Bushfire crisis – ACOSS calls for Government action on recovery, preparation and prevention

13 January 2020

The Australian Council of Social Service has written to the Prime Minister with clear recommendations for immediate actions in response to the bushfire tragedy, with a focus on supporting people on low incomes through the crisis.

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“The devastating impact of the tragic loss of life, homes, livelihoods and nature caused by these terrifying fires cannot be overstated. In the face of such destruction, the generous response of the community, the courage of our firefighters, and the dedication of charity staff and volunteers have been truly phenomenal.

“The Federal Government has a crucial role to play in the long, hard road to recovery. We welcome the creation of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the National Bushfire Recovery Fund, along with a range of measures the Federal Government has taken to support people affected by these bushfires, including funding for mental health services.

“But there is more that the Government must urgently do to support people who have lost so much, as a result of these ferocious mega fires fuelled by climate change.

“We are very concerned that the current Disaster Recovery Payment is seriously inadequate, particularly for people on lower incomes and with fewer assets, family and friends to secure transport, alternative housing options and immediate recovery resources. The payment has not been increased in 14 years and we are calling for it to be raised from $1,000 to $3,000, and from $400 per child to $1,000 per child.

“While we welcome Prime Minister’s announcement that the Disaster Recovery Allowance will not be taxable, it’s clear that this allowance is inadequate to cover basic living costs and must be increased. It is paid at the same rate as the paltry Newstart payment, which business, health, regional and community groups all agree needs to be increased.

“It is important that people can access payments and supports without unnecessary bureaucracy and that there is support for service delivery to be coordinated at the local level. Centrelink and Services Australia should exercise leniency and flexibility in the administration of recovery and crisis payments to ensure people in need receive them, including where people cannot readily provide the required documentation because they have lost their home or do not have access to their home.

“Food relief is critical for people, families and communities affected by bushfires. ACOSS recommends that the Government immediately allocate an additional $30 million in funding to food relief community sector organisations to respond to the surge in need which is likely to continue for many months. It’s also clear that community sector organistaions providing emergency relief and financial counselling services will need greater government investment to cope with the crisis.
“As extreme weather events increase in Australia due to climate change, insurance premiums are escalating and too many people, particularly people on low incomes, find themselves under-insured or not insured. We need to respond to the needs of people without insurance now, but also to establish a review to examine how the Federal Government and the insurance industry can assist people on low incomes to access insurance products.

“Importantly, key to our future response to disasters like these bushfires must be action on climate change. With many, we’ve long called for greater investment in disaster recovery and resilience. Australia must strengthen its own response to the climate crisis, and take a global leadership role on climate change.”

Read ACOSS’ Recommendations to Government on responding to the national bushfire crisis.