Feb 23rd 2021

New report reveals extent of Government failure to fund bushfire recovery

A new report released today reveals a huge shortfall in federal bushfire recovery funding - one year on from the Black Summer bushfires less than half what was promised has made it into the hands of bushfire survivors.

GetUp commissioned Per Capita to author the comprehensive research report - Smokescreen: The rhetoric and reality of federal bushfire recovery funding{: target="_blank"} - to clear the haze surrounding Morrison’s marketing spin.  The report uncovers the gap between the what was promised and what was delivered in federal bushfire recovery spending since the Black Summer bushfires:

  • Less than half the promised funds have been spent: The Federal Government announced $2.74 billion bushfire funds in the last 12 months, but has only delivered around 48% of that.
  • Promised funds are not reaching families in need fast enough: At the current rate, it will take until nearly January 2023 to distribute the entire fund – three years after the fires.
  • Some funds seem to be delivered based on political opportunity over community need: So far 86% of certain funds have gone to the Liberal-governed states of NSW and SA, with only 14% going to Labor-governed VIC and QLD.
  • There is little to no transparency over the funds: Considering the level of national importance these funds hold, government transparency over them is severely lacking, and there are multiple accounts of Federal Government ministers misrepresenting the scale of the funding and the speed of delivery.
  • **Morrison's "$2bn" is only notional: **The Government's own senior civil servants have confirmed the $2bn in the National Bushfire Recovery Agency is notional only; a theoretical description of a number of different pots of money, some new and some redirected from other government programs.

Per Capita report author, Matt Lloyd-Cape said:

“We estimate less than half of the $2.7 billion in promised funding was delivered by the end of 2020. This is around half a billion less than relevant ministers claimed had been spent by that time.”

“It is particularly troubling that most of the essential funding for emergency support to people and businesses burned out by the fires has not been delivered. Over $565 million was promised to them, but we can only find records for $238 million of spending. What has happened to the other $327 million?”

“With climate change dramatically increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, it is vital that our emergency services systems are effective, and that the allocation of government recovery and assistance funding is done in a way that is both transparent and impartial. Clearly there is significant room for improvement to the current systems.”

“There seem to be very few checks and balances on how public money allocated by the federal government is being spent by state governments. So far NSW has received 77% of all the Local Economic Recovery funds and has spent nearly all of that in LNP seats, without even requiring application forms for projects. The public needs to know that the Federal Government is safeguarding the recovery funds and ensuring they are distributed according to need.”

“We spent around 3 months tracking down data for this project, when really the government should be ensuring that the general public, and more importantly bushfire survivors, know exactly what is happening with the funds allocated to the recovery. A failure to be transparent reduces trust in government at exactly the time when people need to know the government has their back,” said Matt Lloyd-Cape.

GetUp National Director, Paul Oosting said:

“The Government has spruiked a $2 billion assistance package for more than a year, but the research shows less than half the money has been received by bushfire survivors. 

“The Government has failed to respond to the magnitude of the Black Summer bushfires, as it’s now clear that $2 billion is only a fraction of what is required. 

“Scott Morrison must explain to the families still living in tents and caravans, a year after losing their homes, his government’s painstakingly slow response.

“There is clear evidence of multiple process failures to allocate funds directly to survivors - too many people on the ground are still waiting for help one year on.

“We've witnessed courageous resilience from bushfire-ravaged communities across the country. They shouldn't feel like they are facing these challenges alone, but many still do.

“We face an increasing risk of climate disasters across Australia, so Prime Minister Scott Morrison needs to urgently address the lives of the people he has left behind this time.  And he needs to make sure no one is left behind next time.  Because there will be a next time.,” said Paul Oosting.

A documentary film - Aftermath - follows the stories of the people whose photos appear in this report - due for release on 17 March 2020. Interviews with these bushfire survivors available on request.