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Documents accuse state of 'rorting' cyclone relief

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flies over the cyclone damaged area of Bowen after Cyclone Debbie.
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flies over the cyclone damaged area of Bowen after Cyclone Debbie. Gary Ramage

CYCLONE Debbie is long gone but the fighting over who will foot the bill for her monstrous damage shows no sign of being resolved.

New papers show Federal Government officials rejected the majority of the Queensland Government's pleas for aid because it believed the applications were not eligible - even saying the attempts were in part "a blatant rort on the Australian Government's generous" aid policies.

Officials last night said they would reconsider parts of the state's Category D application for Tropical Cyclone Debbie funding, but again made clear success will require a raft more proof the applications are eligible.

The documents from the Justice Department show the Federal Government all but backed out of supporting five major projects in the wake of the cyclone.

On Friday, as reported in Saturday's Daily Mercury, officials approved a $58.6M Category D disaster relief package, well short of the $220M put forward by the State Government.

It was a "kick in the guts", according to Queensland deputy prime minister Jackie Trad, as five projects worth a combined $135M were allocated just $1.5M.

"Disaster recovery isn't a photo op, it's about the future of these communities," Ms Trad said.

But the documents place blame firmly on the State Government for "a complete lack of information" and say their actions were "a blatant rort on the Australian Government's generous" Category D arrangements.

They state there had been "no information about how the airport was directly damaged by Cyclone Debbie", and, like the Rockhampton Flood Levee, which also was denied funding, the Airlie Beach Foreshore Redevelopment was a new infrastructure project. It did not meet the bar to be repaired under a funding scheme for cyclone damage.

Another example of the debacle - foreshadowed about a month ago by Dawson MP George Christensen who said the funding application had been botched - was the money demanded to repair Shute Harbour Marina.

The department documents say that "while initial estimates indicate that there is $8.8M (in) damage to the marina, it is insured. So what are they planning? To be handed $8.8M from insurers and then another $8.8M from Australian taxpayers"?

"In June the Palaszczuk Government announced $40M from its infrastructure budget for (the airport upgrade)," the documents read.

"Clearly the Palaszczuk Government was trying to rort Australian taxpayers for a project which had already been developed and budgeted for."

The term rort was used again to describe the application for a $10M upgrade of Queens Park and Bluewater Trail in Mackay after the State Government "announced $740,000 funding for this project in February".

However, Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox told The Daily Mercury yesterday the $58.6M approved package was "appalling".

Three of his regional council's projects were rejected for funding. The $18.7M Shute Harbour Marina revitalisation, $40M Whitsunday Coast Airport upgrade and $6.3M Airlie Beach Foreshore redevelopment.

It was now his ratepayers who would be missing out.

"These projects will either not be done or it will fall back on the ratepayers who have already endured enough," he said.

The Whitsunday council had applied for these projects to stimulate their struggling local economy where businesses remain closed more than three months after the cyclone.

"(These) were part of an iconic infrastructure project which helps us rebuild our region and provide an economic stimulus," he said.

Cr Willcox couldn't understand, for example, why the ruined Shute Harbour Marina didn't get the funding tick.

He admitted there was an insurance claim for the marina but said it would cost more to build a new strong marina that would stand up against the next cyclone than it would be build the same standard.

And as for the money, he said whatever money wasn't spent including the insurance claim would be returned to the Federal and State governments.

Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan said Shute Harbour was an essential logistical marina to supply the Whitsunday islands with food and fuel and needed to be brought back online.

"I think there needs to be a whole re-think of this whole process. At the end of the day we need Shute Harbour to come back online," he said.

"We saw after the Brisbane floods, flood ways and walkways, where was the argy bargy then? It happened automatically but because we are halfway between the capital of Australia and capital of PNG we get forgotten.

"We got dudded by the Palaszczuk Government when they handed down their budget and we have now been dudded by our Federal colleagues at Canberra," Mr Costigan said.

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert said: "It was good enough for the PM to come in on the military aircraft and grab the headlines and say how he was going to support everyone get back on their feet but it just takes a couple of months and he has forgotten us.

"What the Federal Government has put up is quite insulting.

"It is time that the PM needs to understand that a severe natural disaster is more than trees blowing over and roofs coming off, the whole community needs recovery, social, economic and emotional." 

Topics:  category d disaster relief package cyclone debbie disaster funding federal government jackie trad mackay malcolm turnbull queensland government shute harbour whitsundays



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