Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Will the minister provide an update to the House on the Morrison government's continued support for bushfire affected communities, noting any additional challenges to these efforts?
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the government and the Bushfire Recovery Agency have not forgotten those victims in this summer's bushfires. We've continued to work, and yesterday we committed the last $650 million of the $2 billion recovery fund. That's in addition to those relief payments that were put out immediately—the $1,000 per adult and $400 per child, which we doubled. In fact, proudly, that program that we administered through the Department of Human Services was able to be done for the majority of those people, getting it in their pockets within 40 minutes—something that I think we as Australians should be very proud of—to help those in their time of need to get money into their pockets.
Yesterday, we took the next step. What we're also proud of is that, as of yesterday, we had spent $537 million of the $2 billion. That has come out of the Australian government's pocket and been put it into the victims' pockets. We said we would only have $500 million spent by 30 June, but such is the demand and need that we have continued to work with the states in a collaborative way to get this money out. We expect that, by 30 June, we will have probably spent over $1 billion of that $2 billion fund. That will be out of the government's pocket and into those victims' pockets. That's something that we as a government and we as a nation should be proud of—that we're there to support those in their time of need. Yesterday was a strategic move around moving from immediate relief to long-term recovery. The centrepiece of that was a nearly $450 million investment in local economic recovery plans.
This recovery cannot be Canberra-led; it has to be led locally, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to empower those communities with the tools to do that. Let them decide what building back better looks like—not someone from Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne but somebody that's ensconced in that community, somebody that's living and breathing it. We've said to those communities that we are there to help.
We've also invested nearly another $150 million in the environment on top of the $50 million that we put out in emergency funds to help those injured species straight after the fires. We're now going to rebuild their habitat. We're also looking to improve telecommunications, with $27 million worth of improved telecommunications. We found there were gaps during the bushfires. It's important we acknowledge that, work with telcos and try to make it better for the future to protect more Australian lives.
There is $15 million for the forestry industry, which has probably been hit harder than most. In understanding the forestry industry, you just don't plant a tree and are able to harvest it within 12 months; it takes 20-plus years. So we needed to give them support to get them through.
One of the most important aspects of this package is the top-up to mental health. There is $13½ million to have locally targeted mental health programs for those communities that have been impacted. People across the fire zone are healing at different stages, and we need to understand that and tailor that. But we need to say to them that there should never be a stigma to ask for help. This nation and this parliament will stand with you in your economic but also your emotional recovery.