As another financial year draws to a close, financial counsellors are watching the impacts of disasters continue to flow through communities and drive increasing hardship, even as government supports get withdrawn and redirected. Just two and a half years after the bushfires devastated communities in many parts of eastern Australia, they have been well and truly dislodged in the public mind by the floods in northern NSW and southern Queensland. It is only 12 months since the storms and floods of June 2021 hit Victorian communities, from Gippsland through the Yarra ranges to Macedon and Hepburn shires, but they too are no longer front of mind for the media and government. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the concerns about those in the Northern Rivers region, or in Brisbane, are themselves displaced by the next climate change fuelled ‘disaster’. The pandemic, itself a disaster with particularly dire impacts on Victoria, has been little different in the pattern of limited support being in place for too short a time frame.
We must do better. In January 2020 as a massive government response to the bushfires began, and almost no one was paying attention to an unknown virus in China, the initial government response was limited to a funding timeframe of 12 months. FCVic and others warned that disasters had a long tail and the timeframe for supports needed to be years, not months. Yet grudging late notifications of 6-month extensions has been the pattern ever since, resulting in a lot of uncertainty for agencies and financial counsellors, and other service providers, despite best efforts of our supportive colleagues in Consumer Affairs Victoria. The time frames for building support and capacity into traumatised communities are well understood, but there is a disconnect between what we know is required and what is on offer.
Financial counselling services need the capacity to engage with and develop people and community to deal with the long-term financial shocks arising from disasters – and this capacity requires stable funding over a 5 to 7-year timeframe, not hand to mouth, month by month funding that ends, just as the range of critical needs at the two-year mark start emerging.
As political parties develop their policy platforms for November’s state election in Victoria, FCVic will be inviting them to get real about community needs in the context of disaster and trauma, by all pledging a robust and serious approach to supporting affected communities over the long haul. We hope the Devil’s Advocate readers join us in this endeavour.