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Tropical Cyclone Larry.

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Today I witnessed first-hand the destruction wreaked by Tropical Cyclone Larry to Innisfail and the surrounding region. I have been moved by the Far North Queensland community’s resilient spirit in already starting to get back on its feet after such a devastating disaster. They need the support of government. I pay tribute to the relief efforts already provided under difficult circumstances by the Australian Defence Force, state police and emergency services and Commonwealth and state public servants.

In addition to the assistance for victims of the cyclone that I announced on Monday, the Australian Government will make the following further contributions to the relief and recovery operations. The initial commonwealth contribution is likely to be in excess of $100 million.

The Australian Government will donate a further $1 million to the Cyclone Larry Relief Fund. I welcome the Queensland Government’s decision to provide a matching donation of an additional $1 million.

In recognition of the scale and the immediate nature of the relief and recovery operations, I have agreed to an initial advance of up to $40 million to Queensland this financial year under the Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements. This will help meet immediate personal hardship and distress costs, such as the provision of emergency food, clothing and accommodation, urgent housing repairs, or the replacement of essential household goods. It will also ensure that urgent efforts to rebuild vital public infrastructure in cyclone damaged communities in North Queensland are not delayed by red tape.

For affected farmers and small business, the Australian Government will provide a one-off income support programme equivalent to the Newstart Allowance for six months. There will be no asset test in relation to the capital value of their farm or business assets. This will mean that farmers deprived of incomes will be able to focus on the immediate task of rebuilding their farm without the worry of how to pay their day to day bills.

In addition to ex-gratia payments to individuals, I have today authorised one-off grants for business assistance of $10,000 tax-free for existing small and home-based businesses, including farmers and tourism operators, adversely affected by the

cyclone. This will help businesses with immediate restocking, replanting and clean-up activities. Broadly speaking, to be eligible for this assistance, a small business must be located in an area declared by the Queensland Government as a natural disaster area, be adversely affected by Cyclone Larry, have an Australian Business Number and employ not more than the equivalent of 20 people full-time.

Farmers and small businesses will also have access to concessional loans to re-establish their enterprises. Loans of up to $200,000 under the Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements will be available for nine years with repayments deferred for up to two years. The first 25 per cent of the loan will be provided as a grant.

Farmers and small businesses entitled to the Newstart Allowance or the one-off business assistance grants will be able to apply to Centrelink through their local office or can contact Centrelink on its Cyclone Larry Relief Hotline (Telephone number: 1802 002). Arrangements for concessional loans will be announced shortly.

22 March 2006