Bushfire-ravaged communities across eastern Australia will receive a $650 million funding boost to help clean up and rebuild towns after the devastating summer bushfires.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday only about one-third of the clean-up had been completed, but he expected it to be finished by the end of June in NSW and in August in Victoria.
Up to 6000 buildings, including 2779 homes, were destroyed in blazes across NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania in the seven months to March 2020. Thirty-four people died and an estimated one billion animals were killed.
The funding stems from the height of the disaster, but the government has outlined how it will be spent.
The package includes $448.5 million to be shared between communities to support local projects and recovery plans.
National Bushfire Recovery Agency chief Andrew Colvin said no two communities would have the same recovery process.
“Disasters of this nature impact individuals in very different ways, and the recovery from that is very individualistic,” he said on Monday.
The projects will include workshops and events to help communities, land and water development, replacing produce and stock, supporting local jobs and building future resilience.
About $150 million will go towards environmental initiatives.
Money will also be used to help prepare the telecommunications network for future emergencies.
Mental health support is also included in the package. Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said it was one of the most important elements.
“There is a fragility out there and there is Australians that are healing at different stages,” he said.
“We’ve seen the convergence of drought and fire, COVID-19, there is a lot bearing down on these people.”
President of the Cobargo tourist and business association in NSW, Andrew Hayden, told the ABC on Monday he lost several properties in the fires, adding it had been “extremely frustrating” that the community was yet to receive any bushfire funding.
“We haven’t seen a red cent of that money, any money whatsoever, as yet. It has been extremely frustrating, the time it has taken for this activity to happen and the sort of general mood in the town, I think people are feeling in a worse situation now than they were immediately after the fires,” he said.
“Straight after the fires, they were probably running on adrenaline and trying to get everything back in order. To sit there with very little activity for some time has had a terrible toll on the town.”
Mr Littleproud said more than $1.3 billion had already been committed to bushfire hit regions, with that money focused on financial relief for families and businesses.
By the end of June, he expected about $1 billion of that to have been delivered, dismissing criticisms that applying for the money is too complicated.
At the height of the bushfire crisis, the Morrison government promised to spend at least $2 billion on the recovery effort.