'We feel pretty let down': Black Summer bushfire towns waiting for funds

Black Summer bushfire funding towns still waiting for promised funds

Bushfires
Julie Brown prepares meals for Cobargo BlazeAid camp. Picture: GetUp

Julie Brown prepares meals for Cobargo BlazeAid camp. Picture: GetUp

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Families still living in emergency tents while recovery funds spent on tourism videos

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Less than half the $2.74 billion in promised bushfire recovery funds have made it into the hands of the surviving communities, says a new research report into the multiple funds established since the 2019 Black Summer fires.

At the current rate, it will take until nearly January 2023 to distribute the remaining 52 per cent of total funding.

There has been little transparency over the funds, the Per Capita report commissioned by GetUp found, with some allegedly delivered based on political opportunity over community need. Report author Matt Lloyd-Cape noted there were few checks on how state governments spent the allocated funds.

"We spent around three months tracking down data for this project, when really the government should be ensuring that the general public, and more importantly bushfire survivors, know exactly what is happening with the funds allocated to the recovery," Mr Lloyd Cape said.

Only 42 per cent of the $565 million emergency payments have been paid to communities burned out by the fires. A year on, too many families are still waiting for support, says GetUp national director Paul Oosting.

"Scott Morrison must explain to the families still living in tents and caravans, a year after losing their homes, his government's painstakingly slow response," Mr Oosting said.

"There is clear evidence of multiple process failures to allocate funds directly to survivors."

Volunteers at the BlazeAid camp in the NSW town of Cobargo are living in tents and caravans as recovery work continues more than a year after the fires. Residents say that when the wind blows through the tents, sometimes it reminds them of the fires again.

Cobargo's volunteer camp cook Julie Brown is concerned about the coming winter, especially for the 86-year-old couple living in a tent on the grounds. After being evacuated from her own mountain property near Braidwood, Ms Brown did not have seasonally appropriate clothing or blankets for last winter. She now has a caravan to call home and is saving up to return to her property, but feels the people who use the camp have been forgotten.

"Grown men, they cry," Ms Brown said. "The farmers can't afford mulchers to keep up with the regrowth, fearing it fuel for the next summer fire. They're unable to get insurance, and thefts of rebuilding materials have set them back further.

"We don't rely on the government or councils. We feel pretty let down - a lot let down."

Ms Brown volunteers from 5am to prepare breakfast and doesn't leave the kitchen until 9pm. The food is purchased from the local general store, mostly vegetables from local farms. Initially it was a challenge, with the kitchen in a torn tent that let water in, but now they're in a sportsground kitchen and have donated equipment.

After assembling a flat pack home with her sister, Ms Brown wants to know why so many people at the camp have to live in tents if it only costs $10,000 for a home they can put together themselves.

Survivors and those living in Cabargo feature in a GetUp-produced documentary film Aftermath to be released in March, funded by supporters.

The National Bushfire Recovery Agency and Tourism Australia this month launched a video series of its own, Open for Business, promoting towns that are rebuilding. The tourism series was funded by the National Bushfire Recovery Fund.

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The story 'We feel pretty let down': Black Summer bushfire towns waiting for funds first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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