Australia — Short-term income assistance will be made available for people who lost their homes in the South Australian bushfires, Tony Abbott has announced.
The government will supplement the income of people affected by the disaster for up to 13 weeks.
We will be making the disaster recovery payments and the disaster recovery allowance available to the victims of the bushfires in South Australia, the prime minister told Adelaide radio station 5AA on Thursday morning.
These are Centrelink payments of $1,000 an adult and $400 a child for people whose houses have been destroyed or whose houses have been badly damaged.
This is modest additional commonwealth assistance that will be made available to victims of these terrible bushfires here in South Australia, Abbott said.
Abbott said the payments would not be available to volunteer firefighters who lost income from their regular jobs.
The prime minister drew on his own experience as a volunteer with the New South Wales rural fire service to say he was sure that missing out on the payments doesnt deter people who volunteered to help after disasters.
We do what we do not because someone tells us to do it but because we want to do it. Not because we are paid, but because we are committed to the community. And this idea that you should start to pay volunteers, I think is an idea which should be treated with great caution, he said.
Abbott met volunteers at a South Australian firefighting staging area on Thursday morning.
This has been a major incident. Its now been running for the best part of the week. All of you have been flat out since Friday and you have responded magnificently to all the challenges that you have faced, Abbott said.
You have shown all of those great Australian characteristics mateship, creativity, of calmness in a crisis and thats something which is very special.
The Centrelink payments are on top of the national disaster relief and recovery arrangements, in which the commonwealth government and states split the cost of rebuilding and paying compensation to victims.
The South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, praised the federal governments efforts to help and said now the process of rebuilding begins.
This is a massive team effort. It has been seamless. Its been effective, Weatherill said.
Abbott shied away from linking the bushfires directly with climate change.
While there is no doubt that over time climate change could make a difference to these sorts of occurrences, fire, flood and storm are a part of living in Australia, always have been, always will be, he said.
Climate change is real. Humanity does contribute to it and its important that the government does make a strong and effective effort to combat it.
By Wednesday morning, 350 claims totalling more than $13m had been lodged with insurers, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) said.
More properties may be potentially vulnerable at this time and it is critical for residents in bushfire-affected areas to ensure they follow the advice of emergency services, the ICAs chief executive, Rob Whelan, said.
The ICA continues to liaise with the state government, emergency services, local governments and members of parliament to provide support and help resolve issues, he said.
Victims of the South Australian bushfires can find out more about compensation via the federal governments disaster relief assistance hotline on 18 22 66.