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Shorten asks for changes to fire relief

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is pushing for urgent changes to the eligibility criteria for payments to help people affected by the NSW bushfires.


Federal government payments of $1000 per adult and $400 per child are now available to those who are injured or whose homes are destroyed or damaged.

They can be used to pay for emergency accommodation and food, clothing and personal effects.

But the eligibility criteria for the payments have been tightened since disasters such as the 2009 Victoria bushfires and the 2011 Queensland floods.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday, Mr Shorten noted many people would miss out.

They included people who haven’t been allowed into their home for 24 hours or more, who were trapped in their home for 24 hours or more, or whose homes were still standing but had essential utilities cut off for more than two days.

“I therefore write to request you urgently amend the (Australian government disaster recovery payment) eligibility criteria,” Mr Shorten wrote.

“This will ensure NSW families and communities in NSW have additional assistance to deal with the immediate and devastating aftermath of this bushfire disaster.”

Last week, Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said the eligibility changes were designed to ensure people most in need got assistance first and the government would continue to assess the situation.

Labor’s human services spokesman Doug Cameron, who lives in the Blue Mountains, says residents are being treated differently to other Australians who have suffered in natural disasters.

People who are missing out include those who couldn’t get to their homes for three or four days in Yellow Rock, or those from Springwood who couldn’t return home because of their asthma, he told ABC radio.

“People who have no water, no power, had to go out and buy their kids’ school uniforms and shoes to get them to school … they are not eligible.”

Tightening the criteria was an “act of political stupidity” on the part of the government.

“Many people are on their knees in the Blue Mountains – they need to get the federal government’s support,” he said.

Comment has been sought from Mr Abbott.

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