Flood assistance helping those whose worlds have been turned upside down in NSW

Right now, flood-struck communities in NSW are battling natural disaster. Again.

I know West Australians care deeply for our flood-fatigued communities in the Eastern States and are watching the recovery effort closely.

In a flood, unless you’ve been flooded, you can’t quite appreciate what it means. Speaking to residents in affected areas, we’ve heard heartbreaking stories; family heirlooms and photos which simply can’t be reproduced again, gone.

When you get water across the floorboards of the house and it gets into the carpet, it stinks. It’s dirty. It’s expensive to fix up. Countless groceries in power blacked-out fridges wasted because of flood damage and storm damage.

Financial and other support is critical and needs to be readily and swiftly available to those devastated by yet another brutal flood.

Last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced disaster payments of $1000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child for those who have suffered significant losses.

Employees and sole traders can also apply for the Disaster Recovery Allowance for up to 13 weeks to help cover lost income.

Since claims opened less than a week ago, almost 530,000 people in immediate need have received emergency payments.

These are modest payments for those experiencing more than $20,000 in damage — a meaningful but small down payment for those who have had their world turned upside down.

Online claiming is available round the clock with extended phone support on offer for those who need it.

And on the ground at the heart of the Albanese Government response, a blue shirt brigade is quietly working to help lift Australians back onto their feet. They are the Services Australia staff in their bright blue uniforms, working hard to support people in their time of need.

I was privileged enough to meet with some of these public servants on Sunday in Liverpool, Sydney, where Services Australia staff worked through the weekend to make sure the payments got to people quickly. They sure did that.

Payments are being processed in record time. On the first full day, more than 105,000 claims were finalised — significantly higher than levels seen during the pandemic support peaks of 2020.

We know from bitter experience how crucial access to payments and support can be. In one case a person’s short-term rental was flooded and they were living out of their car. They were able to use their disaster payment to get a room at a motel.

In another case, a family of five were living out of an evacuation centre while awaiting housing. They had nothing. When one of the children said they were hungry, a staff member handed over their lunch. The same staff member went on to make sure they had financial assistance to buy food before they moved to new accommodation.

While at Services Australia on Sunday, I sat down with staff while they took calls from people on the ground looking for support and care. It was impressive to see in real-time the emotional and practical support flowing out.

Since July 1, Commonwealth officers have been deployed to flood-struck areas in NSW to help Australians hit by natural disaster.

At the emergency frontline they’ve delivered critical disaster payments from evacuation centres, temporary shelters, and even car bonnets.

On the technology front, huge leaps forward in digital services have also been a key part in getting financial relief to people quickly.

Online claiming for disaster payments give people greater convenience and flexibility. Now about 96 per cent of daily claims are lodged through myGov, with staff on the ground showing people how it works.

The speed at which financial assistance can hit bank accounts is astounding. In some cases, people in significant crisis have reported seeing payments in their bank accounts while still sitting with a staff member.

Recovery from a natural disaster is tough, exhausting, and long.

The Albanese Government has unwavering support for those in crises and will demonstrate this right through until the job is done. Because that is the Government’s job — to be there to provide a modest safety net.

Our hearts remain with those in the devastating aftermath of these ceaseless weather events. And know you can expect the same level of help should mother nature ever frown on WA.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday 13 July 2022.