Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is working from home in the middle of a crisis, has claimed his government spent a whopping $17 billion on disaster relief in the past three years after being criticised for not spending enough to support flood victims. 

Morrison’s office bandied the figure about in a Monday press release which outlined Disaster Recovery Payment eligibility for flood victims in Queensland and New South Wales. 

But Labor said the number was “fudged”. 

Minister for Emergency Management Bridget McKenzie has also faced questions about the $4.8 billion Emergency Response Fund (ERF), which critics say hasn’t really been used since it was launched in 2019. 

So, in light of the disasters Australia has faced this week, what is actually going on with the funding? 

“$17 billion in disaster relief”

The government on Monday announced a financial assistance package which would grant $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child affected by a flooding event.

Since 2019-20 the Federal Government has provided $17 billion in disaster relief,” the press release read.

But what the government neglected to say was most of that went towards pandemic measures, as The Age reported.

The government’s own National Recovery and Resilience Agency estimated the pandemic response to cost about $13 billion. 

A further $1.5 billion was allocated to recovery efforts after the 2019 floods in northern Queensland and $2.8 billion was committed to recovery from the 2019-20 bushfires.

A cool $1.8 billion was allocated to disaster projects from the $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund set up in 2020. However, less than $400 million of the fund was allocated by mid-January 2020. 

Emergency Response Fund

The ERF began with $3.9 billion and has gained $836 million in interest since then. But the Department of Finance revealed only $50 million has been spent on disaster projects.

Department officials estimated $50 million of the ERF had been allocated to flood mitigation and not recovery at a Senate hearing last week. They said another $50 million for flood relief was in the process of being allocated.

There have been a lot of disasters in the last three years that have left thousands in financial turmoil so let’s just say eyebrows are lifting. 

Labor said “not a cent” has been spent on disaster recovery despite plenty of money being allegedly available. 

Labor’s emergency management spokesman Murray Watt criticised the government for failing to spend money in the ERF and said waving those figures around in the middle of the flooding crisis was misleading to the public. 

This came after Minister for Defence Peter Dutton was dragged for setting up a GoFundMe for flood victims because, well, that’s the job of the government isn’t it? To provide disaster relief from its multi-billion-dollar bank account? Huh.

Watt told Guardian Australia he hoped Dutton wasn’t asking Queenslanders to pay for their own recovery.

“I’m not going to knock anyone raising money for others, but we need to make sure the Morrison Government does its job and supports those in need,” he said.


Former PM Kevin Rudd also tweeted that the government’s “much-touted disaster fund still hadn’t spent a single cent on recovery or readiness projects”.

On its website the agency said the pool of money was growing as intended but that it wasn’t designed  “to be accessed every time Australia sees a severe weather season”.

“For example, after the Black Summer Bushfire, the Government allocated more than $2 billion to help communities recover,” the statement read.

“Allocating this money meant the ERF can continue to be set aside to grow and help prepare for and recover from future disasters.”

It seems they’re treating it like a big investment, rather than taxpayer money that should be spent on taxpayers.

So the verdict? We have a fuckload of money set aside for disaster recovery, but the people affected aren’t getting much of it. Seems a bit fucked to me.

Image: Getty Images / James D. Morgan