National

Trauma led bushfire donations blame game

By AAP Newswire

Australians were so traumatised by the summer bushfires they did not understand when charities told them how their donations were being spent, a royal commission has been told.

Charities copped widespread criticism for a perceived slow rollout of funding to bushfire victims in the aftermath of the disasters.

But the Salvation Army has blamed part of the problem on the community-wide trauma and large volume of information inundating the airwaves at the time.

Captain Stuart Glover, head of community engagement, told the inquiry the charity had been clear about the breadth and length of recovery.

"One of the things that was of concern was the ability to receive information in a trauma state," he said on Friday.

The charity raised $40 million through its disaster relief drive for bushfire-afflicted communities.

St Vincent de Paul chief executive Toby O'Connor said the speed of the fires and focus of the members and paid employees on getting help on the ground meant there was no time to spare for frequent updates on how much money was coming in or being spent.

"I think there was perhaps a lack of information and knowledge about just how long it takes to get money through to people, and the fact that all of that money being provided is not wisely spent all in one go."

Even those at the top were not immune, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison raising his concerns in February about the speed of money going out the door.

It lead to a federal compulsory reporting scheme for all bushfire-specific donations.

Australians donated more than $22 million to St Vincent de Paul while the latest figure in July for the Australian Red Cross is $227 million.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements learned $151 million has so far been spent of the latter's disaster relief and recovery fund.

Capt Glover said a bigger problem for charities had been identifying who had already received assistance and who hadn't, with reports of people receiving multiple handouts while others were unaware they qualified for assistance.

He said a lack of data from state and federal governments on communities affected by the bushfires meant charities relied on people asking for help, rather than being proactive.

Red Cross director of Australian programs Noel Clement told the inquiry that property damage assessments also took time and were often out of date.

He suggested insurance companies could, with people's approval, share their data to speed up delivery of much-needed funds.