Disaster recovery payments hang in the balance for Byron shire

Billinudgel pub under water after cyclone Debbie. Photo Alice Amoré.

Billinudgel pub under water after cyclone Debbie. Photo Alice Amoré.

Disaster recovery payments for individuals to assist with recovery following cyclone Debbie remain in the hands of the federal agencies, two months and one week after the devastating flood ripped through the north coast. 

The delay? It appears the federal attorney-general’s department dropped the ball in asking for data from Byron Shire Council.  Council’s director of corporate management and community services, Mark Arnold confirmed with The Echo in an email on 29 May that: ‘Council has not received any requests for additional or other supporting information and we are following up through the Regional Recovery Co-ordinator with the State to determine what the concerns or hold up are.’

Residents of Mullumbimby, Ocean Shores, New Brighton, South Golden Beach and Billinudgel were heavily affected by flooding, yet the disaster recovery payment for individuals were quickly declared for Tweed and Lismore local government areas (LGA) by the federal government. 

Council staff say they have now been asked by the federal Attorney-General’s department to supply further information regarding the severity of the impact on Byron Shire residents.

The key to releasing the funding appears to be in the words ‘a severe enough impact across the entire local government area to meet the criteria for activation of the disaster recovery  payments.’ That is, if the entire Shire hasn’t been severely affected then the Commonwealth can potentially refuse residents the opportunity to apply for individual disaster relief, regardless of how severely they have been affected

Category C funding

Meanwhile Category C funding, or access for businesses to disaster recovery funding, was recently declared for the area.

Nationals MLC, Ben Franklin told The Echo, ‘Unlike category C funding, which requires recommendations from individual states, disaster recovery payment funding are entirely decided by the federal government.’

‘At my request, state minister for emergency services Troy Grant met with Byron Shire Council representatives in Mullumbimby in April to better understand the impact the flooding had on our communities.

‘Although entirely a federal matter, in Mullumbimby minister Grant offered to facilitate a meeting with Minister Keenan where Byron Shire’s best case could be put forward for the Australian government disaster recovery payments. I understand arrangements for this meeting are being finalised.’

More information requested

The Byron ShireCouncil has now been asked by the Attorney-General’s department to supply further information regarding the severity of the impact on Byron Shire residents.

A spokesperson from the Attorney-General’s department said the requested information from Council includes ‘data relating to the number of homes and workplaces that have been impacted (specifically destroyed and/or significantly damaged), and the number of displaced and isolated people, immediately following the event.’

Council are currently gathering further information to support their claim. Residents who have not yet submitted information regarding the impacts of the flooding can contact Byron Shire Council on 6626 7000.

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