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In recognition of the unprecedented challenge Australia is facing, the Prime Minister has announced a number of measures aimed at providing relief and support to volunteers and victims of the fires.
The Government has been working to assist local authorities with evacuations and fighting the fires head on by:
- Issuing a compulsory Call-Out of Australian Defence Force Reserve Brigades for the first time in Australian history. This will mean up to 3000 reservists across Australia to assist wherever necessary.
- Deploying the HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore, as well as additional Chinook helicopters, C-17 Globemasters, C-130 Hercules and C-27 Spartans.
- Leasing a fleet of waterbombing planes for use by the states and territories in directly fighting the fires.
- Allowing people in short term evacuation distress to access Defence bases from Brisbane to Adelaide for temporary transit accommodation.
The Government has also taken steps to ensure our volunteer firefighters don’t lose out when they take the time to help Australians in need. Many of these volunteers are farmers, small business owners, tradies and contract workers in rural and regional areas that have been hit hardest by the fires this season. This support will be provided to Rural Fire Service Volunteers in NSW who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses, and who have been called out for more than 10 days this fire season. Eligible volunteers will receive a tax-free, non means tested payment for lost income up to $300/day to a total of $6,000 per person. The costs for this program will be covered by the Australian Government while the NSW Government will administer the payments. Other state and territory governments have been invited to enter into a similar scheme based on their assessment of need and the demands on their volunteer effort from their own fire seasons.
In addition to financial support for volunteers taking leave from employment the Prime Minister has also directed all Commonwealth public service leaders to permanently offer at least 20 working days paid leave, or 28 calendar days, for volunteers aiding with firefighting efforts – bringing this in line with the leave entitlements available to Australian Defence Force reservists.
After this bushfire season has concluded tens of thousands of Australians will need support from the Government in rebuilding their lives – and we have a clear plan to provide this support.
The work has begun on establishing a National Bushfire Recovery Agency to be led by former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin. This agency will report to Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, the Hon David Littleproud MP and will be modelled around the response to the Queensland floods of the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency.
While this agency is being established the Government has continued to work with state and territory governments to provide ongoing financial support to victims and to reconnect power and communications infrastructure in affected areas. This includes financial assistance that is being delivered to 69 local government areas across the country and the deployment of Mobile Service Centres that assist victims with finding out what support is available to them. The Government has processed 20,600 claims for assistance and provided nearly $25 million through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance.
Further assistance is being provided by the Government in coordination with state governments in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland through the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA). These arrangements vary by state. You can obtain more information from the Department of Human Services on 180 22 66.