State govt issues bill to cyclone victim for $177.07
BOB Eden survived Cyclone Debbie with his two dogs Barnaby and Charlie and his sense of humour.
But his sense of humour has disappeared after receiving a letter from the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disabilities asking him to repay $177.07 that he was "ineligible" for.
He had claimed the Immediate Hardship Assistance and Essential Services Hardship Assistance grants after Tropical Cyclone Debbie left him homeless.
Mr Eden managed to get off his boat just before the cyclone hit and was sleeping in his car until moving to the cyclone recovery centre at the Jubilee Pocket PCYC.
"I sat down with them and told them my story and they said 'you are entitled to this, this and this. Sit down there we will take your details and we will fill out the forms'," he said. "All I did was to supply information under their guidance as to what I was entitled to."
Mr Eden left the recovery centre with a plastic card to which he says $180 had been credited.
However the 65-year-old said it was useless at the time as no ATMs were working because the entire Whitsundays was without power.
"(So) the next day I phoned in, spoke to the lady and the next day the money was in my account," he said.
Nonetheless in the recent letter from the department signed by chief financial officer, Arthur O'Brien, Mr Eden was given 14 days to return the money and "no other legal action will be taken".
The Daily Mercury understands this is not an isolated case.
The department was contacted last week to answer questions for this story but it did respond.
Mr Eden spoke to Member for Whitsunday, Jason Costigan, who claims from the beginning the disaster payments had been managed badly.
"We have got people with under payments, over payments, no payments, late payments, it has been a dog's breakfast," Mr Costigan said.
The letter from the department told Mr Eden he may have "inadvertently applied for more than one payment".
He admits that in the immediate wake of the cyclone many were coming to grips with losing everything and were not in a good head space.
But he is confident he has not been paid the same grant twice.
"I have checked my account and that is the only monies that have come from the government around that timeframe. How could I have inadvertently applied for (it)?" he asked.
"What I want to do is ask for proof of claim, prove you actually gave me the money. Where is it?"
Mr Costigan said Cyclone Debbie was the first natural disaster in which electronic disaster payments were made.
"They never tested that procedure," he said, "that could have gone to Gympie and had a practice run. It was going to be a c*ck up from the get go, whether it was the Whitsundays or Far North Queensland."
In a recent question on notice to the Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Shannon Fentiman, Mr Costigan asked why the system was not tested before being rolled out in the Whitsundays.
Ms Fentiman's response at the time was that the new electronic payment system was tested "extensively" during a three-month period leading into the disaster season.
She said comparing Cyclone Debbie to Cyclone Marcia in 2015, eight times the number of grants were made in the first 14 days and grants were paid 51 times faster.
"Although the application and payment process was easy and efficient for the vast majority of people, delayed payments are in fact largely attributable to circumstances where paper forms were used in hubs that commenced operation to immediately start assisting people even though power was not available," Ms Fentiman said.
Meanwhile Mr Eden said he would refuse to pay the money back to the State Government. "This is wrong. All I want to do is bring this information to other people and say this is rubbish," he said.