PM prioritises bushfire help over surplus

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Eamonn Tiernan and Finbar O’Mallon
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has signalled he’s willing to sacrifice a federal budget surplus in response to the bushfire crisis gripping the country.

There have been 24 fatalities and more than 1600 homes lost this bushfire season, with victims pleading with Mr Morrison for more support on the ground.

The prime minister pledged on Monday a $2 billion relief package to be injected into a national bushfire recovery fund over the next two years.

Mr Morrison said the surplus was “no focus” of his and emphasised he’d meet whatever cost necessary to help Australians get “back on their feet”.

“What I envisage is guaranteeing to the Australian people at this time of crisis that we will meet every cost that needs to be met,” he said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says more than $25 million worth of relief payments have already been made.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure that there is as little red tape involved as possible,” he told Nine on Tuesday.

Mr Frydenberg said the scale of the fires was “unprecedented” and there would be lessons to be learned in the aftermath.

The treasurer could not yet put a dollar figure on the cost of the disaster.

“There’s going to be a very significant economic impact, but it is too early to tell what that full impact will be,” he told ABC.

Mr Morrison has already flagged the potential for a royal commission into the bushfires.

Labor MP Mike Kelly called for a national Civil Defence Corps that could potentially include a compulsory service period for high school leavers to tackle future disasters.

Mr Kelly suggested members receive a tax-free daily income and employers should be legally bound to release them from work.

The bushfire recovery fund will operate alongside three levels of existing disaster relief payments available through the Commonwealth.

Welfare debt recovery and mutual obligation requirements in bushfire-affected regions are being suspended for at least two months.

The tax office will not chase up returns in bushfire-affected areas for two years, giving people in those areas some breathing space.

Additionally, the consumer watchdog will set up a hotline for people to report any bogus charities using the bushfire crisis to rip people off.

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