It has been just over four months since fire nearly destroyed Dan Tarasenko’s free-range chicken farm at Quaama, on the outskirts of Cobargo on the New South Wales south coast.
His paddocks are looking lush and green again, but Mr Tarasenko said his business was struggling to get going after the terrible New Year’s Eve blaze.
“Damage-wise we probably lost a million dollars. We lost 15 kilometres of fences. There was damage to infrastructure on the farm, not including lost income which could’ve been upwards of a $100,000 per month,” Mr Tarasenko said.
Despite promises from politicians and the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce to speed up the rollout of bushfire grants and loans, farmers on the NSW south coast have told 7.30 they are being tied in knots by red tape, or struggling to simply get their applications processed at all.
Winter is fast approaching and these farmers are getting desperate.
“We were under-insured like just about everyone. No one expects a fire like this on the back of the drought,” Mr Tarasenko said.
“Feed prices, water – everything’s been really tough. Now we’re just trying to keep the lights on.”
‘We could hire 10 people tomorrow’
While the Tarasenkos’ business received a bushfire relief grant relatively quickly, their applications for federal government bushfire recovery loans have so far stalled.
Mr Tarasenko said it was money that could be making its way into the community.
“For us, if we got this loan we could get back on our feet. We could hire 10 people tomorrow plus a fair few casuals as well. This operation could become a major employer down here,” he said.
7.30 has been shown documents indicating the Tarasenkos applied for two different types of low-interest federal government loans available to primary producers – one application went in at the end of February and the other at the end of March.
They are still waiting for both to even be assessed, something Mr Tarasenko said is a common story among locals.
“I spoke to three or four people just last week [and] everyone’s in a similar position,” he said.
“I spoke to someone who got their $50,000 loan. They actually got their application in on the second of January and it took four months and it got approved.
“Their bigger loan got knocked back, so they now have to go back and appeal it.”
Less than half of the loans applied for have been approved
New figures from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency show that of the 681 applications received for concessional loans, 288 have been approved.
Primary producers and small businesses have asked for $73,943,913 through these loans, but only $17,026,700 has so far been loaned to applicants.
Minister for Emergency Management David Littleproud said that while it was federal government money, the states and territories were responsible for distributing it.
“What’s important now is results, not blame, and that’s why we put on additional staff in the Bushfire Recovery Agency to support the states,” Mr Littleproud said.
“If they need more help, they only need to ask. We will be there to support them, not blame them.
“No one is maliciously trying to delay anything here. This is a huge recovery program and we need to work with the states.
“I’m not going to blame them for anyone that’s been left behind inadvertently, but we need to catch them quickly.”
Mr Tarasenko just wants the red tape to be smoothed out and sped up, so he can get back to business.
“$50,000? That’s five employees for two months that we inject into our business. Everyone starts to rebuild faster, which means everyone gets back on their feet faster,” he said.
“We could look back and go, ‘That fire sucked, but how good are things right now?’
“But instead we’re still fighting and ironically we’re now closer to the next fire season and here we are still fighting.”