Australia– Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi has defended her long-running disaster relief fund, after criticism that it is taking too long to help those affected by the Yarloop bushfire.
The fund has so far raised $8.1 million for those affected by January’s devastating Yarloop blaze, which claimed two lives and destroyed 181 properties.
The Association of Volunteer Bushfire Brigades WA said the fund needed to be reviewed, as most of the money will not be released until after the final cut-off date of May 31, nearly five months on from the fire.
“What it doesn’t necessarily do is take into consideration the direct needs of the community or individuals on the ground,” association Vice President Dave Gossage said.
“It’s not that the fund is a bad thing, [the problem is] the flexibility of the fund and the rules of how the fund can be applied.”
But Ms Scaffidi said the fund was not designed to provide immediate urgent relief.
“I think they’re confusing the need of other services to kick in with emergency relief,” she said.
“Our fund has always been intended for long-term rebuilding support.
“From a governance perspective, we can’t distribute public money until we close off on a fund and have a full and final total, and then move to allocate the fund according to how many applicants we’ve had.
“You can’t have someone whose experienced fire and loss to complete a form and have an application in within the immediate week or so with the grief and other stress they would be under and not even knowing the full extent of their losses.
“To me, it’s a comment made by people who don’t understand how the fund truly operates.”
Ms Scaffidi said the Lord Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund had a great track record of helping those in need since its inception in the 1960s.
Mr Gossage said there were many people in need that would not be eligible for the fund, such as farmers who would incur long-standing impacts to their livelihoods due to the fire.
Emergency funding processes ‘gruelling’
Mr Gossage said the emergency funding processes in all levels of Government could be a very restrictive and gruelling process.
“The policies that govern emergency care and funding need to be revisited so that the policy has goal posts that can be moved to suit the emergency depending on where it is, what type and the consequence of the emergency.
“Some emergencies are very quick and you’re back on you feet within a month or so.
“But then there’s major ones like this one which is going to take two or three years before people are back to a sense of normality, especially when it comes to regenerating the land.
“In this day and age, I’m just gobsmacked that we are not stepping outside the bureaucratic box.”
Ms Scaffidi said she expected most people who made an application would receive some financial support, with $1.4 million already distributed.
Almost 190 applications for assistance have so far been made to the fund.