13 April 2021

Bushfire-hit mirror twins caught in government red tape

| Kim Treasure
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Peter and David Abel

Mirror twins Peter and David Abel are being denied a Homeowner grant because they are not a couple. Photo: Supplied.

At 68, Mogo mirror twins Peter and David Abel have negotiated all of life’s twists and turns as a united front. Now, the very relationship that has defined them is being used by the Federal Government to deny access to funds to help them rebuild after the Black Summer bushfires.

In what’s been described as a heartless move, the pair who have lived together their whole lives have been denied financial help to rebuild their home because, as brothers, they don’t fit HomeBuilder grant criteria.

“HomeBuilder is only available to an individual or a couple,” David said. “A married couple can get it, defactos can get it, but we can’t because we are brothers.

“And we are not alone. There are others in the area who are brothers, or fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, who aren’t eligible.

“I was a bit disappointed. I thought they would be more flexible for bushfire victims.”

It’s just one more cruel blow for the twins, who now face a second winter living in a cramped caravan on their Mogo property.

“We’ve had 14 months in a caravan,” David said. “We are either hot or cold, and it’s a small space we are sharing.”

After losing the family home in the Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria, the brothers moved to the South Coast in 1987 and bought their new property in Mogo five years later.

READ ALSO Demand for mental health support doubles as Rural Fire Service members hit hard by disaster

When the New Year’s Eve fire hit, they stayed to defend their home.

“We had a good fire plan,” David said, “and we thought we had it, then there was a wind change and it came from the south. Sizeable embers got under the pine ceiling and the whole thing burnt down in five minutes.”

Undeterred, the men have gone about rebuilding on their bush block, but the expenses keep mounting. They thought the Federal Government’s HomeBuilder grant would help, but their hopes were crushed by a letter from the office of Housing Minister Michael Sukkar.

“Applicants must be listed on the certificate of title for the property,” it said. “If more than one person is listed on the certificate of title, they must jointly apply for the HomeBuilder grant as a couple. Generally, and as implemented under the Commonwealth’s First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, this would include couples that are legally married, in a registered domestic relationship or those living as a couple on a genuine domestic basis.”

Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips has gone in to bat for the brothers, and she’s been backed by Opposition Housing spokesperson Jason Clare.

Jason Clare, Peter Abel, David Abel and Fiona Phillips

Opposition Housing spokesperson Jason Clare, with Peter Abel, David Abel and Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips in Mogo. Photo: Supplied.

“We wrote to the [Federal] Government on behalf of Peter and David asking them to have a heart and provide them with the grant,” Ms Phillips said.

“When they applied for a HomeBuilder grant, they were rejected by the Morrison Government because they are not ‘a couple’. And now, to add insult to injury, the government has told them to go and ask a charity for help to rebuild their home.”

Ms Phillips said what was particularly offensive was the direction that “there is a range of other assistance available to people affected by the fires, including grants provided by the Red Cross”.

READ ALSO Funds to tap into thousands of years of bushfire knowledge

“This is a classic example of a government that just doesn’t get it,” she said. “This isn’t about charity, it’s about fairness.

“If anyone deserves help to rebuild their home it’s brothers like Peter and David who lost their home in the fire and have lived together their whole life.

“Instead of telling Peter and David they should go and see a charity, they should just give them the grant.

“This could be fixed right now with a stroke of a pen. The fact that they won’t shows how heartless they really are.”

Original Article published by Kim Treasure on About Regional.

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Capital Retro8:10 am 16 Apr 21

Anyone living in or aspiring to live in known bushfire or flood areas should be forced to have property insurance cover as part of their annual expenditure.

This would include most of the existing homes in Canberra, by the way.

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