Announcing the funds on January 9, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they were just the start of financial support to “provide immediate assistance directly into the hands of local councils”.
The funding was directed towards councils identified by the state government as eligible for Category C bushfire disaster recovery relief under federal and state agreements.
Natural Disasters Minister David Littleproud said local government areas were “activated” for Category C funding measures at the request of state premiers.
“There has been no request from the Queensland government for the activation of these local government areas despite the fires having been put out months ago. Despite other states still fighting fires, they have still been able to apply for this fund,” he said.
A spokesman for the Queensland Reconstruction Authority said the state government assessed all Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) funding against the eligibility guidelines set by the Commonwealth.
“The Queensland Reconstruction Authority is working with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the local councils to assess the impacts on primary producers in these regions and whether there is sufficient evidence to activate DRFA assistance for primary producers in line with Commonwealth’s eligibility criteria,” the spokesman said.
“Where a primary producer is in an area not activated for DRFA assistance, but has suffered damage from a natural disaster, they are able to apply for an Individual Disaster Stricken Property (IDSP) declaration.
“This is similar to Category B assistance, but is a Queensland government initiative and is not funded through the DRFA.”
Somerset and Lockyer Valley councils were “activated” for disaster assistance for immediate emergency needs, under the DRFA for Counter Disaster Operations.
But to be eligible for Category C funding, under which the $1 million federal grants fall, the area had to meet a host of criteria including total percentages of primary industry affected, meaning the category was not “activated” for the two council areas.
Cr Lehmann, the mayor of Somerset Regional Council, said the federal government had provided support after previous natural disasters but he wanted support now for his region and the Lockyer Valley.
“Council recognises the damage caused to our community and economy by recent bushfires and wants to ensure our residents are equally supported, particularly since the damage in our region was considered significant by comparison to nearby areas,” he said.
“The significant loss of grazing land and fencing has had a major economic impact, causing our fire-affected farmers to destock at considerably lower prices.
“This will take many years to replenish once the drought breaks and the land recovers from the fires.”
Bushfires tore through the Lockyer Valley localities of Lefthand Branch and Thornton in November, while residents around Somerset were forced to evacuate several times as fires flared.
Lockyer Valley mayor Tanya Milligan said seven homes had been lost across the two council areas and large amounts of fencing for grazing and cropping.
“I am aware of one property owner alone who has lost around 13.5 kilometres of fencing, which is in desperate need of repair, and another who is still unable to fully assess their losses due to fallen trees blocking their access,” Cr Milligan said.
“We’re resilient regions however our communities are carrying the burdens of fires, droughts and floods and are often overlooked when it comes to federal funding support.
“We are just asking for the significance of our fires to be recognised and for our people to be able to access the same support as our neighbouring council areas.”
Lucy is the urban affairs reporter for the Brisbane Times, with a special interest in Brisbane City Council.