Transport companies and East Kimberley businesses can now apply to be reimbursed by government for the soaring cost of freight since the January flood cut the Great Northern Highway. However the long-awaited Freight Assistance Grant has come too late for two trucking companies that will no longer service the East Kimberley because of crippling transport costs over the past two months. Perth trucking companies Sands Fridge Lines and RJ & SW Brown have bowed to the financial pressure of traveling the 5,300km detour through South Australia and the Northern Territory to reach the East Kimberley and have decided to stop servicing the region. The transporters have had to take the massive detour, through three jurisdictions, since January 1 when the Fitzroy River bridge was destroyed severing the only sealed road through the Kimberley. RJ & SW Brown owner Robbie Brown said one return journey on the alternative route from Perth to Port Augusta, north to Katherine and then west to Kununurra cost him $25,000 in diesel alone for the triple road train. East Kimberley business reported freight costs almost doubling, in some cases tripling overnight. “It became unviable for me to keep going across the bottom, “ Mr Brown said “By the time the government paid me I will be broke because I have to spend all my money.” RJ & SW Brown had been supplying smaller businesses in the East Kimberley for nine years. A Brown’s truck was the final heavy vehicle to make it into Kununurra on Wednesday March 1 before the Victoria Highway was also cut by flooding leaving the East Kimberley now totally cut-off by sealed road. The town’s supermarket shelves are almost empty and the Government is now flying and barging in fresh food. On February 23, the Federal and State government announced a Freight Grant Scheme which is expected to provide $42 million in subsidies to trucking companies and businesses effected by the extra transport costs. Applications opened on March 3 and businesses have been advised it will take 10 working days to process their payments once they have submitted all relevant paperwork. Mr Brown said he would have continued to service the East Kimberley if the Government hadn’t taken seven and a half weeks to provide the subsidy. “It’s pathetic and I feel sorry for the people in Kununurra. I tried to keep going for them but it didn’t work so that’s it I just have to shut the doors which is not good for competition in the town. “I have told everyone they are better off going through Adelaide (for goods) because the (Fitzroy River) bridge will be out for two years,” he said. Subway Kununurra owner Rachell Fewster who gratefully received the last arrival of fresh food to the town from RJ & SW Brown before the Victoria Highway went underwater said she was worried that transport costs would increase with less trucking companies servicing the East Kimberley. “Very likely that will be the case, absolutely it is a worry,” she said. Curtin University supply chain expert Dr Elizabeth Jackson said when the January floods destroyed the Fitzroy River bridge trucking companies jumped at the chance to help but businesses could only operate on good will for so long. “Government inertia in providing freight subsidies has been too slow and no one in commerce can work for free forever. That is expecting far too much against a background of hopeless access to labour and record high diesel prices,” she said. A State Government spokesperson said a freight subsidy scheme for goods considered essential has been available since January 6. “The program ensured communities across the Kimberley were able to continue receiving essential goods such as food, water and medical supplies in the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster. “Two weeks ago, on the 23rd of March, it was announced a new freight assistance scheme would be jointly funded through the Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA). “This freight assistance program is one of the first of its kind under the DRFA. “The new scheme is backdated to January 1 and will be in place until a reliable freight pathway is in operation at Fitzroy Crossing. “The payment is calculated as the difference between pre-flood and post-flood freight costs and is paid directly to freight operators. “It applies to the freight of supplies for businesses, not-for-profits and Aboriginal corporations transporting goods in and out of the Kimberley. “Reducing freight costs is a priority for the McGowan Government, which is why we worked closely with the Commonwealth to get this scheme up and running as quickly as possible. “We are committed to helping the region get back on its feet and understand that the new program has already been well-received by industry stakeholders.