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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1024

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Ludwig. Can the minister update the Senate on the financial assistance that the Australian government is providing through the Human Services portfolio in response to the Victorian fires?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Collins. I know she has a deep interest in this issue. The Rudd Labor government is ensuring every support is given to people in the fire affected communities. The agencies within the Human Services portfolio are at the forefront of the relief and recovery effort and are working hard, hand in glove with the Victorian Department of Human Services. We are continuing the difficult work of recovery for those people who have been impacted by the fires, and we are moving ahead with preparations of the task of long-term reconstruction. Australians have shown overwhelming support and generosity for fire affected communities in Victoria. Tragically, so many lives have been lost, so many people have been injured, houses and possessions have been wrecked and whole communities virtually destroyed.

Through Centrelink we have continued to make the Australian government’s disaster recovery payment to people who have been significantly impacted by those fires. This is a one-off payment of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child. So far Centrelink has paid around 35,000 claims covering over 45,000 adults and children, totalling almost $40 million as of today. Centrelink is also continuing to administer the income recovery subsidy. This is for eligible people who have lost their primary income because their farm, business or place where they work has been affected by the bushfires. It is a regular payment which will be paid for an initial 13-week period at the rate of Newstart allowance. So far more than 2,500 people have started receiving this payment.

For those people—and my heart goes out to them—who have unfortunately and tragically lost loved ones, the Australian government is also providing funeral assistance. (Time expired)

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —My first supplementary question is: can the minister inform the Senate of the Commonwealth’s role in the case management service that has been made available to families and individuals affected by the fires?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Collins for her supplementary question. The Rudd government recognises that the wounds from these terrible events are too deep to be healed overnight. That is why the Rudd government has committed to help the Victoria government and the communities affected to rebuild. The agencies within my portfolio are making good that promise. Centrelink and CRS Australia have made over 100 professionally qualified case managers available to help the Victorian government provide a case manager to each family affected by the fires.

Centrelink is also running the case management phone line through which families can be referred to a case manager. The role of case managers is to ensure that each family has one point of contact to access services, payment and support. The case managers will work with families to meet their individual needs, whether that is putting children back in school, financial support, access to health services, accommodation, counselling, employment, or legal or insurance matters. (Time expired)

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister also inform the Senate of what Human Services agency staff have been deployed to support the communities?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I had a breakfast meeting with a range of portfolio staff—mostly staff from Centrelink—while I was in Victoria late last week. I expressed to them the government’s gratitude and appreciation for their hard work and dedication. Centrelink customer services advisers and social workers from around Australia have been on the ground from the very start in communities devastated by the fires. Centrelink has been operating around the clock, offering financial and emotional support to those hit hardest by these fires—on the phones, in the relief centres and through other customer access points. Whilst in Victoria I also had the opportunity of meeting with my state counterpart, Minister Lisa Neville, to ensure Centrelink continues to liaise closely with state and local authorities to provide support in relief and recovery centres and community service hubs. While the focus of this question— (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.