Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a meeting of the major banks and insurers after announcing the establishment of a National Bushfire Recovery Agency and flagging the possibility of a Royal Commission as the scale of destruction wrought by the nation's bushfire crisis grows.
With dangerous fires continuing to burn out of control across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and Canberra again choked on thick bushfire smoke, the tally of lives lost and homes and other buildings destroyed has soared in the past week.
At least 21 have been killed and more than 550 homes lost in the past week, including 464 on the South Coast, and authorities have warned the losses from Saturday's catastrophic conditions may be "in the hundreds" in NSW alone.
Across the country, 1573 homes have so far been confirmed as destroyed this fire season, 1365 of them in NSW.
Acknowledging the scale of the disaster, Mr Morrison admitted yesterday that "the recovery need is going to be great, very great".
The prime minister, determined to stick by the federal government's commitment to deliver a budget surplus, ruled out imposing a levy to help fund the bushfire recovery, but insisted the Commonwealth would be "committing everything that is needed and more as it is required".
Criticism of the prime minister's leadership during the crisis continued yesterday.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he was not consulted over the government's decision to deploy 3000 army reservists.
And the government's move to release an advertisement on Saturday promoting the contribution the defence forces were making to the bushfire effort came under attack from the Australian Defence Association, which accused the government of breaching conventions over the use of the defence force in political party promotions. Mr Morrison said the ad had been produced to "communicate what we are doing with the Australian people".
The Bushfire Recovery Agency, to be led by former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin, will operate for at least two years.
As the recovery effort intensifies, Mr Morrison has asked the major banks and insurers to brief him on what they are doing as part of the disaster response.
Among those attending will be senior executives from the insurance and financial services industry including IAG Australia chief executive officer Mark Milliner, Allianz Australia chief executive officer Richard Feledy, ICA chief executive officer Rob Whelan and representatives from several of the major banks, including Westpac and ANZ.
The Insurance Council of Australia said its members have received 5850 bushfire claims worth an estimated $375 million since November 8, and the number of applications is expected to grow.
ICA spokesman Campbell Fuller said Mr Whelan will offer the industry's expertise in assisting all levels of government with developing a national response.
Mr Fuller said bushfire claims had been prioritised, and insurers were providing urgent assistance to survivors in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, including emergency accommodation and funds.
"Insurers have extensive experience in helping communities recover from natural disasters [and are] well resourced to carry out repair and rebuilding work in partnership ... with the community, governments and regulators, the building and construction sector and suppliers," Mr Fuller said.
One of the nation's largest insurers, IAG, said it had received more than 2800 bushfire-related claims across all three of its brands - NRMA Insurance, CGU and RACV - since the beginning of September, with more than 1500 of those claims coming since the beginning of December.
IAG executive general manager, claims, Luke Gallagher, said a dedicated major events claims team was contacting customers living in affected communities, and assessment teams were on standby "to support customers once it's safe to enter".
News of Tuesday's meeting came as ANZ pledged an initial $1 million to support customers and communities affected by the bushfire emergency.
ANZ chief financial officer Michelle Jablko said the package was aimed at helping to support the firefighting effort as well as assisting those affected.
"This bushfire season is having a devastating impact on the wellbeing and livelihoods of families, customers and communities," Ms Jablko said. "Our priority is to help customers impacted by these terrible events as soon as possible."
Westpac spokesman David Lording said the bank had a crisis team in place to assist customers in affected areas.
Mr Lording said the bank had been able to keep most of its branches operating, including up until 2pm on Friday in Bega, and had staff on hand to meet evacuees from Mallacoota as they landed in Hastings.