The Australian Government has provided $222 million to assist the people of Far North Queensland to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives in the wake of the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclones Larry and Monica. Through Centrelink, the Australian Government has provided over $162 million to individuals, businesses and farmers including:
- $117 million paid to businesses and
farmers under the $10,000 and additional $15,000 tax-free grants;
- Over $37 million in ex-gratia payments
to those whose principal place of residence has been uninhabitable for
- $5.7 million in income support for small
business and farmers, where the asset test has been waived in relation
to the capital value of the farm or small business; and
- $2.3 million in fuel excise relief.
The Australian Government also contributed $1.1 million to the Tropical Cyclone Larry Relief Fund, which was matched by the Queensland Government, and has paid almost $16.8 million in wage subsidies to assist employers keep their employees in the region and in employment. The Australian Government announced last week that the period for applications under the wages subsidy measure had been extended by a month to 31 July. This means that eligible farmers and businesses will be able to avail themselves of the subsidy of $400 per fortnight for each full-time employee for a maximum of thirteen weeks up until the end of October.
The National Harvest Labour Information Service is working closely with farmers and displaced agricultural workers to provide a central coordinating point for sourcing labour in the area.
All of this assistance to the people of Far North Queensland comes on top of the long-standing Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements (NDRA) with the states, under which the Australian Government has agreed to advance the Queensland Government $40 million. Under the NDRA, the Australian Government will reimburse the Queensland Government up to 75 per cent of state government expenditure on natural disasters over certain thresholds in a given financial year.
I am pleased to announce that the Australian Government will allow the removal of debris from farms in the cyclone-affected areas under the Queensland Government's Operation Farm Clear programme to be considered as eligible expenditure under the NDRA.
My Government has also provided assistance to those impacted by the cumulative effects of Tropical Cyclones Larry and Monica on Cape York. On 26 May, following representations from the Member for Leichhardt, the Hon Warren Entsch MP, I announced that the Australian Government would provide a package of measures, including $10,000 or $25,000 tax-free grants and one-off, six months income support equivalent to the Newstart Allowance to those affected by the cumulative effects of both cyclones on Cape York. To date, the Australian Government through Centrelink has paid out over $1 million in additional business grants and income support for these people.
In conjunction with the Queensland Government and under the NDRA, loans of up to $200,000 for nine years with principal and interest repayments deferred for up to two years will be available to eligible businesses and farmers on Cape York. Twenty five percent of the loan can be taken as a grant, as was the case for those impacted by Cyclone Larry, with the grant component capped at $50,000.
The Australian Government will continue to work with the Queensland Government, local authorities and communities to assist those affected by these devastating cyclones to rebuild their lives. I pay tribute to the stoicism of the people of Far North Queensland and to the dedication and professionalism of our emergency services and defence personnel, our police, volunteers and our local communities who have rallied around each other to assist their fellow Australians in such times of need.