Sunday, February 25, 2024

Flood-hit Murray River mayors plead for help for ‘crippled’ communities

The Mayors of Murray River, Edward River, Federation Councils and Berrigan Shire are pleading for support from the NSW government to save their local communities following recent flood devastation.

They say hundreds of millions in tourist dollars remain in jeopardy as “furious” communities north of the Murray River plead for financial assistance from the NSW government for businesses crippled by the weather event.

“We seek immediate action by the NSW Government to provide substantive and timely relief to these devastated businesses and to request the release of Federal funds to ensure they do not continue to be victims of bureaucratic inertia. What we are seeing, or not seeing, is simply unconscionable,” said Murray River Council Mayor, Chris Bilkey.

He said while the Murray River is set to open for unrestricted recreational use, local tourism is still being impacted by government inaction and red tape in the opening of key tourist access points to the Murray River, such as the 5 Mile Boat Ramp.

“[This is] despite offers by the Murray River Council to provide engineering inspection, certification, barricading of the high-risk areas to NSW National Parks and Wildlife, an offer that has not been accepted.”

The Mayors say they have been in consultation with NSW government authorities and departments for months outlining the significant financial damage to their respective local communities in the wake of the recent floods.

“The impact on the affected businesses reverberates through our communities. As it stands, help from the federal Government is at least three months away, and businesses will go to the wall in that time,” said Berrigan Shire Mayor, Matt Hannan.

They say impacted businesses on the Victorian side of the Murray have been able to access financial assistance from both the Victorian and Federal government since October 06, 2022, that includes:

• Small business being able apply for disaster relief loans up to $250,000 (limited to $130,000 in NSW);

• Medium sized businesses directly impacted by the floods can obtain up to $200,000 in Business Recover Support (unavailable to NSW businesses);

• Access to additional support services including business recovery plans, mental health assistance and grant writing assistance (all unavailable to NSW businesses);

• Rural landholder grants to cover the costs of disaster impacts for small-scale producers of up to $25,000 (limited to $10,000 in NSW);

• Primary Producer Concessional Loans to restore or replace damaged equipment and infrastructure, or to cover the short-term business expenses (limited to $130,000 in NSW).

In addition, they say there is no current funding available for businesses who have been unable to trade due to isolation and heavily reduced levels of tourism but have been unaffected by inundation.

“Our local community should at the least be provided with the same level of compensation as has been made available to flood effected communities in Victoria,” said Edward River Mayor, Peta Betts.

While the Victorian Government sought assistance on behalf of local communities from the federal government, which was provided back in October, no such request has been made from the NSW government, the Mayors said.

“Despite the Minister responsible Paul Toole and departmental heads from Regional NSW and Resilience NSW stating they empathise with the issues faced by flood impacted communities north of the Murray, they are yet to provide any clarity on when or if further financial assistance would be made available to these communities who are still attempting to recover from the financial devastation to their visitor economy following years of lockdown and border closures throughout the Covid pandemic,” the Mayors said in a statement.

They are now calling upon the Minister responsible, Deputy Premier Paul Toole, to intercede and take immediate action.

“Our region had suffered immense loss of agricultural product due to the flood, and this adds further stress on the economic health of our communities,” said Mayor of Federation Council, Pat Bourke.

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