More than two months after floods devastated communities in northern New South Wales, thousands of people are still waiting for government grants to be approved.
More applications for small business grants worth up to $50,000 were deemed ineligible than those that were funded.
Flood Recovery Minister Steph Cooke said around 1,600 small business grant applications have been paid, out of around 10,000 applications.
More than half of them, around 5,500, were declared ineligible.
Ineligible applications were largely from independent traders and Ms Cooke said the state government had worked with the Commonwealth to simplify the process and reduce the paperwork required.
About 3,000 applications from individual entrepreneurs will now be reassessed.
The government was trying to provide flood relief as quickly as possible, she said.
“We have an obligation to make sure we have checks and balances in place when we assess people’s applications because we know fraud is a huge problem,” she told 2GB on Tuesday.
Opposition emergency services spokesman Jihad Dib said no one wanted to see fraud happen, but it was up to the police and other government agencies to deal with it.
“Treat the fraud, but don’t use it as an excuse to stop people who really qualify and really need the money from getting it.”
He said rolling out the grants had been nothing short of a shambles.
“All the promises that have been made by the government (saying) that there’s nothing we’re not going to do to support these communities, the fact is the government has well and truly dropped the ball.”
Bureaucratic delays, including having to provide additional documents they lost in the floods, awaited those seeking help, Dib said.
Fewer than 20% of grants approved weeks after applications opened prove that bureaucracy is a major problem and barriers need to be removed, he said.
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin said people were traumatized by repeated requests for additional documents when applying for grants.
“We know there’s money available, we know there are grants available, but they’re just not rolling out fast enough,” Ms Saffin said.
“We barely have an economy to speak of, let alone people who know where they’re going to be housed.”
Ms Saffin said she and her staff do case management for many Lismore residents trying to get grants.
“We do it well, I have to say, but that job should be somewhere else,” she said.
There are several grants for flood relief and some of them cancel each other out, which can add to the confusion for applicants.
Some of them also had onerous terms that were not suited to the region, Ms Saffin said.
“(Farmers) have to get 50% of their income from the farm…every local farmer I know is a family farm, and one of the partners is working off-farm, otherwise they can’t farm.”
Inflexible grant programs were a blunt instrument that left people who needed help falling through the cracks, Dib said.
The NSW government has decided to reduce bureaucracy by adjusting certain requirements.
Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said solemn entrepreneur applicants would now initially be approved on the basis of statutory declarations, rather than requiring additional documentation.
Australian Associated Press