Coffs Harbour Storm Damage
COFFS HARBOUR STORM DAMAGE
Mr FRASER (Coffs Harbour) [4.22 p.m.]: I speak yet again on the issue of the natural disaster that occurred in the Coffs Harbour area on 23 November 1996. I should like to compliment everyone who worked tirelessly to ensure that the benefits that were available from government sources were distributed to the people in Coffs Harbour. I would like to mention specifically the Department of Community Services and the Department of Agriculture because the majority of claims are in those two areas.
Until one experiences such a disaster, one does not realise how poor the assistance offered by government can be. This is not a criticism of the Government; it is just that disaster assistance is not necessarily delivered. I shall give an example. At present 160 people in Coffs Harbour have not had their insurance claims met by the insurance companies, one being the NRMA and GIO another. I wrote to the NRMA direct because it is abrogating its policy conditions and its responsibility as an insurer. I have referred those matters to the Minister for Fair Trading, who is having the matter investigated. Once a claim has been denied by insurers the Department of Community Services Welfare Fund does not provide any benefit. If someone lived in a caravan park or lived in poor circumstances they would be given the assistance that I assumed everyone would receive. In some cases, up to $15,000 was provided to refurnish and refurbish dwellings and to ensure those people had the basic necessities of life.
Other people were asset tested and were denied assistance from government and insurance companies, yet they may have lost $50,000 to $60,000 worth of household contents. They are without curtains and furniture, walls are rotting and their houses are not being repaired. However, they are not entitled to the same simple welfare being offered to others who probably had nothing to start with. They are suffering massive losses. One gentleman is a TPI - Totally and Permanently Incapacitated - pensioner who gave active service in Vietnam and he has lost $14,000. The insurance company has not paid the claim, though some members of the community have come forward to help. Because of representations made by me and others, the Department of Community Services has given him some money to restore his carpet and other parts of his house, but he is still $10,000 out of pocket.
Farmers have had large areas of land decimated by the high rainfall on that day, which
caused land slips. As the Minister for Agriculture well knows, devastation was caused to banana crops and roadways into plantations. The Federal Government provided assistance of $100,000, with a maximum of $1,500 per person to restore access to properties. Unfortunately, one particular person, whose details I shall give to the Minister later, was told that because he had $100,000 invested to ensure that his income from the farm was enough for him to live on, he would not be able to receive any disaster assistance funding. It was suggested that he use that money to restore his farm and, hopefully, he would get a crop. That crop will not yield a return for a couple of years, so he is betwixt and between.
In all, only two or three of approximately 96 applications submitted were accepted; the rest have been knocked out by the assets and liability test. Only a very few can get this assistance, certainly not the too rich or the too poor. I bring this matter to the attention of all honourable members. I shall write to the Minister for Emergency Services and the Premier asking them to reassess the assistance that is available under disaster funding. At present the vast majority are not considered to be eligible for the funding to which they are entitled. [Time expired.]
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [4.27 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Coffs Harbour for his assistance to many constituents on the north coast affected by the north coast natural disaster. He referred to the excellent work of officers of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Community Services. I and most members of the community would acknowledge that work. Trying times often bring out the best in people and I acknowledge the honourable member's compliments about officers from volunteer organisations, government departments, police, health and hospitals. State Emergency Service personnel also made a tremendous effort during that difficult time.
The honourable member informed the House that claims involving the insurance companies have been referred to the Minister for Fair Trading. However, complaints may be lodged with the Insurance Council of Australia Disputes Tribunal. Unfortunately, in numerous areas around the State many disputes follow natural disasters, and insurance companies attempt to renege on claims by policyholders. Perhaps the insurance council may be able to assist. I take on board that a few people seem to be caught in the middle with claims following natural disasters. I am sure the honourable member would be aware that the initial assistance from community services is to ensure that people have a roof over their head and food on the table. We have to house them and so on. Of course, a few disputes arise about income tests and the like. As the honourable member suggested, I will take the matter up. I will get the information from him personally or by way of official representatives and take it up with other Ministers to see whether the few cases that he referred to can be addressed or whether they are completely outside the sphere of - [Time expired.]