ABC Canberra - Bushfire Recovery Grants

ABC Canberra - Bushfire Recovery Grants Main Image

16 December 2020

RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC Canberra, Mornings with Adam Shirley 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

ADAM SHIRLEY, PRESENTER: What about yourself and your attempt to get money from the federal government's $2 billion bushfire recovery fund? Have you seen any of it? And how challenging or straightforward was the process to apply for it? Kristy McBain is the federal labor Member for Eden-Monaro and formerly the Mayor of Bega Valley Shire. Kristy McBain Good morning to you. What has your experience been of locals who are trying to access federal government money for recovery?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Good morning, yeah look, we've been inundated with people contacting our office saying that they thought that they were eligible based on the current guidelines for assistance, and have been knocked back numerous times, which I think is very disheartening for people. But we've also had a number of community groups contacting us saying, you know, that it's very difficult for grassroots organisations to go through this grant application process competing against, you know, big business and council. So there is, I guess, some disquiet now, in the communities that have been fire affected, where you've got a bunch of volunteers trying to apply for grant funding for their community organisations and are finding the process very, very difficult.

SHIRLEY: So what are the main criticisms of the process? Can you be specific about where people are having problems?

MCBAIN: Look the grant applications themselves are quite lengthy and complex. And, you know, we've got instances of some community groups actually employing grant writers to apply for grant for them, which is very difficult, you know, our community groups are all manned by volunteers who have also been through a pretty tough year in trying to get their own lives back on track. In many cases, these volunteers are also fire affected. So I think it's been very difficult for those community organisations to be going through your processes, you know, very complex application processes, which we know that they're trying to do things for the betterment of their own communities.

SHIRLEY: So what about, as reported in The Guardian, that aspect that some companies including VISY, the paper and cardboard company, receiving $10 million, I think it is from this bushfire recovery fund? How justified is that if they're following the process that's been set to set out?

MCBAIN: I think any business or any industry, that's been fire affected should be eligible to apply for a grant if that's what they want to do. However, the unfairness comes about when we have big business and councils competing against grassroots community organisations for the same grant, you know, that really requires, in my mind, a separate grant round, where you've only got community groups competing against each other. And the process then becomes a little bit different to the current process, which, as I said, is very lengthy, requires a lot of paperwork. And in many cases, we've got community groups that have given up I've got examples of some community groups that have just given up and said, as much as we would like this funding to improve some aspects of the group we ran we just can't go through this process anymore. 

SHIRLEY: So what are they doing instead? Kristy McBain if they need that money, but have been put off trying to get into that big federal government pool.

MCBAIN: Some people are doing what they've always done and that they're running raffles in local communities and relying on donations from, from people around the community to to upgrade a program or, or get a new asset for their their community group. And, you know, Australians are generous people, and we've seen that this year especially. But, you know, people are mentally and physically exhausted as we come towards the end of the year, there's been a lot thrown at people. And as I keep saying, it's, you know, for communities in Eden-Monaro it hasn't just been bushfire it's been a prolonged drought, and bushfires been floods. COVID-19. It's been a border closure. So there's a lot going on in people's lives and this grants program which should have been, you know,  I guess a beacon of hope for some of our community groups has really become a thorn in their side and many have given up.

SHIRLEY: So what can be done? Parliament's risen for the year do you see any possible legislative vehicle where the grants process can be modified to work to that two levels that you suggested earlier?

MCBAIN: look, I know that there are a number of members of parliament who have been contacted by separate community groups. And what I would hope is that as we move towards the next phase, I believe the grant has now been extended and will not close until the end of January, which is great, it was initially was only a three week turnaround for the grant to be in. that's now been extended to the end of January which I think gives people a lot more time. But what I would hope in the new year is the federal and state governments can come together and work through the issue of actually comparing apples with apples and that is having a community group round as well as a business and council round.

SHIRLEY: This texta asks did the federal government set up a bushfire recovery centre manned by staff with access to all support, legal and building advice in each of the main fire affected areas? Kristy McBain you are and we're in one of them. What is your understanding of that?

MCBAIN: Yeah, look in Bega Valley, we had a recovery centre, we had six out of control bushfires, which stretched the length and breadth of the Shire. So we had a central place where there was a number of different state agencies, as well as local government support. And we tried to do a mobile recovery centre as well, with varying levels of success. To be perfectly honest, I don't know how many federal agencies were involved. I know we did have Centerlink available on most occasions, but the the process of recovery is very difficult. It's very complex. And the one thing that we really do need to say, and it's something that our council has been calling for, for a number of years now is a federally funded recovery and resilience agency, which we know was a recommendation of the Bushfire Royal Commission. And these agencies need to be in the regions they need to be able to obviously skill up with personnel as required when it when a disaster rolls out. But the recovery process is long, and we need people available within these communities for the long term after a disaster happens and and that mental health support that planning support for any rebuilding. And that's ongoing support for the entire community as they move back towards something that resembled their life prior to the disaster. 

SHIRLEY: Kristy McBain Thanks for your time.

MCBAIN: Thank you.