SYDNEY, Australia – The country’s efforts in response to the spreading coronavirus might use Australia’s bushfire restoration funds.
The country’s coronavirus response may use the recovery funds following the deadly bushfire in Australia during the summer. According to the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, they cannot guarantee that the efforts towards dealing with the spreading virus will use the resources that the government set aside to help in the restoration of areas affected by the recent bushfire.
The Labor sector is raising their queries about the people’s access to loans and grants, especially for those affected by the bushfires last summer. With that, the government acknowledged that there is a need to shake things up, particularly in the bureaucratic process. The future of the funds already set aside to aid in the bushfire recovery in the country, especially the tourism funds, remains to be unknown.
State tourism ministers gathered last week. However, the meeting concluded without any formal guarantees about where the bushfire recovery restoration funds will go. The fund has already set aside around $76 million to aid the disaster-impacted areas in Australia recover from the decline in tourism. But at the moment, the reserved resources will be increased to help deal with the growing impact of the Covid-19 in the country.
Further, the National Bushfire Recovery Agency was tight-lipped about whether much bigger purposes will or will not take the announced funds.
A spokesperson from the agency said in an interview that they intend to keep the disclosed funds focused only on summer bushfire recovery efforts. However, the agency spokesman added that there might be some opportunities to help both areas affected by the bushfire and the virus. He reasoned out that there is a broad impact that both disasters brought to the tourism industry in the country.
At this time, the agency spokesman said that the efforts are focused on the areas affected by the bushfire and its surrounding regions. However, the future matter on how to use the funds will be left for the government to figure out.
Meanwhile, the Australian government is currently evaluating all available measures to help with the restoration, particularly after a slow progression and the increasing complaints about the excessively bureaucratic process.
Andrew Colvin, the chief officer at the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, attended an Estimate Hearing in the Senate early in March. During the trial, he said they were able to award a variety of loans and grants to bushfire-stricken individuals amounting to $380 million. He added that there was a total of 104 applications for a concessional credit for small businesses. However, Mr. Colvin said that only five of the total number of applications received a loan or grant amounting to $400,000.
For businesses in the fire-stricken areas who luckily didn’t experience any destruction except for a decline or loss of their customer base, the grants are some of the very few assistance helping them recover.
Mr. Colvin said during the estimates hearing that the experience following other disasters in the country that the recovery process takes time. According to him, communities need an extended period to start with looking for advice that can help them move forward with resources that could help like grants and loans.
During the same day of the estimates hearing, Scott Morrison was under review in the parliament. He defended the funds which they gave through the affected communities. However, Mr. Morrison also admitted apprehensions about the seemingly slow progress of grants given to small businesses.
He stated that the agency is currently in the development of looking for better ways to revise and rephrase the construction of the loans and grants that they should award to the communities affected by the fire.
Mr. Morrison added that the agency would look for better methods for them to give communities access to resources for their recovery. He said that it is essential for them to make sure they have the best interest of small businesses in the country. He also stated that it’s vital that companies can see that recovery after the disaster is possible, and they have resources not only for the next three months but over an entire year, at least.
Mr. Morrison added that the New South Wales government is also currently making efforts in the state to make sure those arrangements will come to fruition. He said that the government pointed out critical issues as they are the governing body that handles the applications for loans and grants. He said that they are looking forward to seeing a much better program anytime soon.
A spokesperson from the agency also stated that the review is underway. He noted that the evaluation includes necessary discussions about the possibility of widening the eligibility requirements for the grants and loans and its speedy delivery towards communities. The agency spokesman added that the review would also cover any possible stimuli that could help recover the tourism industry in fire-stricken areas in the country and other physical supports to help the communities.
A couple of weeks ago, the primary challenge that Australia faces was the plans and efforts towards the restoration of the areas gravely affected by the summer bushfire. But recently, the country shifted its focus towards the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease.
The World Health Organization declared the disease as a subject for a global health emergency on January 30, 2020. Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, later set off the emergency response strategy against the spreading deadly virus on February 27, 2020.
The tourism sector has been gravely affected by the pandemic. A popular fun run in Perth that usually draws in over 30,000 people faced cancellation over the fear of the coronavirus. It was the Run for a Reason event of the insurance behemoth HBF scheduled for May.
According to John van der Wheelen, CEO of HBF, canceling the event is the right thing to do as they need to focus more efforts on the increasing health struggle against Covid-19. However, he said that there is still a possibility of a re-schedule of the event in the spring.
The state government also prepares for more cancellation of events in the coming months due to health fears over the virus.