Councils can't offer more than 'moral support' after fires, royal commission told

Councils can't offer more than 'moral support' after fires, royal commission told

News
The Tallaganda bushfire near Canberra. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The Tallaganda bushfire near Canberra. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Aa

Councils in bushfire-hit areas have called for changes to disaster recovery funding, in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires.

Aa

Councils in bushfire-hit areas have called for changes to disaster recovery funding, in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements began to investigate the role of councils in responding to disasters.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Shire Council told the commission local government could not provide much more than "moral support" in many cases.

"Local governments have little capacity to absorb costs relating to emergency response and recovery and therefore rely heavily on state and federal governments to provide financial assistance," it told the commission through a submission.

"Following a disaster, impacted communities look for support and that support should be led at a local government level in the first instance and be escalated where that support cannot be realised.

"Unfortunately, the capacity of local government to provide much more than moral support is not realistic for many councils. In reviewing how government responds to the Black Summer bushfire disaster, there needs to be consideration of how support is delivered across all disasters, irrespective of the size."

The council says a new model of disaster funding that better acknowledges the role of local councils is required.

It pointed to the 2016 fires in the Currandooly and Carwoola areas, which did not attract extended support from the state government, or any help from the Commonwealth, despite homes being destroyed.

There was also anecdotal evidence that a growing number of landholders in the region were under-insured, or did not have insurance at all.

"Advice from some landholders suggested that the location of homes meant that those property owners were priced out of the insurance market or had been refused insurance," Queanbeyan-Palerang Shire Council said.

"This meant those landholders felt that, with the risk of being homeless if they had evacuated, they had no choice but to stay to defend properties that were described by fire authorities as indefensible.

"These properties were not going to be defended by the [Rural Fire Service] because of their location and the action to stay and defend posed a serious risk to the life of those individuals. Miraculously, those individuals survived."

READ MORE:

Eurobodalla Shire Council's director of infrastructure services Warren Sharpe told the commission the Australian and NSW government needed to respond faster to immediate financial needs without means testing.

"For example, a business package should have been provided to all businesses within the fire-affected area, based on registered businesses immediately following New Years Eve to keep businesses afloat. The requirement to then implement means-tested programs could then be rolled out subsequently through a case management model," his submission said.

He called on governments to develop more tailored assistance programs, such as providing fodder for farmers in the aftermath of natural disasters.

"We hope those communities such as Eurobodalla who have now been impacted by drought, then fire, then flood and now COVID-19 in rapid succession, are recognised for the additional impact with ongoing assistance required to effect a full recovery in these very challenging times," Mr Sharpe said.

Mr Sharpe also told the commission of the "Herculean" effort it took to evacuate tens of thousands of people from the shire after the fires escalated around New Year's Eve.

He said bodies like the Chamber of Commerce had initially broadcast to tourists it was safe to come to the coast, as agencies were "hopeful" the fire could be contained on the northern side of the Kings Highway.

"Thankfully the messaging started to change before New Year's Eve and it certainly changed post the New Year's Eve fire and we worked very hard to get tens of thousands of people out of the shire post that event with great support from too many people to describe here, but it was just a Herculean effort to evacuate the shire of those people," Mr Sharpe said.

The story Councils can't offer more than 'moral support' after fires, royal commission told first appeared on The Canberra Times.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by