With north coast MPs falling over themselves in NSW parliament to speak about the recent flood disaster last week, are they doing enough when it comes to providing financial grants to those who have lost everything?
Despite the region being declared a disaster zone soon after on March 31 by the state and federal governments, different levels of assistance are being applied to different shires, sparking anger from residents now without such basics as a bed, vacuum cleaner and washing machine.
Residents from Lismore and Tweed (both National Party state electorates) were almost immediately eligible for a Disaster Recovery Payment, which is a one-off payment of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child who have suffered injury or property loss.
Yet Byron, Ballina, Kyogle and Richmond Valley Shire residents are still not eligible, despite suffering as much property loss and damage.
The Echo asked locally-based Ben Franklin MLC (Nationals) why the two National Party seats were given Disaster Recovery Payment while others were not and, ‘Do you believe this disaster response was adequate or will you be seeking to include other shires into the Disaster Recovery Payment?’
Mr Franklin denied there was a ‘conspiracy’ that Lismore and Tweed were awarded the grant while others were not, and said he is ‘lobbying the government to include Byron and Ballina Shires as well.’
‘I have formally written to MPs Michael Keenan, George Brandis and others on this,’ he said, ‘seeking their inclusion and am working closely with Byron Shire Council to try to maximise the likelihood of their inclusion.’
‘The issue is that the federal and state governments have different responsibilities. The state government declared six areas and they receive a range of assistance. The federal government has a different set of criteria for the Disaster Recovery Payment and so far have only extended that to Lismore and Tweed. The government collects data and information through its agencies as is appropriate and passes it on to the federal government.
Local Greens MP Tamara Smith says she has appealed to the state minister and to the flood recovery co-ordinator Euan Ferguson, ‘to hasten their assessment process of Byron and Ballina shires so that people from Cabbage Tree Island, Mullumbimby, Billinudgel, South Golden Beach, Middle Pocket, Wilson’s Creek and Ocean Shores, to name a few of the worst flood affected areas, can get access to the money that people in QLD, Tweed and Lismore are able to apply for.’
As for how governments determine who gets assistance, it’s emerged from the NSW north coast Business Chamber – not from MPs – that business owners who contribute information about damage to their premises and loss of stock and trade help to inform the data that goes towards the decision regarding assistance.
Regional manager off the Northern Rivers, NSW Business Chamber, Jane Laverty, said in a statement, ‘Critical to attracting the necessary financial assistance for business and industry is our ability to quantify and qualify the impact of this disaster.’
‘This impact will be both in damage to premises and stock and also to the loss of trade.
‘The importance in gathering this information can not be understated as this data informs the Disaster Declaration Category and will have a direct baring on the funds made available to support recovery.
‘The current Category of Disaster Declaration is A, and I imagine this will escalate once the data has been collated.’
The chamber survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/
The Echo asked Mr Franklin if there was a reason why this information – ie that business data helps to secure funding – was not forthcoming from his government.
Mr Franklin instead said he actively lobbying his colleagues over funding for the clean-up, and has asked emergency services minister Troy Grant for advice ‘for any avenues Byron Shire Council might have to receive funding assistance,’ with regards to ‘ongoing collection of waste and debris.’
Mr Franklin told Mr Grant in a letter on April 5 that council contends ‘they are ineligible too claim funding under the NSW Public Works Disaster Eligibility Guidelines.’
Another north coast-based NSW MLC is Catherine Cusack (Liberal). She told The Echo she ‘understood Byron and Ballina are being assisted with the paperwork to get access to the grants as soon as possible.’
She told parliament last week that ‘more needs to be done for the north coast,’ and says that the existing assistance packages, ‘are not properly tailored to the unique circumstances of this event.’
Note: An earlier story ‘Nats MP silent over calls for disaster funding’ has been removed because it did not accurately reflect the situation – Mr Franklin had responded to Hans Lovejoy, the Echo‘s newspaper editor.