14 January 2021

University staff step up to help navigate 'onerous' bushfire funding process

| Michael Weaver
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Connecting Communities Australia volunteers cleaning up Bega Valley after bushfire.

Connecting Communities Australia volunteers helping to clean up Bega Valley after the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

Staff and students from the region’s universities are helping people trying to navigate the difficult application process for funds from the Federal Government’s and NSW Government’s jointly funded Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.

There are less than two weeks until applications for funds close on 28 January, 2021, which prompted Federal Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain to contact the universities in late 2020.

The fund provides $250 million of funding to support the social and economic recovery of bushfire affected communities.

Ms McBain said community groups across Eden-Monaro are working towards the upcoming deadline for the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.

“I have heard from many community groups and individuals that the application process is onerous and difficult to navigate,” she said.

“In order to assist community groups, I wrote to the Australian National University, University of Wollongong and the University of Canberra late last year to see if they could assist with the grant writing process in a voluntary capacity.

“I’m delighted to say that many staff members have offered their support for free.

“As we enter a new year, it’s humbling to know that people are still thinking of our community and how they can help.”

Bushfire damaged trees by roadside on Clyde Mountain.

The scars of the Black Summer bushfires are still clear to see on Clyde Mountain. Photo: Kim Treasure.

The manager of the University of Wollongong’s Bega campus, Samantha Avitaia, agreed the application process is, at best, onerous and she was more than happy to offer their resources to help people.

“Quite a lot of the applicants might not be aware that they can get that support, but we’re certainly happy to help anyone with their funding applications,” she said.

“Any funding application, especially when public money is involved, is an onerous process. You might only be applying for a small amount of funding, but it can be a long process to navigate.

“We’re by no means experts, but we definitely have experience in doing these types of things so it’s only natural that we can put up our hands to help.”

Ms Avitaia said the funding is a tangible way of rebuilding communities still suffering more than a year after the devastating Black Summer bushfires.

“There’s always a need for assistance with funding applications, particularly the first time you do it,” she said. “I’ve been approached by various groups during the past 10 years.

“Funding being available is one thing, but there also needs to be support for how to apply for it.”

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Ms McBain has previously been critical of the Federal Government’s handling of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which she said hadn’t even consulted on which regions should qualify for millions of dollars in bushfire recovery money.

Yet some of the worst affected regions, such as the Eurobodalla, where nearly 800 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, the Bega Valley (nearly 600 homes), and the Shoalhaven (more than 450 homes), didn’t make the cut.

Snowy Valleys (240 homes destroyed or severely impacted) and Queanbeyan-Palerang (almost 80 homes) were also overlooked.

Community groups seeking support are encouraged to contact Kristy McBain’s office or phone 02 6492 0542 to be put in touch with one of the volunteers.

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