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Thursday, 11 June 2020
Page: 2882


Senator WATT (Queensland) (19:40): We all remember the horrific scenes last summer when bushfires tore through so much of our country. Thirty-three lives were lost. Thousands of homes were destroyed. Millions of hectares were burned, and it's estimated that one billion animals were killed. Sadly, for too many bushfire victims, the pain is ongoing several months on.

Last week it was reported that only four per cent of people in bushfire affected areas have managed to access government support—four per cent. Ninety-six per cent of people have received nothing. One in 10 bushfire victims who applied for the government's disaster recovery payment has been rejected. One in three who applied for the disaster recovery allowance has been rejected. When you look at those figures, it's no wonder that so few people in bushfire affected regions have received the support that they need.

The disaster recovery assistance process has been slammed by individuals, farmers and small businesses as confusing, stressful and too complicated to navigate. These are people who have already been through bushfires, have literally feared for their lives, have lost property, have in some cases lost loved ones and now face a system of payments that is just too complicated to navigate, to the point where many give up.

I've met so many of these people over the last few months in different parts of the country. After the last sitting week Senator Ayres and I travelled to Cobargo on the New South Wales South Coast and witnessed firsthand the trauma that is still being experienced by people and the lack of support they feel they are getting from this government. Even the coordinator of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency has admitted that there are significant problems. While giving evidence to the bushfire royal commission last week, Mr Colvin, the coordinator, acknowledged that to obtain support victims have to tell their horrific stories over and over again. He acknowledged that:

Every time they have to tell their story we are effectively retraumatising that individual.

Why can't this government make the changes that are necessary to ensure that bushfire victims receive the support they deserve without being retraumatised? Is that really too much to ask when you think about what these people have been through? It doesn't have to be this way. For months Labor has been pointing out the need for case managers to help people navigate the grants process. Sadly, the government has not taken up this suggestion and it's bushfire victims who are the poorer for it.

Of course, quite apart from the issues around accessing grants and loans, we still have people living in tents, in caravans and in buses, including brave firefighters who put their own lives on the line to protect others. Now some of the places that these bushfires hit are some of the coldest parts of our country. We are now in winter, and people are still living in tents, caravans and buses waiting in some cases for their burnt-down homes to be removed so that they can just start rebuilding. That is not acceptable in this country.

I'll give you a couple of examples. Mr Roy Annesley survived severe burns to 55 per cent of his body and his house burnt down. He's now living in a bus fundraised by his son. Mr Annesley says:

I just can't do all the groundwork to try and do all of this stuff, I can't even do anything—I don't want to get out of bed in the morning.

They should contact you, you shouldn't have to chase them.

I agree 100 per cent with Mr Annesley. He has been through a lot. He's living in a bus that his son had to fundraise for him. Should he really be expected to navigate an incredibly complicated grants process and tell his story over and over again to receive the support that he needs?

Ms Stephanie Stanhope said, 'For all the assistance you were led to believe was going to be there, it isn't. Not long after it happened, there was a call from someone in the system saying that each person would be given a mentor to guide them through the process. I've had one phone call.' It is not good enough that these people have been forgotten. It is not good enough that we have a Prime Minister who promised these people immediate support and the minute the news cameras went they were forgotten. We've got to do better.