Article by: Hari Yellina
Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison claiming the floods destroying the east coast were exactly the type of catastrophe the fund was designed to address, money from the government’s $4.8 billion emergency disaster response fund has yet to be activated. Even with constant pressure and criticism from Labor, the administration has yet to use the Emergency Response Fund, which has amassed over $800 million in interest since it was established. On Wednesday, Mr Morrison proclaimed the floods a national emergency and promised millions in support measures, but none of them were supported by the Emergency Response Fund, despite the Prime Minister’s explicit reference of it.
Mr Morrison said, “It’s crises like this that the Emergency Response Fund was intended to help support, and it will help as part of the measures we offer, so communities across NSW and Queensland can get back on their feet.” The $4.8 billion fund was formed in 2019 and allows for up to $150 million in emergency response and recovery and $50 million in catastrophe mitigation to be used each year. Only $100 million has been pledged to fund two rounds of flood mitigation projects, none of which has begun construction. The government has defended its use of the fund, which is intended to be a last-resort fund in the event that other funding options fail.
According to a representative for Emergency Response Minister Bridget McKenzie, the federal government has already contributed more than $863 million to the flood relief efforts in south east Queensland and NSW since February. The ERF, according to Mr Morrison and Senator McKenzie, will be used to help flood protection initiatives in the Northern Rivers region. “The sort of mitigation and other works that, frankly, haven’t been done here for some time, and it’s been a frustration over a long period of time, are the things that will genuinely assist rescue people here in flood events like this,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s why I’m saying it’s time to get over there and finish what we’re working on.” If additional hydrology work is required, we will provide extra funding. It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but rather of ‘what and when.’ “The Commonwealth’s Emergency Response Fund will be used to support those efforts. I’m not talking tens of millions here; I’m talking billions. The Commonwealth, state governments, and municipal governments, to the extent that they are able to contribute, will settle those costs.” If elected, Labor has pledged to spend $200 million from the ERF each year on disaster relief. Murray Watt, the Labor Party’s emergency and disaster management spokesman, said he’s been asking the government for years why the fund isn’t being used to create flood levees, drainage systems, and bushfire evacuation centres.