PM announces $2 billion for bushfire recovery fund
At least $2 billion will be pumped into a national bushfire recovery fund over the next two years.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Federal Government would establish a new agency with an initial $2 billion to coordinate the response to rebuild communities and livelihoods after devastating fires have passed.
The National Bushfire Recovery Agency will support the work of state and territory governments and act as a "one stop shop" central team.
A fund will be established to support local governments, farmers and primary producers, and deliver mental health supports to first responders.
"If further funds are required, further funds will be provided," Mr Morrison said on Monday.
"We're focused on the financial cost, we're focused on the human costs, and ensuring we can do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to support that recovery effort."
When asked whether the Morrison Govermnent would still be able to deliver a surplus, the PM said: "The surplus is of no focus for me whatsoever. What matters to me is the human cost and meeting whatever cost we need to meet".
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the initial $2 billion investment would be on top of existing disaster recovery payments and allowances, which have so far seen more than $100 million flow to families, small businesses and farmers.
Mr Frydenberg said the money would help get communities back on their feet by assisting with restocking and replenishing, rebuilding roads and telecommunications infrastructure, mental health support, attracting tourists back to the regions and helping restore the local environment and impacted wildlife.
The new agency will be led by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin and will be modelled on the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency established after the 2019 North Queensland floods, as well as the experience of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority created after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Twenty Service Australia pop-ups will also open in fire-affected communities to help people access disaster payments.
"We have taken a number of decisions to streamline those payments to make sure cash gets into people's hands as soon as possible," Mr Morrison said.
Welfare debt recovery and mutual obligations requirements in bushfire-affected regions are also being suspended for at least two months.