Bushfire orphans to share millions

Bushfire orphans to share millions

4 May 2009

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia — Thirty-eight children and young adults who lost one or both parents in the Black Saturday bushfires — including four children who lost both parents — are to share millions of dollars from the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund.

Rather than one-off payments, children under 18 who lost one or both parents are likely to receive long-term financial help from special trust funds. The new measures could be announced this week.

Seventeen children under 18 lost one or both parents in the fires, while 21 young adults aged 18 to 26 lost one or both parents.

The chairman of the Appeal Fund advisory panel, John Landy, said it was important that the fund remembered children who lost a parent in the fires and whose lives were so affected by what had happened.

“There’s a staggering number,” Mr Landy said, “and we are about to release a sum of money to account for those people, not just now but into the future, on an ongoing basis.

“Some children and young people are facing a future without one or both of their parents as a result of this tragedy. We want to ensure they have a strong financial foundation in place to help set them up for their lives ahead.”

Mr Landy revealed the assistance for orphans as he released to The Age new figures that show for the first time where the money raised by the bushfire appeal fund has gone.

Bushfire victims have so far received just over $1 for every $10 of the money raised by the fund.

The biggest sums so far have gone to the residents of towns most devastated by the fires, including Kinglake (whose residents have shared $9,536,650), Marysville ($4,277,000) and Kinglake West ($4,061,706).

People affected by the Gippsland fires have also received money, including Callignee ($2,074,000), Koornalla ($425,500) and Labertouche ($431,000).

As of last Friday, the fund had paid about $36 million to fire survivors, out of the $334.2 million that has poured in since it was established the day after Black Saturday.

But a far greater amount, about $240 million, has been allocated. A substantial sum from the fund, in excess of $94 million, remains unallocated.

Other financial aid is likely to flow from the fund, including for community projects nominated by fire-affected areas — possibly for parks and playgrounds — and help for people suffering serious psychological trauma.

Existing grants already announced could also be increased, Mr Landy said.

He defended the pace of payments. It was a huge and difficult task and the system had to be robust, he said. Also, new grants were checked with the Australian Taxation Office before they were announced.

“The amount that’s gone out seems at first reckoning small, but I will explain why,” he said. “You have to look at the fact that most of the big grants — $158 million was for rehousing — were only allocated and made available on April 8th. It’s now starting to move very quickly, at over $1.5 million a day.”

Some fire victims, including farmers and hobby farmers who suffered losses, have complained that they have missed out on help from the fund, or that the application system is too bureaucratic and slow.

After the Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people and destroyed the homes of thousands of others, Australians shocked by the scale of the disaster donated to the appeal on an unprecedented scale.

Mr Landy was stunned at how the fund kept growing strongly since the bushfires.

“It just kept going and going. It’s an amazing outpouring of compassion and generosity,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely staggering, it’s wonderful and I think what it does is it reinforces the extraordinary generosity and the compassion of the Australian people.”

Although the fund has stopped taking donations, the total will keep growing as interest earned by the fund accumulates and events are held in coming weeks and months where the proceeds are donated to the fund.

Mr Landy said some people believed to be eligible for financial assistance had not applied. They included people who were traumatised by the fire and were struggling to cope, people who had moved away and those who did not believe in accepting financial help. Others were simply taking their time.

“We’re so keen to get everybody to apply that is capable of getting a grant,” he said.

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