Flood Relief Has Become A Political Play-Thing While Victims Fend for Themselves

The Australian government has been accused of directing more resources to flood-affected victims in Coalition electorates.

You’re reading VICE Australia’s weekly lead-in to the federal election. Progressive or conservative, they’ve all got a reason to play the game – shouldn’t you know enough to talk about it at the pub?

A gaggle of opposition MPs took to Twitter earlier in the week to accuse the Morrison government of sending more flood recovery resources to Coalition-held electorates than those held by Labor. The political scrap that followed sent a clear message: flood victims would only be able to depend on themselves, as they have so many times before.


It all started on Wednesday, when the handiwork of a colour-coded spreadsheet from the Prime Minister’s office allegedly politicised the distribution of Services Australia support workers across flood-stricken areas. In other words: Scott Morrison was being accused of sending more resources to residents of Coalition-held seats than those under Labor leadership – regardless of their circumstances.

Terri Butler, a Labor MP for the electorate of Griffith in Brisbane’s south, made the claim first. Soon after, the Labor party’s shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers; shadow emergency management minister, Murray Watt; and Moreton MP, Graham Perrett, each followed suit. Perett then tweeted a screenshot of the list where resources were being sent, which listed three in Longman, but none of the Labor-held seats by the Brisbane river, and called on Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds to sort it out. 

“People should get help based on need, not how they vote,” he said.

Like the welfare of women, transgender students, firefighters, Indigenous communities and countless others, residents from across the northern rivers in NSW, and of south-east Queensland, had become a political play-thing. A ticket to clip. 


Reynolds later, and perhaps unsurprisingly, tried to keep the ball in the air, accusing the Labor MPs involved of “playing cheap politics,” according to one report in The Guardian. But the damage had already been done. Flood victims already felt isolated – and matters for the Coalition could only be made worse. 

The Prime Minister announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and was nowhere to be seen. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, tried to step into Morrison’s shadow on Thursday and only managed to stumble, eventually drawn into Labor’s game of mudslinging. That just left Reynolds to try and make it look like the Morrison government cared about everyone – not just those whose vote they could count on. It was a tough sell. 

Eventually, Services Australia staff – tasked with helping those on the ground without power or access to the internet claim the $1,000 disaster support payments they were entitled to – made their way to red seats in south-east Queensland. Reynolds was sure to alert the press and Labor’s Terri Butler was quick to claim the win.

While all of this was happening, communities from across northern NSW, parts of Brisbane, and beyond, could be seen aiding rescue and recovery efforts led by volunteer forces like the State Emergency Services and the Rural Fire Service. Come late Thursday, they had been working tirelessly and under-resourced, around the clock, to recover bodies from floodwaters and clean up the debris left behind by Australia’s ‘Rain Bomb’.


By this point, state leaders were left to foot the bill, forced to reach into empty pockets, left with little option but to all but beg the federal government for help. 

New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet was the first to get it. 

On Thursday, his government announced a $437.7 million funding package for flood victims, co-funded by the Commonwealth government. That cash, Perrottet’s office said, will be used to help communities clean up and remove debris as well as set up business grants for “primary producers”, small businesses and not-for-profits. 

Queensland is still waiting.

The week has firmly reinstalled disaster relief and prevention funding back into the centre of May’s federal election debate. Flickers of it were revealed on Monday, when Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, was dragged for setting up a GoFundMe page for flood-stricken members of his own electorate in Queensland, instead of mobilising government funding.

Critics were quick to point out that the government already has a pretty robust fund-raising system: the Australian Taxation Office. The irony wasn’t lost on Labor’s Josh Wilson, who suggested the move held up a mirror to the Coalition’s mismanagement of natural disasters in recent years. 

Disaster relief funding has become, among other things, an Achilles heel for the Morrison government. Since 2019, the Coalition has been sitting on more than $4.7 billion worth of funding meant for emergency responses to events like those unfolding in Australia’s northeast. But they have refused to even allocate it – let alone spend it. (The longer they withhold it, the more interest they earn). 


Opposition leader Anthony Albanese identified it as an election opportunity back in January, when he pledged that a Labor government would not only allocate the billions in relief funding, but add a further $200 million every year to spend on disaster prevention protocols. The aim? To minimise the damage left behind by floods, cyclones and bushfires.

It was a simple play directed at those who need it most. Albanese took the pitch to Queensland himself during the opening weeks of the year, attempting to convince the voters who iced his party out back in 2019 that he had them front of mind this time around. 

The idea wasn’t a new one. 

Albanese’s plan borrows heavily from recommendations made by a Productivity Commission report on natural disaster funding published in 2015, which was left largely ignored by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Back then, though, Turnbull argued that most of the report’s recommendations fell into the remits of state governments and that his government would instead lead coordination efforts among them.

In its 2021 federal budget, the Morrison government announced a new Prepare Australia fund, which allocated $600 million to disaster measures over six years. The fund attracted heat from the opposition, who accused the Morrison government of sitting on the funds which had “done nothing to help” distressed Australians.


But those left stranded in communities like NSW’s Mullumbimby don’t need reminding. Earlier this morning, images coming from regions like theirs, across the northern rivers, and now even in Sydney’s north-west, depict efforts of a stoic volunteer workforce, reluctant to raise their hopes for the day a leader arrives in Canberra and reclaims the work they’ve been doing for too long. 

They are organising themselves, distributing Google Docs filled with a range of emergency  contacts, evacuation centres, and the phone numbers of volunteers with a four-wheel-drive or motorised tinnie at hand, ready to help. Of course, those documents are only available to the select few still working with running wifi. They’re connecting each other with clothes, food and even midwives and medical assistance. 

They knew they would be left on their own, and they prepared for it.

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