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Bushfire Recovery Funds Rorted

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Following the Black Summer Bushfires of 2019-2020, the Morrison Government established a $2 Billion bushfire recovery fund towards restoring those communities affected. The NSW Government also established a state-level fund called the Bushfire Local Economy Recovery Fund (BLER).

A roadside bushfire at night, with 'Bushfire Recovery Rort' as the foregrounded text.

Fire-Affected Communities Applications Rejected but Unrelated Projects Approved

By February of 2021 it was reported that nearly 50% of The Blue Mountains Council was directly affected by the bush fires but did not receive any funding. This was despite the council having 24 ‘shovel-ready’ projects ready for approval which only totalled $5.45 million. These projects included proposals to repair storm water inputs in the significantly fire-affected community of Bell, rebuilding the Pulpit Rock tourism centre, highway upgrades to improve bushfire preparedness, and proposals to deal with soil erosion and potential property damage in Bell, Gospers Mountain and Grose Valley.

As described by Callum Foote for Michael West Media: “perhaps most egregiously, a $75,000 proposal for upgraded toilet facilities for Mt Riverview Rural Fire Service (RFS) was rejected.” 88 RFS staff and volunteers are based at the fire house who are then forced to return to their homes to use toilets and shower during periods of peak fire emergencies.

Mayor of the Blue Mountains, Mark Greenhill, stated to Michael West Media that the series of grants put forward by the council were:

“designed to support villages across the Blue Mountains with many having a distinct bushfire recovery and resilience focus. We worked really hard to make these projects focused, practical, helpful and designed to stimulate our local economy. With a $560 million hit to our local economy and a loss of 2500 jobs, I still can’t believe we received no funding from the first round. I just can’t comprehend how that could be.”

Mr. Greenhill only learned that his council's grant applications had been denied via Michael West Media’s reporting on the issue.

According to documents provided to Michael West Media, Kempsey Shire Council applied for funding for its Macleay Valley Skydiving Adventure Park project in July of 2019 within the NSW Government’s Growing Local Economies fund. The original application only requested $7.5 million for the project. The application was then approved within the BLER program instead of its originally intended fund, with the government providing $11 million for the project.

Funding Heavily Skewed Towards Coalition Seats

As reported by Elizabeth Minter for Michael West Media, one round of recovery funding worth $177 Million was never advertised to the general public, with NSW Labor and Greens MP's claiming they only learned of it on November 2nd 2020, when then-Federal Agricultural Minister, David Littleproud, and then-Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, announced that 71 projects in NSW had been 'fast-tracked'. Of the $177 Million in funds, only $2 Million (1.1%) went to NSW State Labor seats, with no funds at all being directed to Greens-held seats.

Allocated Funds Not Spent

By April of 2021, it became apparent that only half of the allocated $565.9 Million promised for early 2020 had been spent ($288.8 Million, or roughly 51%). 86% of these funds had been directed to the Liberal Party-governed state of New South Wales, with the remaining 14% being divided across both the Labor Party-governed states of Victoria and Queensland. Furthermore, there has been "little to no transparency" regarding the funds, with reports of various ministers misrepresenting both the speed of delivery and scale of funding.

Sources & Further Reading

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