Just 10 per cent of the government's $2 billion bushfire recovery fund has gone to fire-affected communities, but the agency in charge of coordinating the government's response says it needs to be a marathon not a sprint.
National coordinator of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency Andrew Colvin has told Senate estimates $205 million has been paid under the fund, and $554 million has been allocated.
Disaster recovery allowance and one-off disaster recovery payments aren't included in the $205 million figure, when those payments are included, more than $380 million has already gone out the door.
Mr Colvin laid out how many individuals, volunteers and businesses had received government payments, after criticism from the opposition that money wasn't going to affected communities fast enough.
He defended the agency's response, saying it had been a "hectic" time for the new agency, which still was recruiting for 30 roles.
"These efforts have so far been focused on providing the immediate relief but recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, and our minds are clearly focused on the longer-term needs economically, physically, socially and in terms of our environment and habitat," he said.
Mr Colvin also indicated almost half a billion dollars was set to be spent by the end of the financial year on removal of debris alone across NSW and Victoria. The bulk of that would be spent in NSW, where 2800 houses were lost.
More than 30 different measures had been announced under the fund, including for wildlife, the environment, and mental health assistance, worth $550 million in total.
Just five concessional loans have been approved under the scheme for small businesses, out of 104 applications. Mr Colvin said the program had been open for applications for less than two weeks in some states.
Disaster recovery allowances paid to people affected by fires totalled $4,323,634 to 1962 people. Senators were told there had been 4439 applications, of which 2285 have been processed.
Almost $137 million has been paid out to 116,030 people in one-off disaster recovery payments, from a total of 133,890 applications.
Payments to volunteer firefighters who had missed more than 10 days work due to their firefighting commitments have topped $6.5 million, mostly going to volunteers in New South Wales.
The experience from other disasters tells us it does take time for communities to begin the process of seeking the advice they need.Andrew Colvin
More than $43 million has been paid out in grants to primary producers, Mr Colvin said, to 736 approved applicants. Another $2.9 million had been granted to small businesses that had been directly impacted by the fires.
Mr Colvin also told senators many people who had been affected by the fires weren't yet ready to seek help.
"The experience from other disasters tells us it does take time for communities to begin the process of seeking the advice they need before they go forward with things such as loans and grants," Mr Colvin said.
"We also have heard very clearly from communities that in many cases-and we have to remember we're only a month post some of these fires having a direct impact on some communities, particularly the hardest hit communities down the South Coast of New South Wales-people just aren't ready yet to start that process."
Officials said the $2 billion was a "notional fund," with Labor Senators Penny Wong and Murray Watt jumping on the word to claim the funds don't exist.
The claim was dismissed by Liberal Assistant Minister Zed Seselja.
Mr Colvin said the agency was running on the allocation of $2 billion over two years.