Monday, 21 September 2020
Fassifern the biggest loser in bushfire assistance

Fassifern primary producers and small business are not eligible for any of the suite of bushfire assistance measures announced by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

And yet our primary producers and small business could be if Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk requested it of the Prime Minister.

But first, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries would have to activate what is known as Category B assistance for the Fassifern and to do that a full assessment of damage would have to be undertaken.

Such an assessment was undertaken after the Sarabah-Canungra bushfires in September. No similar assessment was undertaken following the October to December bushfires in the Fassifern.

An investigation by the Fassifern Guardian revealed the lack of assistance available to our local primary producers and small businesses and in conjunction with Federal Member for Wright, Scott Buchholz, has worked to highlight the issue to all levels of government.

Eligibility quagmire

Trying to define which communities are eligible for the various levels of bushfire disaster assistance is like navigating a quagmire.

We found the answers to the question of eligibility - while those affected by the Caungra-Sarabah bushfires in September are eligible for some Category B assistance, those affected by the  bushfires in the Fassifern from October 8 to December 19 are not eligible for any assistance. 

However, property owners whose land and infrastructure were hit by the fires in the Fassifern can apply for an Individual Disaster Stricken Property (IDSP) certificate in the hope of gaining access to a concessional loan and some freight subsidy.

Yet even if an IDSP is granted, primary producers are only eligible for local funding at commercial rates unless a special dispensation by the State Government paves the way for a  concessional loan.

The question is why have those whose livelihoods were directly or indirectly affected by the bushfires in the Fassifern been left out of the loop?

The answer may lie in the fact that no damage assessment was undertaken in the Fassifern. 

We did not find the reason why this assessment was not undertaken. We asked the QRA and were referred to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF). No answers were given there.

We asked  Scenic Rim Mayor Greg Christensen who also heads the Local Counter Distaster Committee. 

Cr Christensen advised: “Both the response to any disaster and recovery is a large multi-agency effort. 

“While Council has oversight of disaster recovery working with the State’s Disaster Recovery Co-ordinator … however Council is aware of the areas and lot numbers that have been impacted by the recent bushfires as advised by Queensland Fire & Emergency Services and Queensland Reconstruction Authority Rapid Damage Assessment.”

(We checked with the State Government on this comment and it was confirmed that the only Rapid Damage Assessment was undertaken of the Sarabah-Canungra bushfires.)

And Cr Christensen added: “For Council to properly understand and target the collective response efforts, affected property owners need to provide information through the relevant agencies to allow proper identification of needs. For example, it is our understanding that there has only been a limited number of applications under the Individual Disaster Stricken Property (IDSP)Declaration process.”

The second factor at the heart of the issue is the classification by category.

Due to the assessment of the Sarabah-Canungra bushfire in September, primary producers and small business in that part of the region are eligible for the expanded concessional loans of $500,000 (0.82% interest).

But Fassifern primary producers are only eligible for concessional loans of $250,000 if their IDSP unlocks this opportunity.

But no one in the region is eligible for the one-off recovery grants, which were recently expanded by the Prime Minister from $25,000 to $75,000 for primary producers.

Those grants are only available to areas classified as Category C.

The State Government is responsible for deciding whether disaster assistance to the lower levels of Category A and B will be assigned to any area.

If the State Government decides that the disaster in an area should be classified as Category C, then the Premier has to request the granting of this higher level assistance classification from the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister can say ‘no’ to the request but both he and the Federal Natural Disasters Minister, David Littleproud, have been frequently quoted as saying “all the State Premiers have to do is ask” when it comes to assistance in bushfire hit areas.

It is worthy of note that the Prime Minister agreed to the Premier’s request that the Scenic Rim Regional Council be eligible for the section of Category B assistance to enable Council to receive the $1million recovery grant awarded earlier this month.

EMERGENCY Management Australia has been asked by Federal Minister for Natural Disasters, David Littleproud, to undergo a review of the bushfire disaster in the Scenic Rim.

Federal Member for Wright, Scott Buchholz, announced the move following conversations with Mr Littleproud’s office in the last few days.

“There is a need to review the extent of the bushfire disaster in the Scenic Rim so that primary producers whose properties were devastated by this unprecedented loss of infrastructure can get access to all the support we have on the table,” Mr Buchholz said.

“We appreciate that the area may not meet all the criteria, but that doesn’t mean that we will not continue to fight to get them some support.”

He added that the Federal Government would continue to work with the State Government to gain an outcome to assist the community and the primary producers.

“The Fassifern Guardian has been working with my office to champion the district and get it the support it needs to recover from the bushfire disaster,” Mr Buchholz said.