Firefighter mental health support fund goes untouched: Senate inquiry

A firefighter works to put out the NSW North Black Range bushfire. A dedicated fund set up to support frontline workers suffering PTSD from the bushfires has not been touched. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
A firefighter works to put out the NSW North Black Range bushfire. A dedicated fund set up to support frontline workers suffering PTSD from the bushfires has not been touched. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Not a single cent has been spent from a fund set up to help frontline responders to the Black Summer bushfires deal with post-traumatic stress, senior government officials have confirmed.

The $15.9 million package was part of the Morrison government's $2 billion bushfire recovery fund.

Documents provided to a Senate inquiry examining the bushfire response show no money has been spent from the fund. Approximately $10.5 million was due to be spent this financial year.

The Department of Home Affairs, whose agency Emergency Management Australia was responsible for the fund, failed to respond to questions about the fund on Tuesday.

Under questioning from Labor senator Murray Watt on Wednesday, Emergency Management Australia director-general Robert Cameron said the money was part of a broader mental health package for anyone affected by the bushfire crisis.

"So $60 million [went] to the Department of Health for an immediate boost to mental health services for everyone and by extension obviously emergency services workers," Mr Cameron said.

"Wouldn't you agree though, Mr Cameron, there's already a need for that mental health support and that people shouldn't have to wait? Why are those mental health services not being provided when there's funds available?" Senator Watt asked.

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"That's why I took the time at the start of my answer to say it's part of a broader package to boost services for everybody that can also pick up emergency services workers," Mr Cameron said.

Research has indicated emergency service workers are increasingly prone to developing mental health conditions like depression or post traumatic stress disorder the more often they are exposed to traumatic events.

Firefighters were pushed to the brink over the summer, with fires stretching for months at a time.

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This story Fund for mental health support for firefighters goes untouched first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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