In a report being presented to Eurobodalla Councillors by General Manager Dr Catherine Dale to the next Council meeting (March 10th 2020) she provides Council with an update on the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund (EDRF) and committee. In her overview she states "During December 2019 and January 2020, Eurobodalla suffered devastating bushfires that destroyed 501 homes, 80 facilities and 859 outbuildings. Consequently, there were lengthy losses of power and communications, road closures, evacuation of over 9,000 people and the ongoing real threat of dangerous fires. More than 96,000 hectares or 90.5% of our State forests burnt and more than 127,000 hectares or 90.6% of our National Parks burnt. "This period is usually when tourist numbers peak, however many holiday makers cancelled their holidays due to fire damage, road closures and the genuine threat of further fires. Under the powers vested in the Mayor under the Local Government Act 1993 she initiated the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund on January 14th in a public announcement with the General Manager who had returned to work from her overseas holidays taking back the reins from Warren Sharpe and Anthony O'Reilly who had filled in for her in her absence during the fire emergencies. Of interest is the comment by the General Manager in next Tuesday's report that says: "As the community sought leadership, support and direction, Council, in combination with other measures, initiated the Disaster Relief Fund – a fund guided by the Australian Taxation Office's Deductible Gift Recipient Status under the Australian Disaster Relief Fund criteria." "To date, Council has received $144,597 to the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief fund from a number of generous donors. Council has received further verbal pledges". Of the $144,597 it is known that AGL/Southern Phone donated $100,000 and WestPac Bank donated $10,000. With an indicative maximum amount that can be claimed of $1000 the Fund will find it hard to allocate less than $1000 to any qualifying recipient seeking support especially when the Fund clearly states "All donations to this charitable fund will be used solely to assist those affected by fires". That being the case the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund should, at the least, assist 144 applicants with the first phase involving "distributions to those who have suffered damage to their primary place of residence and/or outbuildings." Of concern is the fact that the donations to this charitable fund will be used solely to assist those affected by fires and those affected by fires are already well accommodated by insurances, State and Federal funding with grants and low interest loans, charity dispersals of cash, free site clearing, waiving of Stamp Duties, waiving of rates for two quarters, waiving of DA fees, survey fees, waste disposal. It might be argued that Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund is just another topping for those who have already been recognised and that those in the community who were very much affected by the fires emotionally, physically and financially yet were NOT fire impacted once again fall through the net and will not qualify for any of this money depending on the committee's definition of affected as stated in "All donations to this charitable fund will be used solely to assist those affected by fires".
The committee is made up of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, the General Manager and two community members. The Terms of Reference for the management committee can be located on Council’s website: www.esc.nsw.gov.au It is anticipated that Committee meetings will be held weekly however the frequency of meetings may change throughout the life of the project depending on needs and priorities. The meetings will ordinarily take place in Moruya and the "duration of meetings will be sufficient to allow full and fruitful discussion by the members of the Committee, as determined by the Mayor who has been appointed as Chair of the committee. The Committee have met twice and have agreed to Terms of Reference and developed the principles around the distribution of funds. The report to Councillors states that a financial assistance application form is being developed. Applications will open shortly with forms available on Council’s website and hard copies available at the three libraries and main office in Moruya. The Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund’s (EDRF) Principles have been developed by the committee and are as follows: Clause 1: Eurobodalla Shire Council has set up the EDRF to initially assist people in Eurobodalla impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires. This fund will be ongoing for other natural disasters. Clause 2: The EDRF provides an opportunity for the general public and organisations to donate funds, whilst ensuring that all monies donated are used solely for assisting those who have suffered as a result of the fires. Clause 3: All funds received be distributed within the Eurobodalla Shire only. Clause 4: The EDRF will utilise a separate Council bank account to manage all funds. Direct depositing to the bank account is the preferred receipting mechanism, with bank account details being displayed on the ESC website. Cash and cheque payments can be made at the Moruya Council Administration Centre or at any National Australia Bank branch. Clause 5: Council will not use any funds donated for administration, overhead or other noncharitable purposes. Clause 6: The EDRF is entitled to receive tax deductible gifts from 11 November 2019 until 11 November 2021. Clause 7: The Fund will be managed by an independent committee comprising respected community members. The committee will identify the areas of greatest need for financial assistance in supporting those affected by the fires. Clause 8: The intention of the management committee is to distribute funds promptly. Clause 9: There will be at least three phases involved in the disbursement of funds. Phase 1 will involve distributions to those who have suffered damage to their primary place of residence and/or outbuildings. Editors NOTE: While those who "have suffered damage to their primary place of residence and/or outbuildings" are already eligible for Government and Charity dispersal it appears that that does not disallow those described from also applying to this fund. Phase 2 will involve distributions to small businesses and those indirectly impacted by the fires. Editors NOTE: Some clarity is required around the Phase 2 criteria as it says small businesses AND those indirectly impacted by the fires. Presently there are NO State or Federal funds for small businesses NOT affected directly. It will be interesting to see the eligibility criteria applied around this potential distribution. The same applies for those indirectly impacted by the fires. The Phase 2 description directly contradicts the Phase 3 will support specific projects that contribute to community and economic resilience. Editors NOTE: In the same report to Council they will be advised that the Council is the recipient of $250,000 for a Eurobodalla Shire Council from the Bushfire Community Resilience and Economic Recovery Fund (BCRERF) to "support specific projects that contribute to community and economic resilience". What criteria the committee will apply to secure any Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund monies is unknown. Clause 10: Timing of Phase 1 will be March/April 2020. Clause 11: There is no means testing on applications. The management committee encourages those facing financial hardship to apply. As the scale of financial hardship can be difficult to judge and the pool of funds is limited (particularly when considering the amount of damage that has occurred) the management committee relies on the integrity of those applying for relief from this fund. Clause 12: The intention is that funds distributed will be spent in the local community to stimulate the local economy and also provide some relief to small businesses and others who are facing financial hardship. Editors NOTE: There is no information at hand as to how the Committee will police the spending of any dispersal to ensure it is spent in the local community. Surely if rents are overdue, insurances licences and fees are outstanding then these are a high priority and the recipients will mostly be out of the region. Will the application require an explanation of how the recipient INTENDS to spend the dispersal? Clause 13: An indicative maximum amount that can be claimed is $1000, however the management committee may amend this amount after reviewing the applications. Clause 14: Reconciliations and accounts will be prepared for the EDRF on a periodical basis, and at least monthly, to ensure that all funds are correctly accounted for and utilised for the purposes detailed in this document. Additionally, detailed statements will be prepared when the fund is wound up. Clause 15: Receipts will be issued upon request in the name of the Eurobodalla Shire Council – Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund. Clause 16: The Australian Tax Office (ATO) will be notified in the event of any material changes to the fund. Clause 17: When the fund is wound up or if the endorsement of the fund as a deductible gift recipient is revoked, any surplus funds shall be transferred to a fund, authority or institution that has deductible gift recipient status.
VIDEO: Two months ago - Bega MP Andrew Constance, Mayor Liz and Council GM Catherine Dale launched the Eurobodalla Disaster Recovery Fund at the Batemans Bay library