A political fight has broken out between local councils, the NSW government and the Commonwealth over the allocation of federal disaster funding in flood-affected areas.
It came amid claims that announcement of a $1.4 billion aid package – which includes $10,000 “back home” grants for thousands of people left homeless in the northern rivers – has been delayed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s pre-election trip to Western Australia.
The mayor of a flood-devastated community on the northern rivers said on Thursday she was still yet to hear from the Prime Minister’s office – more than two weeks after much of her region was inundated by record-breaking floods.
Tweed Shire Mayor Chris Cherry said she was reassuring herself that Mr Morrison’s neglect was because he isn’t aware of the scale of destruction.
“The only way I can get through this, basically, is to believe that the Prime Minister’s office doesn’t have our numbers yet and as soon as he is made aware of the devastation [and] the human toll that we’ve had [he will],” Ms Cherry told the ABC on Thursday.
“I’m just hoping that that message gets through very quickly.”
Late on Wednesday, NSW upper-house Liberal Catherine Cusack, who is from the flood-hit region, said she would quit the party over what she believed was a decision to allocate Commonwealth disaster payments on partisan lines.
Extra disaster funds have been given to federal Nationals-held council areas Lismore, the Clarence Valley and Richmond Valley. But they were initially denied to the Byron, Ballina and the Tweed shires, which are within a Labor-held federal seat.
Late on Thursday afternoon, the Nine Network reported aid had been extended to Kyogle, Tweed, Ballina and Byron after an updated assessment by the National Recovery and Resilience Agency.
“The idea that being a flood victim in a National Party-held seat makes you more worthy than a flood victim who is in the Richmond electorate … is probably the most unethical approach I have ever seen,” Ms Cusack said on Wednesday.
“The whole northern rivers should have been given funding according to their need, not according to their LGA. It’s unprecedented.”
Geoff Provest, the Nationals member for the state seat of Tweed, also voiced his displeasure, saying he had lost faith in Mr Morrison’s ability to lead.
“I can tell you, whether I’m down in caravan park or one of the little villages, there’s a real venom out there directed at the Prime Minister that he doesn’t understand whats occurred on the ground,” he told the ABC on Thursday.
“What it’s actually doing is hurting the people that can least afford it, to rebuild their lives and we just hope to be included like all Australians and to be excluded like this… is deplorable, disgusting and I’m really disgusted with the Prime Minister and his office for the way he’s handling this.”
Federal opposition spokesman for housing Jason Clare accused Mr Morrison of withholding disaster funds from stricken communities to maximise the political benefit of an announcement.
“It’s been more than two weeks since thousands and thousands of Aussies had their lives washed away, since people lost their homes,” Mr Clare said.
“Today we find out that help is being held up because Scott Morrison hasn’t signed the paperwork.
“We know Scott Morrison doesn’t hold a hose, the least he could do is hold a pen.
“My message today to Scott Morrison is this: ‘Hurry up. Hurry up’.”
Multiple outlets have reported the release of a $1 billion funding package prepared by the NSW government, and jointly funded with the Commonwealth, was obstructed at the federal level as Mr Morrison tours WA.
Mr Morrison denied those claims on Thursday, saying he had received the NSW proposal on Tuesday night, and had met the attorney-general and national security committee of cabinet to work through the details.
“That is the normal process and, as I indicated to the Premier, we’ll be turning that around as quickly as possible,” Mr Morrison said.
NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has also acknowledged concerns about the allocation of disaster funds. But he said he didn’t believe money was being handed out on a partisan basis.
Mr Kean said money needed to be extended to Byron, the Tweed shire and Ballina to help people that “need it most”.
He said the state government was working on a new package, which Nine Newspapers reports could be worth up to $8 billion, to capture people outside the current framework,
Separately, a further $9 million in funding for northern NSW and Queensland was announced on Thursday.
“The immediate financial and material losses associated with the floods has significantly impacted many people’s ability to access food and clothing, and to pay bills and manage debt,” Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said.
The funds, directed to 83 emergency and food relief services supporting flood victims, would help services “continue to deliver vital support”, Ms Ruston said.
– with AAP