McCormack: '$2b fire fund is just the beginning'

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack shares his experiences visiting bushfire ravaged towns

Opinion
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack (right) in bushfire affected orchards.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack (right) in bushfire affected orchards.

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The Deputy Prime Minister shares his experiences in bushfire ravaged towns.

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Towns, which once boasted thriving vegetation of all shades of green now encumbered by charred gum trees, burnt foliage and blackened pastures.

Until you step into the scene, the air still thick with smoke, letterboxes, clotheslines and fences melted to the ground, you can't fully appreciate what has gone on in these towns.

It's hard to believe this is the Australia we know and love. Regional Australia has somewhat been brought to its knees - dealt a series of tough cards over the past few years.

Communities are suffering through one of the worst droughts in living memory and now, when you thought it couldn't get any worse, bush fires have ravaged entire towns, leaving only destruction in its path.

Some people have lost everything. Their homes, their livelihoods, their hope.

The devastation is palpable - homes, businesses, wildlife, plants, infrastructure - gone.

Tumut and Tumbarumba in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, towns underpinned by the forestry industry, have lost almost all of their pine plantations - thousands of trees over tens of thousands of hectares which will take two decades to regrow to their pre-fire state.

In Batlow, a town famous for its apples, dozens of orchards have been incinerated. It'll take producers at least five years to replant and regrow.

Losses to dairy and beef operations from the bushfires since Christmas have been enormous. Photo: DION GEORGOPOULOS.

Losses to dairy and beef operations from the bushfires since Christmas have been enormous. Photo: DION GEORGOPOULOS.

It's impossible to fathom.

But even amidst all the destruction there are the beginnings of new life. Vegetation is already regenerating, sprouting out of blackened tree trunks and scorched earth.

The people have come together, to support one another, to regenerate themselves.

Regional Australians are resilient. I have always known this, but today, I am buoyed witnessing it again.

The heart-warming tales of humanity, welfare, compassion and financial donations are truly astounding.

For the thousands of Australians who have lost everything - we are with you, every step of the way as we rebuild the Australia we have lost.

We will stand with you today, tomorrow, next week and in the months and years ahead through our $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

This funding is on top of the existing recovery payments and allowances which have so far seen $100 million worth of assistance flowing through to families, small businesses and farmers right across the nation.

This new $2 billion fund is just the beginning. If more money is needed to re-build, re-plant, re-stock and re-grow, it will be available.

The Agency is being led by the highly respected Andrew Colvin, a former Australian Federal Police Commissioner who will be out listening to people in affected communities so we can provide everything they need to help them get back on their feet.

It's important local people lead this recovery effort because they know their communities best.

No matter what the situation, whether it's assisting with restocking and replenishing, rebuilding roads and telecommunications infrastructure, mental health support, attracting tourists back to the regions and coastal towns, helping to restore the local environment and impacted wildlife or a helping hand to those who no longer have a job to go to. It doesn't matter what it is. If you need help, you will get it.

This funding builds on the more than $1 billion we've committed to the drought response since the Federal Election in May.

Many farmers, who have already lost so much, are now forced to face this crisis too.

Thousands of livestock have devastatingly perished and the Australian Defence Force is working as fast as it can to dispose of carcases to prevent the spread of disease.

We have also put 100 veterinarians into the field to make sure the stock, pets and wildlife our farmers and fire crews worked so hard to save are given the care and treatment they need.

We will be monitoring the health of all animals moving forward, we're getting fodder and water to where it's needed.

The nation is grateful for the incredible generosity of so many such as the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners who are doing an outstanding job carting feed into the disaster zones for stock which have no grass left to eat.

Hundreds, if not thousands of sheds, machinery and other farming infrastructure has been destroyed in these fires. It will take time to rebuild fences, regenerate yards, refill water tanks but we will get there, together.

Our agriculture industry, our farmers, regional Australians are the backbone of this nation and we are 100 per cent committed to supporting rural communities.

It's in these times of despair and devastation you see the very best in all Australians.

Thank you to everybody who has pitched in to help in any way they can.

Our fire fighters - paid and unpaid - have been nothing short of remarkable - enduring days on end without rest.

Volunteers such as Snowy Valleys teenagers Leah Hardwick and Rebecca Dean who I met in Tumut last week. They put their lives on the line to protect their community. When I spoke with them, they were exhausted and fatigued but determined to keep going just as their parents and grandparents did generations before them.

So many people are doing what they can baking goods to get our exhausted fire fighters through the day, delivering loads of water, housing those who escaped with just the shirts on their back, rescuing and caring for injured wildlife - the list goes on.

This crisis is far from over. We're only at the beginning of what will be a long, hot and bushfire-prone summer but I can assure you, the Federal Government will be there, shoulder to shoulder with all Australians and putting our arms around the wonderful people who have been through so much.

Once the immediate threat has passed and the rebuilding begins, we will have to look for answers to prevent this scale of destruction from reaching our regions again.

We need to take sensible steps in responsible land management, reducing fuel loads and working on measures in conjunction with local regional communities on sustainable and preventable solutions.

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