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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/02/2008   
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Contents >> Income and welfare >> Australian Government disaster assistance (Article)

FEATURE ARTICLE: AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT DISASTER ASSISTANCE

This article was contributed by the Australian Government Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (August 2007).

In recent years, Australia has experienced a diverse range of disasters - natural and man-made, onshore and offshore. The Australian Government has responded by providing assistance to adversely-affected Australians. While disasters are not a new phenomenon and will continue to occur, learning from these events can make governments more resilient and responsive to their occurrence.

The primary role for protecting the community and property in response to domestic disasters rests with state and territory governments. The Australian Government supports the states and territories in recovery response through the provision of a range of programs and tailored assistance measures.

In November 2005, the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Committee (AGDRC) was established to provide advice on, and coordinate implementation of, tailored disaster recovery assistance measures to Australian individuals, families and communities in response to disasters. The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs chairs the AGDRC which comprises 27 individual agencies.

The AGDRC ensures that coordinated whole-of-Australian Government recovery assistance can be provided quickly to Australians following an onshore or offshore disaster of national significance. The AGDRC is activated in the event of a disaster to develop and coordinate whole-of-Australian Government social and community recovery packages. Some of the disasters and other critical events that the Australian Government has provided assistance for in recent years are summarised in the following paragraphs.


2007 New South Wales and Victorian floods

In June 2007, fierce storms led to dramatic floods in the Central Coast and the Hunter Valley regions of New South Wales. In Maitland, New South Wales, residents were evacuated from their homes for fear that rising flood waters would breach the levies. The floods cut electricity for thousands of Hunter Valley residents and nine people lost their lives, including a family whose car came off the road when a section of the Old Pacific Highway at Somersby was washed away.

Shortly after the storms that flooded the Hunter Valley region and Central Coast in New South Wales, large parts of eastern Victoria were under water from two days of wild storms causing the evacuation of many residents in the Gippsland region. The record amount of water making its way down the Thompson River flooded Sale, Traralgon, Bairnsdale and Paynesville. Homes were flooded, roads were cut off, telephone and power services were cut, and livestock drowned.

In response to these events, the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales and Victorian state governments were activated to assist communities adversely affected as a direct result of the storm damage and associated flooding. Three Community Recovery Funds were established, with equal contributions from the State and Commonwealth; $500,000 each for the Hunter Valley and Central Coast regions, and $100,000 for the Gippsland region. The funds were used to address the needs of affected local communities for a range of economic activities such as:
  • grants to community service and not-for-profit organisations involved in recovery and community services
  • tourism and small business initiatives
  • economic development initiatives
  • heritage and cultural site initiatives.

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment was also activated, providing payments of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child to people who were seriously injured or whose principal place of residence was destroyed, or rendered uninhabitable.


2006-07 summer bushfires

During the 2006-07 summer, Australia experienced a number of bushfire outbreaks in locations across Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The size and spread of the bushfires were driven by extreme fire conditions and resulted in the loss of property, evacuations and large-scale loss of farming land and forested areas. More specifically:
  • in December 2006, fires at Kellevie, St Marys and Scamander, in Tasmania burnt out over 30,000 hectares and destroyed 42 properties
  • from October 2006 to January 2007, fires across Victoria destroyed over a million hectares, and 17 homes
  • in Western Australia, on 3 and 4 February 2007, bushfires destroyed 14 homes and other property near the town of Dwellingup and on 12 February 2007 two houses were destroyed north of the Porongurup National Park.

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, $1,000 for each eligible adult and $400 for each eligible child, was activated to provide immediate financial assistance to people whose principal place of residence had been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. In addition, the Australian Government's Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements were activated to help alleviate the financial burden that these natural disasters caused the state governments and local communities. A Community Recovery Fund was also established to assist the regions fully recover from the fires.
2006-07 tropical cyclones Larry, Monica, George and Jacob

On 20 March 2006, the Far North Queensland coast just south of Cairns was hit by a category 5 cyclone, Larry. While there was no loss of life, a significant number of homes and businesses in the area were affected. A natural disaster zone was declared by the Queensland Government. In response to the devastation, the Australian Government provided support measures to assist those affected by the cyclone to rebuild their homes, businesses and lives. Assistance included:
  • ex-gratia payments of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child for people whose principal place of residence was destroyed by the cyclone or was rendered uninhabitable
  • tax relief to taxpayers in the cyclone-affected area who had suffered damage to their homes and businesses
  • a one-off income support program for affected farmers and small business
  • a tax-free grant of $25,000 for businesses demonstrating significant losses
  • a wage subsidy for employers (businesses, farmers and non-profit organisations) to help employers retain their pre-cyclone labour levels and get back into production and business as quickly as possible
  • concessional loans of up to $500,000 to eligible farmers and business to re-establish their enterprises
  • assistance with excise on diesel or petrol fuel used by businesses, farmers and households to generate their own electricity until normal services were restored
  • assistance for costs associated with hiring a generator where electricity was needed to operate equipment required to relieve livestock distress.

In late-April 2006, cyclone Monica crossed Cape York bringing heavy rain and flooding causing damage to Far North Queensland, before moving north-west across the Gulf of Carpentaria and crossing the coast of the Northern Territory. It came relatively shortly after the devastation caused by cyclone Larry and dealt a severe blow to parts of the Cape already struggling to adjust to the aftermath of cyclone Larry. The Australian Government decided to extend the assistance package to businesses, including farmers, in those areas impacted by the cumulative effects of cyclones Larry and Monica. This package assisted severely affected businesses and farmers in the Cape region of Far North Queensland, who had not previously received assistance, to overcome the impact of both cyclones. The assistance package included:
  • a one-off business tax free grant of up to $25,000 for those businesses in the affected area
  • access to concessional loans up to $200,000 for businesses and farmers to re-establish their enterprises
  • a one-off income support program for affected small businesses and farmers equivalent to the Newstart Allowance for six months.

On 8 and 12 March 2007, cyclones George and Jacob crossed the Western Australian coast near Port Hedland, causing extensive damage to communities in the far north of Western Australia. The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child, was activated for people who were seriously injured or whose principal place of residence was destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. This assistance was in addition to the usual financial help provided by the Commonwealth under the Natural Disaster Relief Recovery Arrangements.
International critical incidents

The Australian Government has provided assistance for offshore disasters and critical incidents, including:
  • June 2006 Lebanon, Middle East crisis
  • April 2006 Egypt bombings
  • July 2005 London bombings
  • December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
  • October 2002 and October 2005 Bali bombings.

Australian Government assistance for these incidents included:
  • reuniting hospitalised survivors with their families in Australia
  • reasonable travel and accommodation costs for eligible persons to assist seriously injured people
  • evacuation costs
  • assistance with out-of-pocket health-care costs
  • assistance for immediate family members or next of kin to pay for funerals and any related costs for an Australian who died as a result of the disaster.

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