Helen Haines MP, Independent Federal Member for Indi, has raised concerns with the latest round of bushfire grants, calling on the federal government to extend the deadline for applications.
The Preparing Australia program of grants will distribute grants of up to $10 million to help communities build their resilience to natural hazards like bushfires, floods and tropical cyclones.
The program has $150 million available over the next three years.
Applications for the program opened on December 10 and will close on January 6, giving just three weeks for applications, much of which is over the Christmas and New Year shutdown period.
“Who is expected to be putting in a $10 million grant application in a three-week window over Christmas and the New Year?” said Dr Haines
“I’m calling on the government to extend the deadline for these grants to give our communities a real chance to get in their applications.”
Dr Haines voiced these concerns to the head of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency Shane Stone in Wodonga last week, but he has not acted to give organisations more time to apply.
She also raised it in Parliament on December 2.
“I had hoped we would hear from the government that this deadline would be extended, but that has not happened. They don’t understand how much work goes into these applications and how much pressure the groups applying for them are under,” Dr Haines said.
“We are now in the final few days before Christmas, and the best present the government could give to organisations across the country frantically finalising these applications, is to extend the deadline.”
Like the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants that opened for applications earlier this year, Dr Haines is concerned that the way different areas have been categorised for funding ignores vulnerable communities in Indi and provides no protection against the money being used for political purposes.
“The priority list includes cities like Geelong, Hobart and the Sunshine Coast, but Towong Shire, which was absolutely slammed by the Black Summer bushfires, is not considered a priority,” Dr Haines said.
Dr Haines has called for the Towong Shire to be added to the priority list.
“Forty per cent of the area in Towong Shire was burned. One-third of all farming land was burned. Thousands of livestock animals were lost.
“After everything that community went through, I don’t want to see them miss out on disaster preparedness funding. Preparedness is one of their key concerns. We don’t want to be in this situation again.
“We could see a project in Brisbane receive $10 million while the entire Upper Murray community misses out.”
Dr Haines said that once again, like in the case of the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery grants, the fine print gave significant power to the responsible minister to make the final call on successful applications.
“Integrity and good governance in the way these grants are allocated is vital. Australians want funding promised for bushfires and other natural disasters to go where there is the most need, not where it is politically advantageous.
“We’ve seen a disturbing willingness to use public money to advance political objectives from this government. It’s reasonable to raise these concerns because bushfire recovery is about people not politics.”