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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2053

Ms SCOTT (Lindsay) (11:42): I rise in opposition to the member for Chifley's private member's motion relating to the government response in supporting those residents in New South Wales who were adversely affected by the recent bushfires. I would like to start by commending the work of the rural bushfire brigade and the emergency services that went above and beyond the call of duty to help so many people across the region. My electorate of Lindsay neighbours that of Macquarie. It was within my own electorate that I witnessed firsthand the commitment and the work of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Human Services and the Minister for Justice, coordinated by the state member for Macquarie, where they provided help, support and assistance to the people of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. Their on-the-ground work, alongside each other, ensured the Australian government's response to this disaster was swift and that those who needed our support got it without delay. I would also like to commend my local community groups in the Lindsay region, including the Penrith Panthers, which housed 1,500 firefighters throughout the entire ordeal.

I would like to remind those opposite that, with regard to disaster recovery payment eligibility criteria, the Howard government designed the disaster recovery payment to be a flexible assistance measure. When in government, Labor also adopted this approach by activating different criteria for different disasters. In fact, Labor used the same eligibility criteria that have been put in place on five occasions whilst they were in government. Labor incorrectly said that the coalition did not activate the payment for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed. This and other comments made by Labor on the issue have been misleading and should be condemned. Over the weekend following the initial fire emergency on Thursday, 17 October 2013, the Department of Human Services opened its service centres in Springwood, Katoomba, Raymond Terrace, Charlestown and Wyong. The department's mobile service centre was also operating throughout the Springwood area, including Winmalee—the epicentre of the devastation—less than 48 hours after the initial firestorm. Forty-six departmental staff directly assisted the emergency response on the ground and in the weeks following the initial fire emergency. In addition, 209 staff assisted with other services provided by the department, including, but not limited to, taking calls and providing technical support. The department has had a strong presence at the state recovery centre in Springwood and was on hand at the evacuation centres in Springwood and Lithgow in the immediate aftermath of the fires.

The Linksview fire destroyed 193 homes in Springwood, Winmalee and Yellow Rock. The Australian government activated disaster assistance measures on Friday, 18 October 2013—less than 24 hours after the greatest impact of the fire. The department is delivering three assistance schemes to those who were affected by the fire: the Australian government disaster recovery payment, the disaster recovery allowance and ex gratia payments equivalent to the Australian government disaster recovery payment and the disaster recovery allowance for certain New Zealand passport holders. The department's top priority during this disaster has been to deliver payments as quickly and as compassionately as possible to people in need. As at midnight, 5 December 2013, 764 claims for the Australian disaster recovery payment have been granted, with more than $850,000 paid into people's bank accounts. There have been 1,174 calls related to the Australian government disaster recovery payment and the disaster recovery allowance, which have been answered by the department. As at midnight, 5 December 2013, 44 claims for the disaster recovery allowance have been granted, with money paid into people's bank accounts on a fortnightly basis for up to 13 weeks. People have until April 2014 to lodge a claim.

The Australian government emergency information line operates weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm. For the first 11 days of the emergency response, the hotline was available from 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week. The department's processing teams are taking a compassionate approach to assessing claims, but, ultimately, people still need to meet the eligibility criteria determined by the Minister for Justice. Departmental social workers have been deployed in the affected areas to provide support to their customers, many of whom have suffered great loss in this disaster. I commend the Prime Minister, the Minister of Human Services, the Minister for Justice and the member for Macquarie for their compassionate work to those affected.

Debate adjourned.