Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has labelled the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) for Cyclone Yasi a farce.
The Category D extension for Cairns under the NDRRA scheme which was hailed by the Government in a recent media announcement as a “commitment” to “respond to the challenges facing communities impacted” is farcical as most people in the Cairns business community are not eligible.
“This is an absolute joke. The Category D extension is accessible only to people directly hit by the eye of the cyclone, not those outer lying areas which were severely impacted upon by the cyclone like Cairns,” said Warren Entsch.
Mr Entsch said the NDRRA has also failed to support those communities in areas such as Bloomfield and the wider Cape York area where massive flooding even as recent as Easter is crippling businesses which people are unable to access due to road and causeway closures.
“These businesses have been cut off from the world since Cyclone Yasi hit in February. They are unable to access support as they are businesses that do not fall within the criteria. How can their plight be any different to those in the southeast corner I ask?”
Category D Disaster Relief includes:
Special concessional loans of up to $650,000 for eligible businesses, primary producers and not-for-profit organisations suffering extreme damage, with a grant component of up to $50,000
The problem is, while Cairns and surrounding areas are listed as locations where this assistance is available, most businesses are not eligible.
Mr Entsch said his office has been bombarded by calls from business owners furious that they cannot access the loans and grants including businesses in Cairns, Bloomfield and Cooktown.
“These business people feel completely hung out to dry. They have not been able to access hardly anything in terms of disaster relief since Cyclone Yasi hit. Their anger is totally understandable. A $650,000 concessional loan or a $50,000 grant would go a long way to helping these businesses at this point in time.
The criteria for Category D is so stringent that unless you have ‘sustained substantial damage to buildings, plant, equipment or stock’ you cannot access the concessional loans or business grants available. That means hardly any businesses north of Tully are eligible for the assistance as very few, if any received major infrastructure damage or stock loss,” said Mr Entsch.
The Federal Member says the Government is completely out of touch with what is happening on the ground in cyclone affected areas.
“Treasurer Wayne Swan was in town for a three day junket and did little more than swan around his five star hotel suite, he didn’t get out on the ground and see how his Government’s inaction is affecting the local road house, tourist operator or retail outlet. Why has the Government boasted about how wonderful it is in supporting businesses in the Far North in the wake of Cyclone Yasi yet in reality they have delivered nothing?” he said.
Mr Entsch says businesses in Cairns were particularly devastated by Cyclone Yasi as many of them had to shut their doors for a week or more, continue to pay staff and fixed overheads while not generating any income whatsoever. Businesses on the Cape have also been running up to 90% losses in revenue since February.
“In many cases they were without phone, electricity, internet and customers have been unable to access them, yet they are considered ineligible under this NDRRA criteria, which is ludicrous. With one stroke of a pen Wayne Swan and his Government can make these businesses eligible to access these grants and loans but they are choosing to ignore the problem and hope no-one notices.
“Let’s not forget that Cyclone Yasi hitting our region was on top of a massive tourism downturn, the highest unemployment rate in the nation (14 per cent), and a depressed economy which has seen many businesses continuing to fold week in, week out due to the Global Financial Crisis and its wake is still very much wreaking havoc on our town.
Our business people deserve better, they are the ones driving this economy and continuing to keep people in jobs, yet any individual person is entitled to more money from the Government’s Disaster Relief payments than a business employing 20 people, which is simply not good enough,” he said.
The Federal Member is calling on the Government to reassess its position on allowing businesses north of Tully to access the Disaster Relief Grants and concessional loans as he said it will go a long way to assisting the town’s recovery.
“We need action and delivery, not lip service and spin.”