UK contractor Laing O'Rourke will lead damage cleanup from Australia's devastating wildfires in heavily populated New South Wales, estimated "in the hundreds of millions of dollars," said officials of the federal government and of the state.
The two governments will split costs to clean up damaged residential and commercial structures and infrastructure, with costs expected to rise higher as fires still rage and site assessments are not complete.
"This is an important step to get the clean-up and rebuilding process moving to help people get back on their feet,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. "The destruction caused by these fires is unprecedented and the process of recovery and rebuilding will take time."
Deputy Premier John Barilaro, also recently named minister responsible for disaster recovery, said Laing O’Rourke would have teams on the ground in fire affected communities along the state's coast by early February and expects cleanup substantially completed by mid-year.
At least 2,500 homes have been destroyed and more than 10,000 buildings destroyed or damaged, officials said. About 33 deaths are atttributed to the fires.
Laing O'Rourke's Australia-based unit will run the cleanup operation, with requirements to use local suppliers and subcontractors in affected areas. The value of its contract were not disclosed.
NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said the state's share of cleanup costs would be in addition to about $670 million it has pledged to spend to rebuild critical infrastructure damaged by the fires.
Officials added that savings insurance companies may accrue as a result of the government funded cleanup would be passed on to policy holders to assist in the rebuilding process
"We will work with local subcontractors and regional small businesses across NSW to ensure they are engaged in the delivery of the clean-up process – providing much needed stimulus to local economies,” said Laing O’Rourke Australia Managing Director Cathal O’Rourke
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the funding agreement was modeled on one reached between the federal government and Victoria state after fires in 2009 that also destroyed thousands of properties.
Laing O'Rourke reported about $4.4 billion in global revenue in its latest fiscal year, which ended on March 31, 2019, with the Austtalia unit reporting about $900 million.