Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Fire disaster relief under scrutiny -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

PETER CAVE: Thousands of Victorians who weren't physically injured and didn't suffer property loss
in February's bushfires have received Centrelink disaster recovery payments. The payments were made
to people who claimed they'd suffered psychological trauma or inconvenience when fleeing their
homes in the days after Black Saturday.

The Federal Government is defending the payments saying the stress that people were under shouldn't
be underestimated.

Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: "Compo Greed" is the front page headline on today's Melbourne Herald Sun. The
newspaper says about 7,000 people have received Centrelink disaster relief payments to compensate
for the psychological trauma of having to spend time away from home during February's fires. It
says one family even used the money to pay for a trip to Bali.

Dandenong Ranges resident Sue was one caller to ABC local radio this morning who'd received the
Centrelink payment.

SUE: We evacuated twice but we were gone for a total of eight days because we didn't go back til
the fires actually finished.

We were probably out of pocket over $1000. I don't take any other Centrelink payments and I had to
think about taking it.

I thought the benefit of it would be is that if people knew that people live around where we live
in the Dandenongs, if they knew they could get money to pay for a motel when they haven't got the
money that they would actually leave when the CFA tell us to leave rather than staying there and
dying in a fire.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The grant scheme is entirely separate from the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal. Under
the scheme adults are eligible for a payment of $1000 and children $400 each.

Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary for Bushfire Reconstruction defended the Australian
disaster government relief payment this morning.

BILL SHORTEN: I think it's perhaps now in the middle of winter easy to, or not easy but it's
possible to forget the tragedy and the drama of those days immediately after February the 7th.

The Federal Government has assisted a lot of people who were affected by the bushfires when there
was a very legitimate fear that the fires around Ferntree Gully, Upwey and Belgrave could become
potentially very devastating and people were moved out.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Rob Gordon is a psychologist with the Victorian Recovery Plan. He's pleased that
people whose lives were disrupted by the fires have received the payments.

ROB GORDON: There are quite a number of people who had very traumatic evacuations and also lived in
a state of great uncertainty for a considerable period of time. And often they didn't have anywhere
particularly good to go.

And I've also had people talk to me about a great deal of inequality in the provision of support.
There was a lot of this kind of assistance given early on and then if people didn't apply at the
right time they didn't get it. I'd like to think this is equalising the assistance that was given.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Rob Gordon says changes in Government's attitude to disaster recovery in the last
25 years are an improvement.

ROB GORDON: I've seen a steady shift in the way in which Government makes assistance available from
very stringent requirements to justify and document etc, which are impossible for the victims to
provide such information. And the very process of having to fill out all the forms and prove
everything is so onerous they actually just give up and walk away.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: But many talkback callers to ABC local radio remained sceptical of the payments.

CALLER 1: I have friends who lost friends up at Kinglake, who couldn't find people for days and
days. They were absolutely traumatised by it. Are these people eligible for compensation? I find a
lot of this discussion of people being paid out, paid money by Centrelink is a little bit over the
top I'm afraid.

CALLER 2: We heard there were fires just down the road from us, only about 800 metres away. Our
family agreed to meet at a restaurant. We had tea. We heard the fires were still on so we decided
to book ourselves into a motel. It cost us, the total thing cost us $300. And I was absolutely
mortified to find out that our family had an entitlement to $3,000 compensation, which we refused
to claim on the basis that it was just immoral and ridiculous.

PETER CAVE: A Melbourne talkback caller ending Samantha Donovan's report.