Wednesday, 2 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, Senator Ruston. Can the minister confirm that the Morrison government has spent $500 million less on bushfire recovery than it has announced and has failed to spend a single cent from its $4 billion Emergency Response Fund on resilience or mitigation works? Why is the Morrison government failing to deliver to help Australians recover and prepare for bushfires?
Thank you very much for your question. What I can confirm is that we are absolutely committed to standing by every person that has been impacted by bushfires and to standing by bushfire affected communities to support them in their recovery.
In reference to the numbers that you have just put on the table in relation to the Bushfire Recovery Fund—and the funding that is made available on an annual basis to support bushfire mitigation into the future—that fund has a very specific purpose and some very specific conditions around it. One of those conditions is that all other sources of funding to support bushfire recovery have to be expended before that particular fund comes into effect, and the $200 million that is made available annually as a dividend from that fund is to support our recovery and our mitigation activities going into the future.
As you would be well aware, we have spent more than $1.2 billion in support of bushfire recovery. I'm quite happy to go through and table the areas in which that $1.2 billion has been spent. But you conflate a number of issues, Senator. There is a significant difference between the bushfire recovery expenditure that has already occurred to date—through a myriad of different programs that have been administered across many, many portfolios in government—and the fund that you referred to, which refers to the money that is put aside to assist Australia in putting in place mitigation factors into the future. As I said, that requires all other forms of funding to have been expended before that one is activated.
In Bega and Cobargo, towns devastated by the last bushfire season, community organisations are still crowdfunding to upgrade toilet blocks and build evacuation centres in preparation for this bushfire season. Why are communities being forced to crowdfund for toilet blocks and evacuation centres while the Morrison government's $4 billion Emergency Response Fund sits untouched?
As I have said to the senator on numerous occasions, there have been a huge range of programs put in place to assist our bushfire affected communities, including the communities to which the senator refers. If you'd like, I'm quite happy to go through a number of programs. For instance, there is the support that's been provided to small businesses in these communities. But the fund to which you refer, senator, is a specific fund with a specific purpose with a specific set of criteria. Once all other funding has been exhausted, that fund will come into effect. That fund is in place into the future to make sure that we are always able, year after year after year, to put funding in place to assist these communities to prepare for next year. The funding that is currently being expended is from the bushfire response and recovery fund from 2020.
I reject the premise of your question because I believe the Prime Minister has been a very strong Prime Minister in making sure that funding has immediately been made available to many communities across Australia, and that funding is out the door. As I have already said, the total spend on the bushfire recovery has been $1.8 billion, and this includes the National Bushfire Recovery Fund and existing support mechanisms. Senator, you know you're conflating two different funding pools because they have two different purposes. The bushfire recovery funds that have been made available to our communities that have been so devastatingly impacted by bushfires have been expended in our communities. The fund to which you refer has a completely different purpose.