Thousands of farmers will get access to $75,000 grants to rebuild, as Australians were warned the cost of food would increase as primary producers get back on their feet.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday announced at least $100 million would be made available – out of the $2 billion recovery fund – to allow producers to replace sheds, fences and farming equipment damaged by the fires and dispose of carcasses.
“We need to get this cash in the hands of these producers so they can get on with the jobs that urgently need doing,” Mr Morrison said.
Farmers will not need to have their primary residence in the fire-affected area to qualify, and off-farm income will not be factored into the grants.
The relief package will be in addition to support for farmers already dealing with drought.
Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said about 19,000 farmers, foresters and fishers had been affected by the fires.
Many of them had left their properties to join volunteer brigades in fighting the fires, but were now seeking to return home.
“We need to get our farmers back to business, to growing food. It’s what they want to do. It’s what they like to do,” she said.
Senator McKenzie said the eligibility criteria for farmers will be “incredibly simple” to speed up the payments.
The minister warned prices for fresh food would rise as a consequence of the fires.
“Supermarkets are letting the Australian public know that they’ll have to pay more for their red meat – yes, you will,” she said.
“That they’ll have to pay more for their fruit and vegetables … (and) milk.”
Mr Morrison met with business leaders in Canberra on Tuesday to discuss ways to bring about their recovery.
He said many businesses were being undermined by donated food and clothing and Australians should instead give cash to charities or visit regional centres to spend money locally.
In a bid to shore up the tourism sector, the prime minister personally intervened via the White House to ease the US advisory warning about travel to Australia.
“There is a bit of a false perception overseas the entire continent has been affected,” Mr Morrison said.
Westpac estimates the bushfire crisis will cost the Australian economy $5 billion and cut up to 0.5 per cent off economic growth.
Federal ministers have been working on other aspects of the bushfire recovery including health, the environment, financial services, charities and the disability sector, with more announcements and meetings to come over the coming week.
The flurry of work comes as the latest Essential poll shows only 32 per cent of people approve of Mr Morrison’s handling of the fires.
Voters are much more impressed with the performance of state premiers.
Overall, the prime minister’s disapproval rating has risen nine points from 43 per cent in December to 52 per cent.