27 July 2020

Coastal call for emergency response centre, highway upgrades and bushfire mitigation

| Alex Rea
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From left: Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips, Durras Community Association president Dr Trevor Daly, and Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese at South Durras. Photo: Alex Rea.

Of the $200 million allocated each year to the Commonwealth’s Emergency Response Fund, $50 million is set aside for mitigation, but not a dollar has been spent. The NSW bushfire danger period commences on 1 October, which is just 10 weeks away.

At Durras on the NSW South Coast, where bushfires raged around the community during the past summer, the Durras Community Association has a plan to help mitigate future fire risks. In February, approximately 150 local ratepayers, property owners and residents in the community – which comprises just 300 homes – attended a meeting and helped put together a five-point plan. Member for Bega Andrew Constance and Eurobodalla Shire Council Mayor Liz Innes also attended.

The Durras Community Association unanimously agreed on a list of actions which will be taken to all levels of government and a range of agencies and organisations for implementation as soon as possible to better protect the region from bushfire.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips were in South Durras last Monday (20 July), to meet with Dr Trevor Daly, president of the Durras Community Association.

Fiona Phillips, Dr Trevor Daly and Anthony Albanese speaking outside Durras Progress Hall.

Fiona Phillips, Dr Trevor Daly and Anthony Albanese speaking outside Durras Progress Hall. Photo: Alex Rea.

“We were very lucky in this area; the bushfires burned around us, to the north, to the west and headed down towards Batemans Bay during December,” said Dr Daly. “We’ve been fortunate and our community wasn’t directly affected, but it did come very close. That’s allowed us to focus on, ‘Well, what can we do better for the future and what can we learn from what’s happened during the fires?’

“We came up with a list of issues for all levels of government. But for the Commonwealth Government, we had five specific things. One was we want fireproof electricity supply. And that involves replacing up to 30 power poles that are timber.

“We want those replaced with composite fireproof power poles. We want to improve mobile phone coverage along the highway. We also want to do some issues with power backup to our NBN tower.

“We have fixed wireless NBN access in this village. We want backup power on that, plus the mobile phone towers so if electricity supply goes out, you have battery backup for at least 12 hours.

“We also want tax deductions from the Commonwealth Government for landowners and property owners in this area and other areas in this country who actually invest in protecting their properties from bushfires. Things such as putting sprinklers on your roof, buying firefighting pumps, gutter guards, that sort of thing.”

Mrs Phillips said, “I’m particularly concerned about the power issues, the communication issues that happened during the bushfires. We have no Eurobodalla emergency operations centre.

“This is a similar story that’s happening all up and down the coast, particularly where we’ve got those communities with one road in and one road out. We want to know what we can do to help those communities if there is another disaster, which I hope there’s not.”

Fiona Philips, Anthony Albanese and Dr Trevor Daly standing beneath telecommunications tower in bushland at Durras.

Fiona Phillips, Anthony Albanese and Dr Trevor Daly discussing telecommunications at Durras. Photo: Alex Rea.

Mr Albanese praised the fact that $50 million of the $200 million a year Emergency Response Fund was allocated to mitigation, but is disappointed none of it has been spent.

“Unfortunately, not a single dollar of that money has been spent,” he said. “That’s an indictment of complacency. The issue of having an emergency response centre is another one for this region. We know from our experience during the past summer that these issues are ones that are far more difficult to handle if you haven’t had the appropriate preparation there.

“So here we are in July saying we need to do much better in the future than we’ve done in the past. And one of the ways that governments at all levels can do better is to listen to local community associations and groups such as this one.

“We need to bring forward upgrades of the Princes Highway as a priority, given we know what occurred during the summer with long queues, and with dangerous circumstances of people leaving smaller communities on the coast.”

Dr Daly added, “This community will not stand for any stonewalling, lame excuses or bureaucratic delays which endanger our lives and properties. If current laws, regulations, policies and zonings need to be changed to help better protect local regional communities such as ours from future bushfires, then they must be changed.

“All governments and agencies need to support local communities and not get in the way of what needs to be done for public safety. Emergency preparation and response must be above politics and administrative nitpicking. This is about people’s lives and homes.”

Key actions and demands agreed at the Durras Community Association meeting include:

  • Upgrades to local telecommunication infrastructure for mobile phone, landline and NBN, including installation of backup power via batteries and generators so telephone and internet communications are not lost during power outages.
  • A fireproof electricity supply network to be installed to service South Durras, North Durras and Depot Beach, comprising underground cables or new power poles made of concrete or other flame-proof materials extending from the Princes Highway to South Durras village. Automatic isolation switches to be installed on the network so when one area loses power, other areas are not unnecessarily cut off.
  • A network of fire trails to be established around the perimeter of private land at South Durras to allow unimpeded access for firefighting trucks from the Rural Fire Service and other firefighting vehicles.
  • A buffer zone around South Durras.
  • Bushfire hazard reduction on public and private land.
  • Tax deductions for bushfire property protection.

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