$4 billion Emergency Response Fund sitting untouched

$4 billion Emergency Response Fund sitting untouched Main Image

12 November 2020

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Communities across Eden-Monaro still very much bear the scars of the Black Summer bushfires. While we lost so much—lives, hundreds of homes and millions of animals—we stand united in our bid to build back better.

Over the past couple of months, I've been meeting with community organisations across the electorate who are desperate to prepare for the next bushfire season.

In Bega, the local Rotary group is currently crowdfunding to upgrade the toilets at the showgrounds to make them fully accessible for when the community needs to evacuate again. In Cobargo, the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund is currently exploring multiple avenues, including crowdfunding, to build an evacuation centre for when disaster strikes again.

In Eden, it's a similar story. The community there is trying to scrape together funds to upgrade a sporting facility to double as an evacuation centre, to provide a hub for the community in times of emergency. It's not a case of if; it's when. I've championed these projects to you and I thank you for hearing me out. The communities of Bega, Eden and Cobargo were all devastated by the last bushfire season and are doing everything they can to protect themselves for the upcoming bushfire season.

Yet, despite this, the government has refused to release a cent from its $4 billion Emergency Response Fund, which is set up to, in part, fund mitigation and resilience projects. I've heard the line about how this fund can only be activated if there are no other emergency response funding avenues available.

My question to you is: why have some communities been left to crowdfund for toilet block upgrades and evacuation centres, when you have a $4 billion Emergency Response Fund sitting untouched? Minister Littleproud, this week you were forced to correct the record and admit that your government has undertaken no formal consultation with the federal opposition on mitigation projects that could potentially be funded from this $4 billion Emergency Response Fund.

How is it that, 18 months on from the establishment of this fund, you are yet to formally begin the consultation process with some federal MPs? You say this issue is above politics, so why are you leaving some opposition MPs out in the cold?

Way back in June this year, the Prime Minister stood up during the Eden-Monaro by-election and announced a second round of funding for primary producers, covering apple growers, forestry and wine producers. At the time, the Prime Minister and Minister Littleproud made a big song and dance about the support this government would provide for primary producers in my electorate. Two weeks later, the government lost the by-election.

It's taken many months for the government to approach the industry about funding, and dollars are still yet to hit the ground. Small-business owners that the government promised immediate relief for back in January waited months for the opportunity to even apply for funding they were relying on to keep their businesses afloat. In March, Scott Morrison admitted that the process was taking too long, and his government was forced to rejig its bushfire recovery support.

Even now, with the latest round of primary producer funding, the National Bushfire Recovery Agency refuse to reveal, through estimates, exactly how much support has actually been provided to apple growers, wine producers and the forestry industry in bushfire electorates. My question to you is: why is it, in the middle of a by-election, the Prime Minister is full of announcements, but bushfire communities are then forced to wait months for any follow-through?

In May, the Prime Minister announced that government would begin rolling out economic recovery plans in bushfire communities. Again, bushfire communities were forced to wait for months for any sign that these economic recovery plans were in the works.

I understand that rebuilding communities takes time, but these economic recovery plans were just another example of the Prime Minister making a big announcement with little follow-up. Finally, last week, we saw signs of the funding for New South Wales communities.

This is great news and I welcome it. But now we're in another bushfire season and communities have been waiting months to get their lives back on track. What's worse is that we're not seeing funding for the second stream of economic funding available through the New South Wales Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund until April next year. Why are affected industries being forced to wait more than a year after the 2019-20 bushfire season to receive bushfire economic recovery funding?