House debates

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Questions without Notice

Australian Bushfires

2:16 pm

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. The Longstocking Brewery in Pambula, in my community, would be paying 24 to 30 casual shifts a week at this time of year. Because of the bushfires, they're currently paying four. Loss of wages for casual and permanent staff is hurting my community. We're losing jobs. They're leaving the region, and the government, they tell me, is not providing any help. Why is that, after bushfire-affected businesses were promised immediate relief, they're still unable to access that help?

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The government has responded to the bushfire crisis with a $2 billion national bushfire recovery fund, and that is administered by the National Bushfire Recovery Agency. When it comes to small businesses, as the member would be aware, there are qualifying criteria for businesses that have been directly impacted by the fires. It is the same criteria that applied to small businesses that were affected by the floods that occurred in North Queensland this time last year. That same criteria applies to those affected businesses in the bushfire-affected zones today. That is important. We'll provide the same support to those in this disaster that was provided to those in previous devastating disasters.

What is important, whether it's that business or the many other businesses, is the recovery work that is being put in place, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to clear sites. We are doing that with the New South Wales government. We are providing the $50,000 grants and providing the $500,000 zero interest loans with nothing to pay for two years and at a concessional rate of 0.6 per cent, which is half the bond rate; that's where it's currently at now. All of that is there to provide working capital and support for those businesses that may not have been directly impacted by the bushfires but are otherwise going through the very challenges that the member has outlined to this House.

The measures in response to the North Queensland floods have proved to be enormously helpful as those businesses have gone about the repairing and rebuilding process over the last year. If the member is suggesting that the disaster recovery arrangements should change—that the taxpayer should be the insurer of last resort on all matters—that is not a policy that his government pursued and it is not a policy that this government is pursuing.

Those grants will get to the small businesses that need them. We have put through support, with the New South Wales government, to assess with financial counsellors, to help them get access to the support they need. For these individual cases I am sure the minister responsible for emergency management would be pleased to pass that on through the recovery agency, to provide whatever assistance we can. This government is providing the most significant package of relief that we have seen in relation to a disaster of this nature. It's initial, it's additional and it'll keep rolling every single day, and it will be there for years and years and years to come.

2:19 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the . Minister, thank you for visiting my electorate and allowing me to drive you through the Adelaide Hills firegrounds, including the devastated townships of Harrogate and Brukunga in the Mount Barker district council region. Thank you also for meeting with council and listening to their detailed account of the $1.4 million in costs they've incurred through the clean-up process. Yet, thus far, Mount Barker remains excluded from category D disaster local government funding assistance. Minister, when will the government commit to ensuring Mount Barker council receives the category D funding they so badly need?

2:20 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Mayo not only for her support for her community and for her leadership in making sure that the impacts of the devastation that I saw firsthand with her are understood; I also thank her now in the recovery phase. It's important, as the government has said from the start, that this has to be a locally led recovery—not Canberra led.

We work with our disaster recovery payments with the states, who make those assessments. We're working with the South Australia government now with respect to Mount Barker. Let me make it clear that what I saw there was truly devastating, and the Australian government is working as quickly as we can. After meeting with the council and you, under your leadership we are working through that list as quickly as we can to make sure the category C application is strengthened from the South Australian government and the finalisation of that is complete. Then, obviously, category D will be on top of that. In fact, as early as today Andrew Colvin, who is running the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, is on a plane to go and sit with the Mount Barker council. He will sit down and engage with them, along with other councils in South Australia, to make sure that we coordinate this approach as quickly as we can—so that the assessments are made as quickly as the South Australian government possibly can, we get it right and there aren't any gaps in this. So it's important that we get that announcement out imminently to those people in Mount Barker and other shires, as quickly as we possibly can, as that assessment's made in South Australia.

Can I thank the member for Mayo and her office, and even her mother, for the hospitality I was awarded in Mayo. I can say with great authority that her mother's mulberry jam is the some of the best I have ever tasted!