The Coalition has walked away from one of its cornerstone policies in the face of the bushfire emergency, pledging billions for a new agency that will lead the government’s response.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the government will invest $2 billion in the new National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA), led by former AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin.
The NBRA will be responsible for helping communities recover from the bushfires, as well as advising the government on their impact and developing and co-ordinating a long-term plan for rebuilding and resilience.
The investment will severely impact the much-touted budget surplus, something that Mr Morrison says is of “no focus for me”.
“What matters to me is the human cost and meeting whatever cost we need to meet,” Mr Morrison told a press conference outside Parliament House.
“But I can tell you this: being in the position of strength that we are now, enables us to give what is one of the most significant, if not the most significant response to a crisis of this kind the country has seen.”
The establishment of the NBRA comes after calls from state government figures – including Premier Gladys Berejiklian and member for Bega Andrew Constance – to provide funding for the bushfires.
“An unprecedented joint effort with the states, territories and local government will be required to assist with the recovery, rebuilding and future resilience of these communities,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a media release.
“Our initial $2 billion investment helped get communities back on their feet by assisting with restocking and replenishing, rebuilding roads and telecommunications infrastructure, mental health support, attracting tourists back to the regions and helping restore the local environment and impacted wildlife.”
Mr Morrison also noted that the total cost of the response to Cyclone Yasi and the Brisbane Floods was $5.6 billion over six years, suggesting the government may be in it for the long haul.
Around 6,000 insurance claims, totalling nearly $400 million, have been lodged since the start of the emergency, while $100 million has already been paid out to families in the form of disaster recovery payments and allowances.