McBain calls out senators for bushfire relief comments

Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain has spoken out against two senators who suggested that an increase in disaster recovery payments could dissuade people from taking “personal responsibility” and taking out insurance policies.

On October 7 the Finance and Public Administration References Committee released its interim report into the lessons to be learned in relation to the preparation and planning for, response to and recovery efforts following the 2019-20 Australian bushfire season.

The report includes 13 recommendations, one being that the government review the rate of the Disaster Recovery Payment and Allowance as a matter of priority, with the view of increasing it.

This support is a one-off payment of $1000 for adults and $400 for children, paid for up to 13 weeks at a maximum rate equal to that of JobSeeker, which was around $40 a day pre-pandemic.

Coalition senators James Paterson and Paul Scarr tabled a dissenting report, disagreeing with this recommendation.

The pair suggest that an increase in these payments might dissuade people from taking “personal responsibility” and taking out insurance policies.

“There is a fine line between supporting Australians in crisis and inadvertently providing a disincentive for insurance and personal responsibility,” they said, referring to a Productivity Commission report from six years ago that recommended the payment be reduced in line with other supports.

Ms McBain called these comments “out of touch, cold hearted, and clueless about the real hardship being felt in bushfire impacted communities.”

“These are $1,000 payments you get when you are left with nothing but the clothes on your back,” she told Parliament on Wednesday. 

“Senators Paterson and Scarr instead believe these payments are a disincentive to taking out insurance. 

“How dare they suggest that for the sake of a $1,000 someone might willingly skip out on protecting their family and property?”

Other recommendations contained within the interim report include releasing funding for mitigation projects through the Emergency Response Fund; funding the Department of Health to research the health impacts of hazardous levels of bushfire smoke; and developing a business case to progress the establishment of a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet.

“The committee also recommends that the government allocate funding for a dedicated hazard reduction workforce—music to Eden-Monaro’s ears,” Ms McBain told Parliament.

“Our towns and villages once employed people to do this work but the agencies they worked for have slowly been stripped away and centralised. 

“Care of country is critical not only to our bushfire resilience but also to our economic recovery. The pay packets that come with those jobs are an important part of local economies.”