Bushfire recovery funding delay could be delayed
Funding relief from a Black Summer bushfire recovery program could be delayed with staff struggling to handle "hundreds" more applications than expected while dealing with "public misinformation".
The Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund is providing $250 million to support the social and economic recovery of communities affected by bushfire in 47 regional NSW Local Government Areas.
The second-round funding follows the distribution of $177 million to fire-affected communities for "shovel-ready" projects.
But an internal department briefing note obtained by The Sunday Telegraph has revealed how staff charged with assessing the applications for the new open round of funds are grappling to meet the June deadline for when successful applicants are to be announced.
Not only did the program trigger an unprecedented 650 requests for more than $1.6 billion, the document revealed staff charged with assessing the applications were being consumed dealing with "misinformation" about the program, such as funding not going to where it was most needed.
"The Department has designed a rigorous assessment and due diligence process to consider every project," it said.
"However, significant factors are now impacting on the projected time frame for the project assessments, including department staff being redirected to provide additional briefings to concerned councils about public misinformation and the reported geographical distribution of funding.
"The department proposes the most appropriate option is to extend the assessment time frame for all projects by an additional 4-6 weeks."
The fund has been the subject of criticism from Blue Mountains Council after 20 proposals for local projects were rejected, including $265,000 for a citywide tree asset database and $75,000 for toilet renovations.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge, who has brought the Fund under the microscope of the state parliamentary NSW Government grants inquiry that he chairs, has also accused the government of favouring projects in Coalition seats.
In response, the NSW Government has released detailed maps to show how the funding has been distributed to the most fire-affected areas of the state.
Nationals leader John Barilaro, who will defend the allocations when he appears before the grants inquiry tomorrow, accused Mr Shoebridge of using the inquiry to engage in a "witch-hunt".
"It is nothing but a waste of taxpayer funds aimed at discrediting the work this Government is doing to help bushfire impacted communities recover," he said.
"His claim that bushfire funding was used to pork barrel government seats is complete rubbish.
"There are genuine, reliable statistics to show that non-government seats have been allocated their fair share of funding under the program that is being called into question. But the stark reality is while the bushfires devastated all of regional NSW, the majority of the damage occurred in coalition seats."
Originally published as Bushfire recovery funding delay could be delayed