Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Arts and Sports, Senator Kemp, in his capacity representing the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister inform the Senate on the Australian government’s assistance provided to those in my state of Queensland affected by Cyclone Larry?
I thank Senator Trood for his question. Of course we recognise his great concern for many of his constituents in relation to the cyclone. We are all aware that, on both sides of this country, communities have been battered or are about to be hit by some of the strongest cyclones ever recorded. There has been extensive damage, as many senators will know, reported throughout northern Queensland in the aftermath of Cyclone Larry. The people of northern Western Australia are currently preparing for the worst as Cyclone Glenda nears the coast.
In northern Queensland, towns and the surrounding rural areas were severely affected by Cyclone Larry, which dumped record levels of rain and caused substantial crop and building damage last week. As usual, the resilience of Australians in times of need has come through. With the help and support of volunteers and our emergency services, people in the region have begun the task of cleaning up and getting their lives back to normal wherever possible. The Australian government, along with the Queensland government and local governments in the region, will be providing the support necessary to help people get back on their feet.
Earlier this week the Australian government announced a number of important measures. Firstly, there are ex gratia payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child for people whose family home was destroyed or made uninhabitable. Secondly, we are contributing $1.1 million to the Cyclone Larry relief appeal, matching a Queensland government contribution. We advanced $40 million to Queensland under the natural disaster relief arrangements. We will also be providing income support for farmers and small business operators. In addition we will provide a one-off, tax-free grant of $10,000 for small businesses and farmers affected by the cyclone to help them restock, replant, re-establish and clean up. Loans of up to $200,000 will be made available to affected farmers and small businesses. We will also reimburse excise paid on diesel or petrol fuel used to generate electricity until normal services are restored.
At the moment, recovery and relief efforts are focused on addressing the short-term needs of the communities impacted by tropical Cyclone Larry. The Prime Minister is announcing additional measures today to assist with the relief effort. I also draw attention to Centrelink, which is playing a significant role in the relief effort, with around 120 staff on the ground providing support to those in need. It is worth recording that, to date, Centrelink has processed around 19,000 claims and will have dedicated staff working to ensure claims are processed quickly. Reconstruction will be a long, complex process, but we are committed to supporting the people of northern Queensland as they work to rebuild their homes and their communities.
The Australian government is monitoring the path of Cyclone Glenda, which is currently tracking parallel to the north-west coast of Western Australia. Emergency Management Australia is in regular contact with the WA emergency management authority about the progress of this cyclone. I am sure I speak for all Australians in hoping that the damage caused by Cyclone Glenda is minimal. However, as always, we must prepare for the worst. The Australian government stands ready to provide any assistance which may be necessary for those affected by the latest cyclone threat.