Businesses affected by the devastating Queensland floods in 13 government districts are able to claim nearly $25,000 in compensation to help repair their workplaces, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday.
The announcement comes as the Government has also said concessional interest rate loans, freight subsidies and compensation for individuals will also be made available as the flood waters continue to wreak havoc on the state.
And conditions are set to worsen, with Toowoomba and Bundaberg preparing to record more rainfall this week.
Authorities say 10 people have now died from the floods, which now cover an area the size of Germany and France combined. The town of Rockhampton has been completely sealed off.
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And with the Bundaberg Port now closed, the Moura coal rail line affected and the Blackwater Line suspended, the resources industry will be hit hard by the slowdown in activity. About 18 ships are waiting to be filled.
Although the total cost of recovery is not yet known, it is expected the total clean-up bill will pass $1 billion. Gillard said yesterday clean-up grants of $25,000 will be immediately available for businesses in 13 districts, which are: Banana, Barcaldine, Bundaberg, Central Highlands, Cherbourg, Lockyer Valley, North Burnett, Scenic Rim, Somerset, South Burnett, Southern Downs, Western Downs and Woorabinda.
Concessional interest rate loans of $250,000 for small businesses and farmers, along with subsidies for freight of up to $5,000, are available.
“This is a very, very severe set of floods, affecting communities that are very geographically dispersed, and the Commonwealth Government will be there, working with the state government and with local government, in the time of crisis and as communities move into recovery,” Gillard said.
Rockhampton mayor Brad Carter has also said it could be possible that a government buyback of flood-prone houses may occur, in order to use those areas for more appropriate activities such as sporting grounds.
But the opposition has already attacked the Government for its position over compensation payments, saying that payments made last March after cyclone Ului were more generous.
Last year, residents who had been isolated in or away from their homes over 24 hours, or had a utility failure of over 48 hours, were eligible for payments. But now, payments of $1,000 for individual adults and $400 for children are only eligible for people who are injured, are the family of a flood victim or have had their homes suffer serious damage.
“I hope this is a bureaucratic oversight and not a deliberate change of policy,” opposition leader Tony Abbott said yesterday.
Gillard has responded to these claims, saying attempts will be made to identify criteria that are out of step with earlier compensation rules.
“Given the severity of the flooding in Queensland and the importance of providing these payments quickly and simply, the Prime Minister has asked the Acting Attorney-General to look again at the criteria which are being applied, and ensure that, for Queensland residents, the criteria being used this time will be in line with those used in the Queensland floods earlier this year,” a spokesperson has said.
Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser has already said the release of the state’s mid-year fiscal update will be delayed to take the floods into account. Already the state’s $680 million budget for natural disasters has been surpassed.
“It is likely, though, that the damage bill the State Government will pay to councils and to communities to help fix their roads, their water supplies and other infrastructure that’s been damaged will go into the hundreds and hundreds of millions – in fact this is a damage bill that is likely to have ‘b’ in front of it, not an ‘m’,” Fraser said.
Local Government Association of Queensland president Paul Bell told The Australian that the Government needs to rethink its disaster planning procedures.
“This has impacted on insurability, and litigation – whether people think someone is to blame – and all levels of government need to prepare for larger flood numbers,” he said.
“I think in many cases you can get away with one event, but do you get away with two or three events in a three-year period? Whether its poor planning or climate change, all of a sudden it becomes a complicated world that these communities are trying to rebuild in.”