It’s the $2,000 question. Will the Byron, Ballina and Tweed Shires share in the extra government disaster payments offered to our neighbours in Lismore, Richmond Valley, and Clarence Valley?
Last Wednesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that adults affected by the floods in these Shires would be offered two additional payments of $1,000 owing to ‘catastrophic flooding’ there.
This would bring the total payments available under this scheme to $3,000.
But the offer was not extended to Byron, Ballina and Tweed, despite the fact that these areas had also been declared disaster zones by the Federal Government.
Issue caused great anger
The issue caused great anger amongst locals trying to rebuild their lives, and become a source of heated political debate across the region and at a national level.
As the outrage grew last week, Mr Morrison said he was ‘looking at’ extending eligibility for the extra payments.
‘We’re looking at other impacted areas in those districts to see how we might extend some of that support,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘…You define a couple of LGAs early on, the most impacted, and as the damage assessments come in, you will add others to that list when you go through the proper process.’
‘Disgusting’ and ‘astounding’
But the Labor Member for Richmond, Justine Elliot said the decision to leave Byron, Ballina and Tweed out was ‘disgusting’ and ‘astounding’.
‘It’s really insulting we don’t get that [extra money], we definitely need… much more than what they’ve put forward, it is really dire and it’s been a complete failure of the state and federal government,’ Mrs Elliot said.
Others have suggested that the decision was a political one, stemming from the fact that the LGAs where residents will be given extra payments are in the electorate of Page, which is held by the Nationals, while Ballina, Byron and Tweed are in the neighbouring Labor seat of Richmond.
Barnaby Joyce: ‘insulting’
This claim was hotly denied by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who described it as ‘insulting’.
Speaking at last week’s Byron Council meeting, the first since the floods, Byron Mayor Michael Lyon said the Federal Government deserved ‘the benefit of the doubt’.
‘We lobbied very profusely this morning to try and get some kind of understanding around why we were excluded,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘We’ve been advised by the national resilience and recovery agency that it’s not a case of us being excluded but that currently they’ve only done the assessments for those three LGA’s that were included and that additional funding for residents and that assessments were ongoing, and that when those assessments were completed there would be additional announcements from other LGAs that would be included.’
Scale of loss just as severe as anywhere else
‘In our own community there’s been just as much loss. Perhaps not in terms of the numbers, but the scale of loss on an individual level has been just as severe as anywhere else.
‘And so we’ll be expecting that funding to come our way and we’ll be lobbying hard for us to be included.’
Independent councillor, Mark Swivel said that the government deserved the benefit of the doubt ‘to a degree’.
‘Let’s look at what the extra funding would actually represent,’ he said.
‘When you stand in homes that are now uninhabitable, the idea that you would provide such a paltry sum of money in such circumstances is just unimaginable to me.
‘The Federal Government has funded various programs in a lavish way over the years.
‘The level of support being provided to people whose lives have been destroyed, their houses uninhabitable, their businesses destroyed. I mean what use is $3,000 for even only your car. It’s kind of ridiculous.’
The Echo is awaiting a response from the National Recovery and Resilience Agency about its process for assessing eligibility for funding payments.