Australia — Bushfire-affected residents in the Blue Mountains are a step closer to getting debris and asbestos removed from their properties with extra funds announced for the work.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell says the clean-up will be free for people in Winmalee and Springwood where fires destroyed more than 200 homes and damaged another 120 properties.
“The scale of the bushfire damage in the Springwood and Winmalee areas is immense … and the NSW Government is committed to supporting the area,” he said on Thursday.
“To assist, the NSW Government will work with insurers and fund the clean-up and removal of all bushfire debris, including the disposal of asbestos-contaminated material from destroyed homes.”
It comes after Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill criticised the government on Wednesday, saying that the clean-up of the region was taking too long.
But Mr O’Farrell dismissed the claims saying in his two-and-a-half years as premier, he had never seen such a rapid response and that the fire that devastated Winmalee and Springwood was only declared officially out on Wednesday.
The assistance is being provided under the Commonwealth-NSW Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, and follows other funding for the region.
While the clean-up continues, Mr O’Farrell urged others in NSW to travel to the Blue Mountains for a weekend or meal to support the local economy.
Senator Doug Cameron, who has been scathing of both state and federal government responses to the bushfires, welcomed the assistance as a “victory for common sense”.
The federal coalition government should now take a similar step by restoring the eligibility criteria for disaster recovery payments to aid Blue Mountains residents, he added.
“The Abbott government should also deliver on the prime minister’s promise to provide concessional loans of up to $100,000 to Blue Mountains small businesses that have been devastated by the fires,” the NSW Labor senator said.
Senate government leader Eric Abetz justified the decision to change eligibility for bushfire victims to receive emergency funds during Senate question time.
Federal government payments of $1000 per adult and $400 per child are now available to people who are injured or whose homes are destroyed or damaged in the fires.
People who had to flee the fires then return to find their homes still standing but in need of serious clean-up efforts would miss out.
Senator Abetz said the previous Labor government had used the same eligibility on five occasions in the past including during floods and storms in Queensland in 2008, 2009 and storms in Victoria in 2010.