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Australia: Assistance measures for those affected by both tropical cyclones Monica and Larry

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Govt. Australia
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In late April, Cyclone Monica crossed Cape York before moving northwest across the Gulf of Carpentaria and then crossing the coast of the Northern Territory. Cyclone Monica caused widespread damage to Far North Queensland as a result of heavy rain and flooding. Significantly, this damage cut access to many parts of the Cape making it difficult to assess fully the damage.

At my request, following representations from the Member for Leichhardt, the Hon Warren Entsch MP, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon Warren Truss MP, recently visited the central-west region of Cape York to assess the damage. Minister Truss was accompanied by Mr Entsch and the Mayor of Cooktown, Councillor Bob Sullivan.

Minister Truss and Mr Entsch have advised me of the widespread damage which has been felt particularly by primary industries and associated service industries in the area. I understand that Cyclone Monica has caused damage on the Cape through flooding across a sparsely populated area. Cyclone Monica came relatively shortly after the devastation caused by Cyclone Larry and dealt a severe blow to parts of the Cape struggling to adjust to the residual effects of Cyclone Larry.

In addition to the long-standing assistance measures we have in place with state and territory governments for natural disaster recovery efforts, the Australian Government has decided to extend an additional assistance package to businesses, including farmers, in those areas impacted by the cumulative effects of Cyclones Larry and Monica. This package will assist severely affected businesses and farmers in the Cape, who have not previously received assistance, to overcome the impact of both cyclones.

One-off business assistance grants of $10,000 will be made available for those businesses in the affected area, with those that can demonstrate severe damage qualifying for $25,000. This will help businesses with immediate restocking, repair and clean-up activities. These grants will be tax free.

Farmers and businesses will also have access to concessional loans to re-establish their enterprises. Loans of up to $200,000 under the Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements will be available for nine years with principal and interest repayments deferred for up to two years. The loans will also include a grant of 25 per cent of the value of the loan.

For affected farmers and businesses, the Australian Government will provide a one-off income support programme equivalent to the Newstart Allowance for six months. There will be no asset test in relation to the capital value of farms or business assets.

Farmers and small businesses entitled to the Newstart Allowance or the one-off business assistance grants will be able to apply to Centrelink through their local office or can contact Centrelink on its assistance hotline (telephone number: 1802002). Arrangements for concessional loans will be announced shortly.

Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Monica have also caused massive damage to the Peninsula Development Road between Cairns and Weipa, as well as to property access roads and airstrips. The road has already been repaired several times under National Disaster Relief Arrangements. Although the road is the responsibility of the Queensland Government, the Australian Government recognises its importance to the people and industries of Cape York. Accordingly the Australian Government will initiate, in conjunction with the Queensland Government, a study of the feasibility and cost of upgrading the Peninsula Development Road to a more weather resistant standard that will be better able to recover from the impact of events such as Cyclone Monica.

This package of measures provides assistance to help farmers and businesses in the longer term, as well as to maintain employment in the region. The Government recognises that this small group are the victims of two natural disasters: experiencing intense flooding as a result of Cyclone Larry and a higher than average April rainfall, together with the destructive effects of Cyclone Monica. This package recognises the severe effects of these disasters and represents a commitment to the recovery and reconstruction in the region.

The resilience of the people of Cape York Peninsula in the face of such adversity is testament to their character and spirit. They also have a strong champion in the Member for Leichhardt.