Quake club survivor Jennifer Matthews applies to Newcastle disaster fund for help

DECADES OF STRUGGLE: Jennifer Matthews with her daughter Nicole Doley after the earthquake's 30th anniversary memorial service at Christchurch Cathedral last month, and in Royal Newcastle Hospital a week after the quake.
DECADES OF STRUGGLE: Jennifer Matthews with her daughter Nicole Doley after the earthquake's 30th anniversary memorial service at Christchurch Cathedral last month, and in Royal Newcastle Hospital a week after the quake.

CALLS are mounting for an investigation into the way the former Lord Mayor's Earthquake Appeal Fund has been run, with a woman whose life has been dominated by earthquake injuries saying the fund's administrators have done nothing to make to contact with her.

Jennifer Matthews, of New Lambton, was 20 when she suffered a broken leg and other crush injuries in the Newcastle Workers Club collapse.

She spoke publicly earlier this month of her surprise at learning there were still funds available.

She yesterday emailed the fund - applying formally for assistance - and has drawn the support of federal Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon, state Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp and Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.

Ms Matthews said nobody from the fund had been in contact with her since her plight was publicised in the Newcastle Herald a fortnight ago.

"I thought I'd give them some time but I have heard nothing from them, so I have emailed them with a letter to say that I want to apply for some funds," Ms Matthews said last night.

"There's supposedly something like $1 million there.

"I don't want it all, but my life has been pain and suffering ever since the earthquake, with operation after operation, as I said when I spoke about this before.

"Now that we know that there is money that has been sitting there all this time, that was given to help people like me, I don't understand why they don't want to talk."

The Herald has made numerous attempts to talk with the fund board - chairman Michael Johns and directors Barrie Lewis and Margaret Murray - since the January 11 article about Ms Matthews's situation.

They said then that they did not consider Ms Matthews could be helped by the fund.

Ms Claydon said that after speaking with Ms Matthews, she had concerns about the situation.

Ms Claydon said charities were registered under the commonwealth's Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

Ms Matthews said she was not trying to cause trouble, but with the directors saying they were going to wind up the fund and maybe give the money to either the Permanent Building Society's charitable foundation or a charity related to the bushfires, she believed an investigation of some sort was needed.

Ms Claydon said the charities commission had "the authority to conduct an audit" of an organisation such as the Newcastle disaster fund.

But as a first step, she intended to speak with the minister responsible for charities, the ACT Liberal Senator and Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance, Zed Seselja.

"I will support Jennifer if she wants to pursue this because it seems to me that it's in everyone's interest for there to be trust and confidence in the administration of charitable funds," Ms Claydon said.

"That public trust is critical and, indeed, that's why Labor under Kevin Rudd established the commission as an independent body to regulate charities."

Mr Crakanthorp said he was prepared to raise Ms Matthews's situation in parliament, because even if the fund had changed names, the money was still raised to help victims of the earthquake.

He referred to the current fund's criteria, supplied to the Herald by the board, which lists the first of its three funding mandates as "relief and assistance to individuals suffering hardship as the result of a natural disaster".

"The effects of this earthquake continue to be devastating for the people who were there," Mr Crakanthorp said.

"Not all physical injuries heal perfectly, and the psychological effects of these traumas sometimes never go away.

"You would think that a fund set up in the aftermath of the earthquake would be committed to assisting people, no matter how long they need that assistance for."

Cr Nelmes said the City of Newcastle had faced "years of difficulties" in obtaining information from the disaster fund board and it had taken the Herald's investigation to bring the matter into the open.

Cr Nelmes said she had been "stunned" at hearing about the years of trouble that Ms Matthews had endured after the earthquake, and she found it hard to understand why the fund board seemed uninterested in even talking with her about the situation, now that it knew of her plight.

The Herald's January 11 article on Ms Matthews was strongly endorsed by readers, who empathised with her situation.

The earthquake fund was replaced in 1994 by the present, broader "natural disaster" fund.

ONLY THE START: Jennifer Matthews, far left, with other Newcastle Workers Club employees - cleaner Howard Gibson ('the luckiest man alive,' as he called himself after walking out of the collapsed club), his wife Elaine Gibson, Dianne Barrack, wife of club president Peter Barrack, who died on Friday, Bob Asquith, Fay Asquith, Lyn Brown (who had to be rescued by crane from a tiny office high up in the club) and John Constable on the opening night of the play about the earthquake, Aftershocks

ONLY THE START: Jennifer Matthews, far left, with other Newcastle Workers Club employees - cleaner Howard Gibson ('the luckiest man alive,' as he called himself after walking out of the collapsed club), his wife Elaine Gibson, Dianne Barrack, wife of club president Peter Barrack, who died on Friday, Bob Asquith, Fay Asquith, Lyn Brown (who had to be rescued by crane from a tiny office high up in the club) and John Constable on the opening night of the play about the earthquake, Aftershocks

This story MPs question disaster fund over Newcastle earthquake concerns first appeared on Newcastle Herald.