‘Locally led’ always the plan

The Shadow Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Murray Watt was in the Snowy Valleys earlier this month, criticising what he described as “too much sitting back in Canberra, thinking about what might be happening rather than actually having people out here on the ground on a daily basis, seeing it, hearing it and taking action.” The National Bushfire Recovery Agency has been overseeing the recovery efforts. As a non-partisan federal agency, representatives insisted the plan was always for a “locally-led” response to the Black Summer fires.
“Locally led recovery is at the forefront of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency’s (NBRA) work,” said a spokesman.
“The scale of the Black Summer bushfires was unprecedented and every affected community is different. Tailored community-informed recovery is therefore critical.”
The NBRA, led by former Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin, has been active in the Snowy Valleys, with Mr Colvin touring the SVC in early January.
The NBRA points to direct cash payments to local governments as evidence of the locally-led focus. Snowy Valleys Council received $1.275m in that announcement.
“As the transition to longer-term recovery commences, the Australian Government has announced $448.5 million to support local economic recovery in bushfire-affected communities,” said NBRA spokesman Mark Elliott.
“The NBRA will work with state governments and local communities and councils to deliver this program. Eligible projects may be small or large and will focus on community priorities for economic, social, environment and infrastructure recovery.”
More than 50 visits have so far been conducted to fire-affected regions, some via videolink, due to Covid-19.
“Regrettably, misinformation and unsubstantiated claims about the recovery effort led by the NBRA continues,” he said.
“This does nothing to help our fellow Australians doing it tough.”
Both the Government and Opposition agree that, to date, $1 billion from the $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund has been either directly spent ($529.2 million) or is being reimbursed ($471 million) to state and territory governments for the support they have already delivered on behalf of the Commonwealth.
The Opposition has insisted that the Government should only claim $529.2 million as officially spent, but acknowledges $471 million has been committed to the states.
Both sides also agree that another $417 million is being distributed into local communities as part of a range of other Commonwealth funding mechanisms including mental health support for youth through Head Space and disaster recovery payments and allowances.
However, Senator Watt felt that this number should not be included when the Government is talking about the $2 billion Bushfire Fund, since it comes from general Commonwealth revenues.