Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, Senator Ruston. Right now, in the lead-up to the next bushfire season, the Bega community is crowdfunding to build proper toilets at their showground in case they need to evacuate their community again. Why is your government leaving bushfire victims to crowdfund for toilets in preparation for another crisis when you have a $4 billion Emergency Response Fund sitting untouched?
Thank you very much, Senator Watt, for the question. Clearly, the federal government have absolutely made commitments, and they have honoured those commitments, to our bushfire affected communities across Australia. As we work our way through this COVID pandemic, I want to make sure that all Australians who are living in bushfire affected areas understand that we have not forgotten the bushfire affected areas, just as we have not forgotten our drought affected areas.
As part of the announcements that have been made in relation to the support that this government has made to bushfire affected areas—as you would be well aware, Senator Watt, the $2 billion that was made available, of which I understand $1.2 billion has gone out the door and has been spent or allocated, and in addition to that a further $650 million—
I've allowed you to remind the minister of the question. I'm listening carefully. She has a minute and seven seconds remaining.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! It's not an opportunity for others to answer on behalf of the minister. The minister can answer.
Senator Watt, I'm more than happy to take on notice the allegations that you're making about some fund that hasn't been spent at all. However, what I would like to say to you is that $1.8 billion is rolling into communities and supporting individuals, and it has already gone out the door and is supporting bushfire impacted communities. That's in addition to a number of other measures, such as small business measures that have been put in place, courtesy of programs that have been operated by Minister Cash, to assist small business. That includes things like, in my home state, funding being made available because of the bushfire smoke taint that impacted the grape growers. The amount of money that has been provided by the federal government in support of our bushfire affected communities continues to be made available to them as they go through the very difficult task of rebuilding, and we have absolutely not shirked our responsibility to make that money available. The money is going out the door.
Right now, in Victoria's Towong Shire, charities are building homes for bushfire victims who are still living in caravans 10 months on from the bushfires. Why has it fallen to charities to build homes for bushfire victims when the Prime Minister has said—and I quote—'Australians are resilient and want to rebuild—and we will be with them every step of the way'?
Thank you very much, Senator Watt, for your follow-up question. As I said in my remarks in response to your first question, this government absolutely will be with our bushfire victims every step of the way. That's why we have made available significant amounts of money.
But also, in response to your questions in relation to charities, I want to commend charities out on the ground, who have played an extraordinary role, both through bushfires and through the coronavirus, in supporting Australians. I'd also like to make a big shout-out to our volunteers on the ground—the 7.8 million Australians who volunteer and who support Australians. But, equally, through those charities and through my own portfolio area we have provided significant amounts of additional funding to charities, to make sure that they're providing the emergency response services that people may need in these bushfire affected areas. But to come in here and suggest that there has been no money spent on bushfires is simply incorrect.
Last year, the Morrison government announced a $4 billion recovery and mitigation fund to spend $200 million per year helping communities across Australia prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The next fire season is about to begin, and not a single dollar has been spent. Why is the Morrison government always there for the photo op and never there for the follow-up?
First of all, I would suggest, on the comments made by the member opposite in relation to photo opportunities, that absolutely this government takes very, very seriously its responsibility to support all Australians when they find themselves in difficult times. That has been demonstrated time and time again in our response to bushfires, our response to floods and our response to the coronavirus pandemic. We have provided a huge—
Yes. Both the primary and this question asked the minister to respond to the assertion—the factual assertion—that the $4 billion, $200 million per year fund has not had a dollar spent. I would ask the minister to respond to that question.
I've allowed you to restate part of the question. You will recall, Senator Wong, that the concluding part of the question was somewhat more open-ended and the minister can be directly relevant to any part of the question she chooses. Senator Ruston.
Thank you very much, Mr President. As I said in my previous answer: I will take the specifics of the $200 million fund and the application of that in terms of the building of bushfire resilience for the forthcoming fire season, and I will return to the chamber and provide that information. But on the allegations made by the member when he asked the question in relation to the fact that this government has not been providing assistance to the Australia communities affected by bushfires: we have absolutely supported all Australians who find themselves impacted by natural disasters, including the COVID pandemic.