Senior economic ministers will meet to finalise further financial support to flood-ravaged communities, as thousands more defence troops prepared to arrive to assist clean-up efforts.
Federal cabinet’s expenditure review committee will convene later on Tuesday, where flood assistance will be discussed.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was finalising the first wave of what he described as “over and above measures” — disaster funding that is outside of the existing categories of support.
Mr Morrison said the plans would be integrated alongside similar support from the NSW government.
“The Australian government will stand with those communities in the northern rivers to support them as they clean up now and in the months and years ahead,” he said.
“This is not just a flood event … this is a catastrophe on a national scale”
The prime minister described the flooding event as mind-boggling, with more than $200 million in disaster recovery payments already made since the crisis began.
As criticism from residents in flood-affected communities intensifies about a lack of federal support from ADF personnel, it’s expected the number of troops on the ground will reach 5000 by the end of the week.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton defended the timing of the ADF’s arrival, arguing many areas were inaccessible.
“It’s not just a couple of streets or a couple of towns or anything like that, it is a broad area of cultural communities,” Mr Dutton told ABC Radio on Tuesday
“Despite the magnificent work (ADF troops) have done, I think they just became overwhelmed with the scale of it.”
Mr Dutton said ADF assistance would increase as flood waters subside.
“We need to be realistic about the situation in northern NSW. It’s actually not just a flood, as others have pointed out – this is more of a cyclone,” he said.
“There were roads that are no longer there, houses have been condemned, these are circumstances in which they’re dealing and it will take time to respond and rebuild.”
ADF troops coming into flood areas will spend the coming days helping to clear roads and fix telecommunication networks and will use helicopters to drop critical supplies to cut-off communities.
However, opposition disaster and emergency management spokesman Murray Watt said there had been a lack of government support for some of the hardest hit regions.
Senator Watt said more ADF personnel and government assistance was needed.
“Locals are really grateful for the small number of ADF personnel who are here, but we need a massive injection of personnel and support more generally,” he told ABC TV.
“Right now is when we need to see khaki on the ground, this is a national-scale emergency.”
The death toll from the southeast Queensland flood disaster has risen to 13 and six people have died in NSW, taking the national toll to 19.
Communities living along 1000km of the NSW east coast are in for a drenching and more flooding on Tuesday and thousands of people in Sydney’s south and southwest have been ordered to evacuate.