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Cyclone Seroja recovery: Melissa Pexton says caravans, dongas on farms for workers ‘critical’ ahead of harvest

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeGeraldton Guardian
State Recovery Controller Melissa Pexton and Department of Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Darren Klemm at Mingenew Midwest Expo.
Camera IconState Recovery Controller Melissa Pexton and Department of Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Darren Klemm at Mingenew Midwest Expo. Credit: Countryman

WA’s State Recovery Controller Melissa Pexton says getting temporary workers’ accommodation on to farms is a “critical” priority for the Mid West ahead of what could be the State’s first $20 million grain harvest, with pop-up dongas and caravans expected to be on farms within weeks.

Ms Pexton spoke to dozens of farmers and local community members at the McIntosh & Son Mingenew Midwest Expo yesterday, to provide more detail about WA’s biggest disaster recovery page in history.

The $104 million package announced late last month has been funded by the Federal and State Government — but only included “in-principle” support for help setting up temporary workers’ accommodation. It’s expected to be spread across 16 local government areas in the Mid West.

It includes funding for insured residents of up to $20,000, $25,000 for primary producers and $25,000 for small business owners, as well as plans for community and outreach welfare work, and the restoration of community, recreational, cultural and heritage assets.

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Ms Pexton said more than 900 farmers had been affected by cyclone Seroja, which tore a path of destruction through the region on April 11. She said the package would “supplement” the cost of temporary workers’ accommodation, but would not fund any rebuild work to existing workers’ accommodation.

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“Where there is damage to workers’ accommodation, that normally falls within the owners’ responsibility,” Ms Pexton said.

“We are talking about providing temporary accommodation to supplement the existing.

“In a primary producers’ setting, that could be a pop-up donga, or a caravan on site, so people can stay close to where they need to work.”

Mingenew Midwest Expo chair Andrew Cosgrove.
Camera IconMingenew Midwest Expo chair Andrew Cosgrove. Credit: Countryman

Ms Pexton said she hoped the first applications would be approved within weeks, with applications for funding now open on the Emergency WA website.

“Heading into harvest we need to make sure our farmers have appropriate accommodation for the workers they are going to require given it is looking like it will be a record season,” she said.

“We are going to need to supplement some workers accommodation and...get the right accommodation on the ground to support what is going to be a long rebuild process.”

More than 800 properties were damaged or destroyed during the cyclone, which ripped across 133,000sqkm after hitting the coast at Kalbarri.

Camera IconCredit: Cally Dupe/Countryman, McIntosh & Son Mingenew Midwest Expo

DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said the Mid West deserved the funding package. “This is the biggest ever emergency package rolled out for an emergency event in WA and so it should be and it affected a vast area, and it affected people from all walks of life,” he said. WA grain farmers are preparing to reap a record $19 million tonne harvest this year, with plenty of rainfall setting them up for a bumper season, but Australia’s hard borders are posing significant staffing issues.

Mingenew Midwest Expo gave locals and farmers the chance to catch up with Mr Klemm and Ms Pexton at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services exhibit.

The event was put on hold last year because of COVID-19 and nearly postponed this year after Seroja, but has been hailed a success with more than 2200 people streaming through the gates on the first day of the two-day event.

Mingenew Midwest Expo board chair Andrew Cosgrove said numbers were double previous years with farmers keen to “get back into field days” after last year’s cancellation. “Everything has been fantastic,” he said.

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