PM pledges $2 billion for bushfire recovery

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

AT least $2 billion will be pumped into a national bushfire recovery fund over the next two years.

The fund will support local governments, farmers and primary producers, and deliver mental health support, including to first responders.

“The fires are still burning and they will be burning for months to come,” Scott Morrison told reporters on Monday.

“If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be provided.”

The prime minister says he is unfazed by the impact of the bushfire recovery fund on the federal budget.

Firefighters struggling against the strong wind in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires in NSW. Picture: SAEED KHAN/AFP

“The surplus is no focus for me,” Mr Morrison said.

“What matters to me is the human cost and meeting whatever cost we need to meet.”

There have been 24 fatalities and two people remain unaccounted for in New South Wales, while more than 1600 homes have been lost across the country.

Rainfall provided some respite in NSW and Victoria on Monday but conditions are expected to deteriorate again on Friday.

There are still around 300 people waiting to be evacuated from the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota by air, with aircraft grounded on Monday due to smoke.

But HMAS Choules is on standby after it unloaded fuel for generators which restored power to the town and Mallacoota Airport.

Also in Victoria, 18,000 litres of fuel has been provided to the town of Omeo and emergency supplies are being flown into the 18 cut-off communities.

In NSW, reconnaissance and liaison teams have been sent to the south coast, while engineering teams are headed to the Southern Highlands to clear firebreaks and open roads.

Fires across East Gippsland have killed two people and destroyed more than 100 properties. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

In South Australia, an emergency water purification system has been deployed at Kangaroo Island and the army has trucked in more than 66,000 litres of bottled water.

Early estimates say the island has lost half its wildlife population, a veterinary officer to assist in euthanising stock and the dead are being buried for health reasons.

Roads connecting Western Australian and South Australia remain shut.

New Zealand has committed three helicopters and an engineering team, while Singapore is sending two Chinooks to East Sale in Victoria.

France has offered firefighting assistance as well as engineering and environmental support.

The bushfire recovery fund will operate alongside three levels of existing disaster relief payments available through the Commonwealth.

Twenty temporary Service Australia offices will open in fire-affected communities to help people access disaster payments.

“We have taken a number of decisions to streamline those payments to make sure cash gets into people’s hands as soon as possible,” Mr Morrison said.

Welfare debt recovery and mutual obligation requirements in bushfire-affected regions are also being suspended for at least two months.

The consumer watchdog will set up a hotline for people to report any bogus charities using the bushfire crisis to rip people off.

The tax office will not chase up returns in bushfire-affected areas for two years, giving people in those areas some breathing space.

So far, 497 Army reservists have been called to help in the bushfire response.

– AAP