Aid is now flowing to farmers and others in fire-affected areas, but there is a deep feeling in the bush that the devastating drought afflicting much of the country has been forgotten.
Beyond Blue board member and former New South Wales Farmers Association president Derek Schoen said the nation had turned its attention away from the drought.
“The media looks for the next big thing and that focus on the bushfires has taken the focus away from the drought,” Mr Schoen said.
Grants criteria relaxed
State and Federal Governments have ramped up efforts to get aid out to fire-affected communities.
This week the NSW Government announced significantly relaxed criteria for people to access the $75,000 Commonwealth grants in fire-affected areas.
“It’s a very, very flexible grant and all primary producers have to do is to demonstrate to the Rural Assistance Authority (RAA) that they are primary producers, that they’re in a fire zone that was impacted by fires any time from August last year, and send in five photos … to demonstrate and prove that there was fire damage on their property,” NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said.
If it is approved, the $75,000 will be electronically deposited into their bank account.
It is a generous scheme in comparison to what is on offer for people affected by drought only, and that has upset some people.
There is an urgent need, however, in the fire areas.
Farmers who have been burnt out need assistance to rebuild fences, buy feeders, build hay sheds, and to re-seed pastures if they have had some rain.
“It may even be for some people eventually restocking some of their properties or their paddocks,” Mr Marshall said.
Audits will be conducted to ensure fraudulent claims are rejected, while still trying to make the process as simple as possible, Mr Marshall said.
“You don’t have to take the full $75,000 if you don’t want to, but anyone who qualifies is entitled to the full $75,000 regardless of the size of their farming operation.
“It’s not contingent on the size of the damage bill. It just requires the farmer to demonstrate that they are in the fire zone, they have suffered damage on their property, and obviously they are a primary producer.”
RSPCA looking after livestock, pets and wildlife
The RSPCA has raised more than $6 million in donations and has teams on the south coast helping people look after livestock and domestic animals.
Ashley Stephenson, RSPCA NSW general manager of animal operations, said $1 million will go into an emergency assistance fund, which they will distribute to people who need help to look after animals.
“We’ve sent teams into areas like the South Coast doing welfare assessments and rescue attempts and having a presence in evacuation centres and outreach services.”
They are also spending money on a mobile unit to enable them to respond to these kinds of emergencies faster in the future and to support other wildlife rescue organisations working in the fire-affected areas.
GIVIT coordinating aid delivery
National online not-for-profit agency GIVIT is urging people to use their online platform to make sure the things they donate get to the right people and the process did not create a problem at the other end.
“We’ve seen a massive flood of donations into these areas and we’ve seen the councils and other charities struggle with this,” NSW drought relief manager Scott Barrett said.
GIVIT has partnered with the Queensland, ACT and NSW Governments to coordinate offers of assistance and has distributed 20,000 items directly to people in NSW and Queensland — items that had been specifically requested.
Long road to recovery
GIVIT has been working in drought and flood-affected areas for a couple of years now and has distributed more than 100,000 items in that time.
Mr Barrett said the recovery period for many farmers will take several years.
Beyond Blue’s Derek Schoen agreed.
“The drought has been ongoing for as much as six years in some areas and with the focus on the fires their plight can be put on the back foot,” he said.
Tamworth livestock agent Scott Newberry was frustrated by the assumption that the recent rain had put out the fires and ended the drought.
“You watch the national news and it says how there’s been rain in areas of New South Wales and that’s all well and good but it wasn’t over a real broad area, and people jumping in puddles after a 70-millimetre thunderstorm,” he said.
“It’s the start of something but we need a lot more than that.”
Mr Schoen urged farmers affected by drought or bushfires to ask for help.
Falling through the cracks
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro visited the North Coast of NSW today to meet people who are “falling through the cracks” of the support net.
“I’m making it one of my personal targets to make sure that individuals get the support that they need to traverse through the maze of government.”
Mr Marshall also re-affirmed the State Government’s commitment to support farmers in drought.
“Drought is still a huge issue across New South Wales and there’s still $3.9 billion worth of assistance that the RAA has to be delivering.”