Australian News

Scott Morrison to inject millions into recovery

The federal government is being careful not to put a dollar estimate on how much the bushfire emergency will cost.

Reconstructing bridges, roads and critical infrastructure destroyed by the blazes is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ahead of a cabinet meeting in Canberra, Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud was reluctant to put an exact figure on the funding envelope.

“Obviously after cabinet, if cabinet approves it, we will put in place a mechanism to get that money out the door as quickly as we can,” he told the ABC.

Scott Morrison has pledged to commit “everything that is needed and more” to the recovery effort.

The states will not be asked to match the federal government’s funding.

The prime minister will today launch the government’s national bushfire recovery agency, to be led by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin and operate for at least two years.

The agency will offer income support to farmers, small business owners and residents affected by the fires.

Farmers who lost stock in the fires will be an urgent priority.

Hundreds of thousands of animals are believed to have died in fires that have ravaged parts of the country for many weeks.

“We will be trying to take pre-emptive steps today with state agencies around making sure the disposal of the livestock is done quickly – there is a biosecurity risk there,” Mr Littleproud said.

“We have to think about our native species that have been decimated by the fires, too, in terms of our recovery.”

Cabinet ministers will also consider mental health supports.

“We won’t be just rebuilding infrastructure, we want to rebuild lives,” Mr Littleproud said.

Mr Morrison hasn’t ruled out a royal commission into the bushfire crisis.

“It is something I would consider in concert with states and territories,” he said.

He said there may be a role for a national agency when it came to hazard reduction burns.

“Hazard reduction has been a constant refrain as I have been on the ground but I also acknowledge the drought conditions can make that very difficult,” he said.

Claims hazard reduction burns would have helped stem the bushfire crisis have been disputed by experts, with Australia’s ex-fire chiefs saying climate change was the main culprit.

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop said Australia needs to show global leadership on climate change in response to the bushfire crisis.

“Countries do look to Australia for direction for guidance and leadership,” she told the Nine Network today.

Ms Bishop said Australia must compose a coherent national climate and energy policy to present at international conferences.

The government has already announced the rollout of up to 3000 Defence Force reservists to help handle the fallout from fires.

Fire crews across South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW today will race to build containment lines around dozens of dangerous blazes.

One hundred reservists will head to South Australia’s Kangaroos Island to help with bushfire recovery.

SA will be under a total fire ban with warmer conditions predicted there on Wednesday, and expected to cross the eastern states on Thursday and Friday.

The nationwide bushfire death toll rose to 23 on Sunday, when police confirmed a man had died while helping a friend battling a fire at Batlow, south of Canberra.

The 47-year-old is among 14 to have died in the past week.

Four people remain missing in Victoria.

More than 6.75 million hectares of land – nearly seven times the size of Melbourne or the total mass of the Republic of Ireland – has been scorched nationwide since July.

Millions of wildlife have also died, though Zoos Victoria chief executive Jenny Gray said the full impact was “impossible to determine at this early stage”.

Insurance claims are estimated at $375 million since November, with a further $56 million in insured property losses in September and October.

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