Too little, too late

The clean-up packages supplied to Morwell residents during the Hazelwood Mine Fire were inadequate, the Mine Fire Inquiry has found.

The Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, found the self-clean package provided was “inadequate to the scale of the cleaning task faced by community members”. The report also highlighted the State Government’s $2 million community assistance package, which offered professional cleaning to some residents and clean-up kits and vouchers to all residents, was not announced until 18 March and there were further delays in implementing the assistance.

“This diminished the usefulness of the package as many people had already made their own cleaning arrangements,” the report stated.

According to the Department of Human Services, as at 12 May, 780 assisted cleanups were completed by professional cleaning services, 635 self clean-up kits and 713 laundry vouchers were distributed, 1143 car wash vouchers were issued, and there were 418 loans of HEPA filter vacuum cleaners. The Board said there was confusion about the eligibility requirements regarding the respite and relocation payments and “flaws in communication”, which caused distress in the community.

“The relief payments created divisions in the local community that have impeded recovery,” the report read.

The Board heard that some members of the community were concerned about misuse of the respite and relocation payments.

It supported DHS’s decision to review the Personal Hardship Assistance Program and Implementation Guidelines for “consistency and clarity of purpose”. It also supported the State Government’s intention to implement new technology for recording emergency assistance payments.

Council commended

The Board commended the State Government, GDF SUEZ, Latrobe City Council and other organisations for their “significant” efforts towards supporting relief and recovery in Morwell and the broader community.

“Latrobe City Council worked hard from the first week of the emergency to plan for and implement relief and recovery activities and to advocate for its community, particularly in relation to the scope of the clean-up package,” the report read.

The Board recognised the financial assistance provided to Morwell’s affected small businesses through the Morwell Business Relief Fund, administered by the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

It also recognised the contribution from GDF SUEZ in the form of the $670,000 ‘Revive Morwell’ voucher program and the $500,000 Community Social Capital fund.