NSW bushfire victims denied compensation under new rules

NSW bushfire victims denied compensation under new rules

26 October 2013

published by www.smh.com.au

Australia — Blue Mountains residents who had to flee their houses and then returned home to be faced with no gas, electricity or hot water for days have slammed the Federal Government’s changes to disaster relief payments.

The day after bushfires tore through the area, the federal government tightened the rules for disaster payments leaving hundreds of residents who were forced to evacuate without any financial help.

Eligibility for payments, available in disasters such as the January Tasmanian fires, were changed on October 18, so residents who did not lose their homes but had to relocate for days at a time would not receive assistance.

Yellow Rock resident Andrew Mazenauer, who has been without gas or hot water for nine days, said he was disappointed that the government had changed the eligibility criteria without any consultation.

”It’s not about the money for me, I still have my house and people two doors down lost everything, but what I find disappointing is there are plenty of people who could really do with the money but won’t get it,” Mr Mazenauer.

Mr Mazenauer said a friend in Yellow Rock who worked part-time and his wife was battling leukaemia had been knocked back for funding from the disaster recovery payment scheme because they did not lose their home.

”They are without gas too and for them, this payment would really improve their quality of life,” he said.

Under the previous rules, residents who were injured or killed, lost their house, had to leave their home for 24 hours or were without a utility for 48 hours received a one-off payment of $1000 for an adult and $400 for a child.

But the day after the bushfires started, the Justice Minister Michael Keenan signed a new determination which only applied to people who were seriously injured, killed or had their homes destroyed or severely damaged by the fires.

Labor senator Doug Cameron, who lives in the Blue Mountains, said the changes were ”penny pinching and cost cutting gone mad” at a time when hundreds of families urgently needed help.

But a spokeswoman for Mr Keenan said the determination was signed as soon as possible to ensure funding could be allocated to the people who needed it the most.

”We are keeping the situation under review. This is still an unfolding situation and so we are working closely with NSW authorities in response to this emergency. As impacts become clearer, we will consider what broader recovery measures may be required,” the spokeswoman said.

Senator Cameron said one Yellow Rock resident who was a severe asthmatic told him he had been unable to live in his home for a week because of the smoke but would not be eligible for a disaster recovery payment.

”This would be a minuscule amount of money for the government to do the right thing,” Senator Cameron said.

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