Bushfire plea – Council needs more State money


Bushfire plea – Council needs more State money

By Brad Lester
COUNCILS will need more funding to prepare for bushfires if the State Government adopts certain recommendations in the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission’s final report.
More staff will be needed to deal with major planning changes, evacuation and roadside clearing under changes suggested by the Royal Commission.
That is the concern of South Gippsland Shire Council’s emergency manager, Lew Wilson who attended a Royal Commission briefing session held by the Municipal Association of Victoria in Melbourne last week.
Council officers also attended a community consultation session at Churchill last Thursday and will attend a similar meeting at Inverloch tonight (Tuesday).
The report comes more than 18 months after the Delburn complex fire destroyed 30 homes and scarred the communities of Mirboo North, Darlimurla and Boolarra.
The Star visited the area last week and found that while people had not forgotten the fires, they are moving on.
Mr Wilson said adequate funding would be vital to safeguard communities.
“With all of the provisions, there will be a need for more officer input and we will need more people. If the State does not give us the funding so that we can afford the people to make this happen, it’s not going to happen,” he said.
The report suggested council propose evacuation routes and shelter points for communities at risk, and identify vulnerable people in the community, such as the elderly or disabled, and help them plan to stay or go.
“It’s a huge task. The concern in South Gippsland Shire is our four high risk coastal towns. In Venus Bay for example, the population swells from 4000 to 5000 people from 400 to 500 over summer, so how do you identify who is at risk?” Mr Wilson said.
“People come from interstate and overseas and may have never experienced fires, so planning for that is a big concern for local government.
“Where do you find the resources to do that and help these people plan so that police and other emergency services know where they are?”
Council is also faced with conflicting laws on clearing roadside vegetation to reduce fire risk. The MAV meeting called for State clarification.
“At the end of the day, more work is required (of councils) and more input, and we need to know whether we leave something else and concentrate our resources on this (bushfire planning),” Mr Wilson said.
He said changes would be required to planning and building acts, and councils need the State to take the lead by adopting a strategic approach.
“Particularly in bushfire prone areas, the CFA will have to take a more stringent approach in making recommendations to approve a planning permit,” Mr Wilson said.
Fire refuges remain an issue for council, unable to designate such venues in the high fire risk towns of Venus Bay, Waratah Bay, Walkerville and Sandy Point.
“They are all small hamlets with no public buildings and no public open spaces big enough,” Mr Wilson said.
Private land is the only option but such land is farmland with pasture – a high fuel load – and so those sites do not comply with CFA standards.
Mr Wilson was among representatives of councils from throughout Victoria to hear from the MAV’s solicitors and also Premier John Brumby, and the ministers for Local Government, Emergency Services and Environment.
Bass Coast Shire Council will need more time to review the commission’s findings, said community safety manager, Philippa O’Halloran. She was also at the MAV meeting.
“We need to carefully consider the recommendations to ensure there is strong commitment to make changes that are in the best interests of our community,” she said.
“As a number of recommendations relate to councils, it’s important that a local government position is put to the State Government.  MAV is currently working on what the cost implications could be for local councils.”
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Jeanette Powell, called on the State Government to adequately fund councils.
The commission’s report states: “Local governments have struggled to implement the recommendations in the commission’s interim report because of constrained resources and the need for specialist personnel.”
“As part of the Royal Commission recommendations, councils will be expected to be more active in planning for bushfires, including evacuation and shelter options,” she said.
“The Bushfires Royal Commission interim report, released last year, delegated responsibility for neighbourhood safer places to the Brumby Government which shifted this enormous task to councils.
“Despite handballing this huge responsibility on to councils, John Brumby allocated only $1 million to help them comply with the new regulations.”
Claims have been made to The Star that the Churchill meeting was a lost opportunity, with consultation rushed and people’s expertise not tapped into.
“It was like speed dating. It was like a joke,” a source said.
Tonight’s meeting at the Inverloch Community Hub from 6.30pm will give residents the chance to help shape the State Government’s final response to the commission’s recommendations.
The State Government has already announced in-principle support for 59 of the commission’s 67 recommendations.
. Mirboo North and Darlimurla, 18 months on, on page 6.

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