MEDIA STATEMENT

Helen Haines will hear first-hand about bushfire recovery work in Towong Shire tomorrow (August 5) but also wants to make sure the federal government’s longer-term funding programs are delivering for Upper Murray communities.

The Walwa-Corryong bushfire burned 762 square kilometres (34 per cent) of Towong’s farming land, 1800 square kilometres (43 per cent) of bushland and forests and left a burn scar across almost 40 per cent of the shire.

“Work by the National Bushfire Recovery Agency valued the cost of fire damage in Towong at almost $35.9 million – almost 20 percent of the shire’s economy,” Dr Haines said.

“To date, families and business in Towong have received a total of $15.6m in bushfire recovery support.”

Dr Haines said payments to July 16, 2020, from the following programs had been recorded by the NBRA:

  • Disaster Recovery Allowance – 50 recipients – $202,968 paid out
  • Disaster Recovery Payment – 1184 recipients – $1.30 million paid out
  • Additional Payment for Children – 321 recipients – $128,400 paid out
  • Concessional Loans – 1 recipient – $120,000 paid out
  • Primary Producer Grants – 17 recipients – $12.06 million paid out
  • Small Business Grants ($50,000) – 16 recipients – $594,688 paid out
  • Small Business Grants ($10,000) – 153 recipients – $1.53 million paid out

“This support has been very welcome,” Dr Haines said.

“These are vital Upper Murray communities and my job is to make sure that these and others affected by bushfire across Indi secure sufficient funding and targeted support for sustainable, community-led bushfire recovery.

“Towong has led from the first days of January and tomorrow’s visit enables families, business and their communities to tell me directly how recovery is working and where the gaps remain.

“We know that $500 million of Federal funding allocated to bushfire recovery is still to be spent through Local Economic Recovery Programs.

“The federal government is yet to explain how this will be allocated.

“A $40 million Forestry Innovation Fund and a $15 million provision for the transport of salvageable, burned softwood sawlogs have also been announced, but the money’s not yet on the ground in Towong or Alpine shires or available to timber processors in Myrtleford, Wangaratta and Benalla.

“Towong’s communities are at the gateway to the Snowy Mountains, and the bushfire had a big impact on the local accommodation and hospitality sector.

“Tourism North East, the region’s peak tourism body, estimates its member-councils, including Towong, suffered tourism losses of between $158 and $208 million in this year’s March quarter alone.

“Towong businesses responding to a small business survey that I carried out in April about the effects of bushfire and the first-stage COVID-19 business and social distancing restrictions reported average revenue losses of 76 per cent.

“But we’re yet to see support for tourism recovery in Towong from the federal government’s targeted $76 million program.

“I’ve also asked Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to increase funding for health services in the Upper Murray in recognition of the complexity of acute, aged and mental health care that is delivered by Corryong Health and Tallangatta Health.

“These health services are central to our bushfire-affected communities in good times and bad.”

ENDS

NOTE: Dr Haines is discussing bushfire and COVID-19 impact recovery with Towong Mayor David Wortmann, Towong relief and recovery director Nola Tudball, Corryong Health CEO Dominic Sandilands and business adviser Ed Barry in Corryong, visiting a Thowgla Valley farming family, then travelling to Walwa to visit the Primary School, Bush Nursing Centre and meet with the Walwa Recovery Committee.

[August 4, 2020]

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