Black Saturday bushfire appeal goodwill burnt

Black Saturday bushfire appeal goodwill burnt

26 September 2009

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Australia — Almost a third of all Black Saturday donations are yet to flow to victims. New figures show $121 million of the $386 million raised hasn’t gone to the most needy.

The Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund says the problem is some eligible recipients aren’t aware of their entitlements.

It said others were distressed and unable to claim, did not want charity, or felt unworthy.

The fund expects close to $40 million more will soon get to fire victims, mainly because of changes to tax law.

But the huge pot of unclaimed cash – 31 per cent of the $386 million raised – is likely to anger some victims.

This is particularly so because recovery will be slow.

Graeme Brown, of the Marysville and Triangle Development Group, said people needed cash to rebuild.

“Certainly more effort should be made to get it (the donations) out,” he said.

Opposition bushfire spokesman Peter Ryan called for urgent action.

“I think the fund should immediately undertake an extensive campaign to ensure those people who are entitled to claim . . . do so,” he said.

On February 7, 173 people died when bushfires tore through 78 communities, razing more than 2000 homes and burning 400,000ha.

The disaster prompted an unprecedented flood of donations.

The fund is planning to intensify its efforts to contact people to tell them what they are eligible for.

Of the $386 million, more than $200 million has gone to those the fires directly affected.

Of the rest, $121 million is uncollected and $65 million has been earmarked for community projects.

On the unclaimed funds, a fund spokeswoman said some new payments had only recently been announced.

She said there were long-term payments for orphans and the mentally ill, and the tax office was to approve other initiatives.

“Also, there are people still deciding what to do in terms of rebuilding and have not yet claimed,” she said.

“There have been more than 1800 payments for destroyed homes, however the rebuilding intentions of these people, and those still to apply, is slightly unclear.

“We do know that a majority of home owners we spoke to a few months ago . . . whose homes were destroyed intended to return and rebuild.

“There were some people considering their plans for the future and a lesser number planning to move to other areas.”

The fund will work closely with case managers, local government and grant officers to make people aware of the $121 million in unclaimed cash.

Unspent money will, eventually, go to individuals and community initiatives.

Mr Ryan said the fund should consider giving more help to farmers whose fences were destroyed on Black Saturday and to those rebuilding in bushfire-prone areas who needed more money to protect their new homes from fires.

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