Flood funding release ‘drop in the ocean’ for struggling river regions

Only about $2 million of the promised $55.2 million in flood grants for businesses has trickled out to River Murray regions and the State Opposition claims the approval rate is slowing recovery.

Apr 18, 2023, updated Apr 18, 2023
Opposition River Murray spokesperson Nicola Centofanti is calling for an urgent review on the release of business support funds for River Murray flood regions.

Opposition River Murray spokesperson Nicola Centofanti is calling for an urgent review on the release of business support funds for River Murray flood regions.

“What’s been delivered so far is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the tens of millions of dollars’ worth of funding on the table to support flood-impacted communities,” Opposition Water Resources and the River Murray spokeswoman Nicola Centofanti said.

“At this rate, it will take almost a decade for these grants to be drip fed to river communities in need.”

The Malinauskas Government in January announced that there was $55.2 million on offer through the Small Business and Primary Producer Recovery Grants.

This included small business grants of up to $50,000 to help pay for the costs of the clean-up, with primary producers who have suffered loss or damage as the result of the River Murray floods able to apply for grants of up to $75,000.

The Opposition initially quoted data delivered through parliamentary questioning, showing that of $55.2 million on offer, a total of $272,306 had been delivered in grants – figures from early February.

It also said that figures also showed that of the 67 applications received for the two programs, a third of those applications had been rejected.

Centofanti called on the State Government to “conduct an urgent review into the application processes and remove any barriers currently preventing those who need support from getting back on their feet”.

Opposition Leader David Speirs said “After all the news and headlines and TV reports …. there are communities left behind,” while “grants that are on the table are just not being handed out”.

But the government said the initial figures released by the Opposition related to data from early February, when the programs were announced in early January at a time when flooding was still impacting businesses, households and communities in the state’s river lands.

“In fact, more than $2 million ($2.065 million two weeks ago) in Small Business and Primary Producer Grants has been approved,” a spokesman said.

“The recovery grant programs in question were publicly announced in early January. David Speirs is deliberately using old figures from early February to mislead river communities.”

The spokesman said that the government expected the number to “grow dramatically as more businesses have the opportunity to assess their losses, make insurance claims and prepare and submit grant applications”.

Businesses were hit hard by the flooding starting in late December, with figures showing that prior to the high waters regioal tourism had been worth $436 million and directly employed 2800 people across the Riverland and Murray River lands, Lower Lakes and Coorong.

“Throughout this major flood event, the State Government has worked quickly to make millions of dollars available quickly to communities that need it,” the government spokesman said.

“Thousands of households and families, as well as hundreds of businesses and primary producers benefited from millions of dollars of grants to fund rental assistance, generators, cover for business losses, financial counselling and to build levees.”

Speirs remained critical of the current distribution of grants.

“Peter Malinauskas was very quick to announce his disaster support was the biggest funding package of its kind in the state’s history – but that means precious little if those impacted can’t access it,” he said.

“The funding that’s been delivered to flood-affected businesses is trickling out which makes us worried those in need simply aren’t getting the financial help, or support to complete the process successfully.

“We raised concerns months ago, fearing those who needed vital financial support were missing out because the application process was too difficult, and sadly these new figures prove us right with a low success rate.”

Chaffey Liberal MP Tim Whetstone said “just like the floodwaters have disappeared so too has the Premier and his ministers”, adding that those whose lives were “turned upside down” need far more urgent support.

Mid Murray Council Mayor Simone Bailey urged locals to attend flood recovery centres, with feedback that they were providing strong support.

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