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North Queensland cyclone.

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Given the devastation caused in North Queensland by Tropical Cyclone Larry, I have authorised additional Australian Government support in the form of ex-gratia payments to those who have lost their homes or whose principal place of residence has been rendered uninhabitable.

This will be over and above the support to be given by the Australian Government to the Queensland Government under the long standing Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements.

The additional relief will amount to $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child. People who are entitled to this additional assistance will now be able to apply to Centrelink (Hotline number: 1802 002) immediately to meet emergency needs.

Under the normal Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements the Australian Government will reimburse the Queensland Government half of all its expenditure on personal hardship and distress relief assistance to cyclone victims (such as emergency food, accommodation, clothing and replacement of essential household items), once expenditure of that kind from the cyclone exceeds $240,000. Given the damage already observed, this will clearly be the case.

On top of these payments, in any one year the Australian Government reimburses 50 or 75 per cent of eligible state expenditure above certain thresholds ($56.7 million and $99.3 million in the case of Queensland) for personal hardship and long term recovery measures for natural disasters, such as infrastructure repair and concessional loans.

Under these arrangements the Australian Government has reimbursed Queensland around $60 million for natural disaster events since 2001-02.

I spoke to the Queensland Premier, Mr Peter Beattie, last night and I expressed my support in offering any additional practical assistance the Australian Government could provide to those in need of immediate assistance. The Australian Defence Force is on standby to deploy assets in support of Queensland Government led rescue and relief operations.

The Australian Government will also match the Queensland Government’s donation of $100,000 to the State Government Relief Fund.

20 March 2006