Daniel McCulloch and Finbar O’Mallon
(Australian Associated Press)
Insurers have promised to act quickly on claims made by bushfire victims, with companies told to prioritise local tradespeople when they start paying out for rebuilds.
Industry bosses met with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Canberra on Tuesday.
“We recognise the insurance companies are a major part of the rebuild process,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters.
Insurance claims from Australia’s worsening bushfire crisis have climbed to $700 million, with more than 8500 claims made since September.
About 20 per cent of the claims have been assessed, with half of those already settled.
Contents claims have been about $50,000, with average house claims about $300,000.
Mr Frydenberg said insurers were already getting builders lined up but the government wanted them to focus on using local tradies.
“These communities need to rebuild and the more jobs that can be provided locally the better,” he said.
“And the companies gave their guarantee that they will do that.”
Companies have brought in assessors from overseas to help process the thousands of claims.
Australia’s corporate watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, will be on the lookout for shonks and unlicensed builders trying to act as mediums between insurers and victims.
Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Rob Whelan said the disaster was a large and complex issue.
“We will throw all necessary resources at this particular event to make sure our customers are properly serviced,” Mr Whelan said.
He said the industry was looking to process claims within 14 days, with some companies waiving excess fees for customers to help ease the financial strain.
“We wanted to make sure everybody is treated with dignity and compassion,” Mr Whelan said.
Mr Frydenberg said he had also spoken to bank executives to ensure support was being given to Australians in need.
This could mean the waiving of fees and charges, cash advances and deferring interest repayments.
Mr Whelan didn’t rule out premium rises in bushfire-affected areas, saying the best way to keep premiums low was to mitigate risk.
The federal government has committed $2 billion over two years to help rebuild towns and farms.
Some lawyers have offered free assistance to bushfire victims.
“As a profession, we are uniquely placed to support victims as they require legal advice, and every lawyer should consider pro bono aid for those affected,” Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said.
“It’s heartening to see that so many individuals in the profession have stepped up with offers of pro bono assistance.”