Fire recovery payments barely trickling through as Victoria's fire-affected communities try to rebuild their lives
Feb. 16, 2020
Some of the flowers at Melissa and Paul Churchman's wildflower nursery took five years to grow, but they were wiped out within minutes when a bushfire ripped through their Sarsfield property in late December.
The fire razed their home and wiped out their business.
More than six weeks, later the couple is still trying to get access to government relief.
"Homeless and unemployed. It's a full-time job to try and manoeuvre and navigate everything," Ms Churchman said.
Some immediate emergency payments have been made, but the money they need to rebuild is yet to begin flowing, adding to the couple's already considerable stress.
"It's five years to get the plantation up and going … it just feels like forever," she said.
Local, state and federal governments all have a range of payments and grants available for bushfire victims, and while affected communities welcome the money, many are struggling with the red tape and bureaucracy involved.
One struggle Ms Churchman is dealing with is Centrelink, because she has never had an account before.
There is a government-funded $75,000 grant for primary producers, but farmers like Buchan's Jeff McCole say repeated attempts to access the cash have so far led to nothing.
"They're probably going to supply the help, but it's just the process of getting out there into where it's needed as quickly as possible," he said.
"You don't need it tomorrow, you needed it yesterday."
The Andrews Government said the state had made more than $260 million available and there were case workers being offered to help people work through what they may be entitled to.
The Federal Government also has a Disaster Recovery Allowance providing up to 13 weeks of income support to those who have lost income as a direct result of the bushfires.
Charities, including the Red Cross, are providing assistance, but Mr McCole says government agencies are failing to keep up.
"None of these agencies have come into town. They should have been setting up something in town where people could access them a lot better," he said.
Victorians can access the Case Support Program by contacting 1800 560 760.
The State Government also said farmers whose destroyed or damaged fences border national parks, state parks and state forests could have their fencing removed, replaced and upgraded with fire and pest-resistant materials.
The Government will fund half the cost of the materials for this upgrade, up to $5,000 per kilometre.
For farmers around Buchan, fencing is the major issue. Communities are hard at work replacing fencing so farmers can focus on their recovery. Volunteers for the charity BlazeAid are offering a helping hand.
Every fence on Mr McCole's property was destroyed, and he started losing sheep to wild dog attacks within just three days.
"After three years of drought there's no money," he said.
"You can't go out and hook up great heaps of fencing material because you could be running $80,000 to $90,0000 [of fencing] and if all of a sudden you don't qualify [for the grants] well, you're done."
This week, fencing site assessments by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning began in Buchan.
A range of tax concessions have also been made, including stamp duty relief of up to $55,000 for those who decide not to rebuild in their local community.
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