
It was important as a government that we made sure the recovery and relief was immediate. I'm proud to say that, in working with the minister for human services, we were able to make sure that the immediate relief payments, at over $250 million, went out. In fact, the large majority of those were out of the Commonwealth bank account and into the bank accounts of those who were impacted by these fires within 40 minutes. That is an extraordinary effort and one that I thank them for. That was simply about getting some dignity and respect to those who had been impacted by this event to make sure that they have the ability to get the essentials on the table and for their families. We then looked to further recovery. The government made it very clear that it was important that, due to the significant size of this event, we needed to apportion $2 billion in a recovery fund. That came in many parts and is about the immediate recovery but also the long-term recovery. We believed that we'd spend around $500 million of that $2 billion by 30 June. I'm proud to say we actually spent over $1 billion of that by 30 June, such was the speed.
I congratulate Andrew Colvin, who heads the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, for the way he has worked with the victims but also the states. I have to acknowledge that this has been a partnership with those states across the country in this recovery effort. In fact, some of these programs have been matched by the states. It was important that we also understood that it wasn't just rebuilding infrastructure; it was rebuilding lives and, in some ways, much of the emotional attachment to their community and their properties that these people had lost. In terms of mental health, we committed $77 million. There's $38 million that has gone out already and will continue to go out. That's primarily targeted through our Primary Health Networks to make sure that they are local solutions, not Canberra solutions. We've made sure, with respect to agriculture and small-business grants, there was money on the table for them to continue, particularly in those parts where tourism was such an important part of their local economy. We also looked after, obviously, childcare subsidy support and emergency relief for charities. We are working now, through the royal commission, in and around some reforms with the charity sector to make sure that it's more targeted and that the Australian public can have confidence that the money they are putting out goes to where it's needed.
The last big piece of this recovery is just under $450 million for what we call local economic recovery plans. We are engaging in empowering local communities to tell us what the long-term rebuilding of their communities will look like: what is the infrastructure that will help them diversify and grow after this disaster? We are partnering with each state, I again congratulate the states for matching our funding on this so that it will go even further. We are working through with these local communities on what that will look like, and through the National Bushfire Recovery Agency we are getting that money out on the ground. South Australia was the very first state to get going—in fact we worked on a desalination plant on Kangaroo Island. Now we're working with Victoria. They've signed up. Queensland has already signed up to the process. New South Wales were the last to sign up, but they had the biggest scarred area, so it was important that we got that right. We'll continue to work with these communities in their recovery, making sure that the money is targeted and that the solutions to their recovery are local, not Canberra-led.