7 September 2020

Mixed response to bushfire recommendations but who pays?

| Sharon Kelley
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Eurobodalla Shire Council Mayor Liz Innes.

Eurobodalla Shire Council Mayor Liz Innes outside council’s chambers. Photo: Supplied.

Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes says the NSW Government must stump up funding to back its bushfire inquiry proposals following the release of 76 recommendations on Tuesday.

Cr Innes said she would not accept any additional burden on ratepayers.

“The NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommendations are a mixed bag, and my big worry is who pays,” she said.

Cr Innes said the inquiry confirmed an increased likelihood of more firestorms of the type experienced last summer and she welcomed recognition that more funding was required to help firefighters on the front line.

“I’m pleased to see some of Eurobodalla Council’s key recommendations – improving the resilience of telecommunications, power and roads, and reviewing vegetation clearing policies to reduce complexity and cost – were adopted,” Cr Innes said.

“My big concern is the clear expectation that local councils will have to shoulder more of the burden when we simply do not have the resources to do more. Rates would have to go up, and that is not acceptable.”

Cr Innes said the Eurobodalla learned some tough lessons during the Black Summer.

“These lessons need to be shared and the minister should hear our experiences firsthand,” she said.

“I invite the NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliot to visit Eurobodalla.

“The NSW Government must cost the recommendations and must identify who will pay. Otherwise, these are a set of recommendations going nowhere.”

READ ALSO More resources, more hazard reduction needed says NSW Bushfire Inquiry

Cr Innes said the NSW Government still had the ideal opportunity to bring about real reform, including better integrating emergency service agencies and infrastructure.

“If the Minister visits, I look forward to showing him our outdated fire-control centre in Moruya, and the hall and four plastic tubs we ran our emergency operations centre from,” Cr Innes said.

Eurobodalla’s emergency operations centre during that height of 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

Eurobodalla’s emergency operations centre during that height of 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

“The NSW Government has previously shown support for a new regional integrated emergency service precinct in Moruya so we have decent facilities for the RFS, SES, NSW Fire and Rescue, Ambulance Service and an Emergency Operations Centre. This type of infrastructure should be funded by the government instead of pushing the burden to local ratepayers.

“We have been advocating for more than five years now. It really is time the government got this emergency services precinct built for our community.

“We’re also calling for the positions of Local Emergency Management Officers to be moved to the NSW emergency services agencies as full-time professional roles.

“Our council LEMOs did an amazing job last summer, but we are expecting our staff – who already have full-time jobs – to tackle the emergency services function on top of that. This is not a resilient solution for the future. Our officers are needed to manage our roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems during disasters.”

READ ALSO Bushfire royal commission fails to address climate change, says 350 Eurobodalla

Cr Innes said she had listened to many concerns from local landowners regarding the assertion the RFS would be given rights to enter properties and clear land or conduct burns if landowners failed to.

“This is unpalatable for most landowners and the details absolutely need to be worked through,” she said.

“And the expectation that councils could inspect and enforce private property compliance to bushfire standards is unrealistic. That is not, and should not be, our job.

“There also needs to be more hazard reduction and management of fuel loads in national parks and state forests. I know how it feels to sit and wait for fire to roar through unprepared government-owned land toward your home. That has to change.”

Cr Innes said the recommendations to pursue better air firefighting support, improve training for government personnel and volunteers running evacuation centres, and integrating fire control and emergency operations centres were welcome.

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