Port Stephens fishers compensated for Williamtown closures

THE Federal Government has released details of its long-awaited financial assistance package for fishers following the closure of upper Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove due to contamination from Williamtown RAAF Base.

There will be three payments available for eligible people, including a fortnightly income subsidy of $523, a one-off $5000 business assistance payment and a business subsidy of up to $20,000 made in five instalments for expenses.

The fortnightly payment, equivalent to the unemployment benefit, will run from September 4 to June 30.

Paterson MP Bob Baldwin said the scheme, to be administered by Centrelink, was a welcome relief.

‘‘This will ensure people can continue to put food on the table,’’ he said. ‘‘There is certainly more work to be done and I have put the case forward for beef and egg producers as well.’'

Fisherman Phill Goodwin said since the ban came into place he had been ‘‘fast chewing’’ through his savings.

The Fern bay father of four said Fullerton Cove made up about 80 per cent of his income.

‘‘Any help is welcome, but it’s certainly not going to make up for the money we are losing through no fault of our own,’’ he said.

‘‘We will just have to battle on and see if we can make ends meet and keep paying the home loan.’’

Chantel Walker, whose husband John Hewitt is a third generation fisherman, said while the assistance was ‘‘very welcome’’, it certainly wouldn’t cover losses.

‘‘It’s certainly better than nothing, but it is not going to solve all our problems,’’ she said. 

Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon described the assistance as an important first step.

"The assistance being offered will go some way to easing the immediate financial pressures of those affected, however, there is a long road ahead and many questions remain unanswered," she said.

"Commercial fishers are still faced with the prospect of their industry being unable to operate for at least another eight months and even then there are long-term reputational issues that will have to be overcome."

"Again, while the financial assistance announced today is a welcome a first step to redress for some, this is a very complex financial, health and environmental issue that will be ongoing for some time."

More to come.