Bushfire measures total $1 billion

Bushfire measures total $1 billion

6 May 2009

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia — The State Government will spend nearly $1 billion to respond to and recover from February’s fatal bushfires and on measures to prevent bushfires.

Detailed figures on the cost of the bushfire emergency show that a staggering $338.1 million was spent on “fire suppression” — which includes extra wages and the cost of bringing in interstate and overseas firefighters — in 2008-09.

Unveiling the 2009-10 budget, Treasurer John Lenders said the Victorian and federal governments would spend a combined $986 million responding to the bushfire tragedy. But the Commonwealth’s contribution was yet to be finalised — a reimbursement of 40 to 50 per cent, Mr Lenders said.

The budget confirmed substantial bushfire funding initiatives, including measures for the triple-0 and emergency communications services, fuel reduction burns and new Country Fire Authority appliances. The spending includes:

– $70.1 million over two years on case managers to help bushfire victims;

– $57.1 million to provide new radios and to upgrade the radio and pager network used by emergency workers;

– $56.2 million for the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority to better manage emergency calls;

– $52.7 million over five years on fuel reduction burns;

– $46.2 million on bushfire clean-up and demolition;

– $40 million on the Bushfires Royal Commission;

– $21.2 million on the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority; and

– $10 million on tourism.

In his budget speech, Mr Lenders said recovering from the “worst bushfires in our history” would be an “enormous task”.

“Our funding is going towards supporting bushfire survivors, assisting bushfire-affected businesses and traders, and rebuilding devastated communities.

“We are providing more resources for our firefighters and emergency services.”

Questioned about money allocated for fuel reduction burns — an annual average of $10.5 million, over five years — Mr Lenders said a “fine line” had to be walked.

“We’re spending more than we ever have before on fuel reduction burns,” he said. The Department of Sustainability and Environment knew in particular it needed to “maximise” fuel reduction burns.

“DSE spends as much time as it can in our autumn and our spring on doing fuel reduction burns,” he said. “And it is always a fine line on how far you can go.

“I can remember extreme criticism of DSE for doing too many fuel reduction burns a couple of summers ago, when a couple of them got out of control. So DSE will manage as much fuel reduction burns as it can do.

“And we are funding more fuel reduction burns in this budget, because we realise it is (of) ongoing significance to Victoria.”

Budget papers show the DSE has a “target” of 130,000 hectares for its 2009-10 fuel reduction burns program, the same as its 2008-09 target.

The budget also delivers significant funds for CFA, DSE and State Emergency Service vehicles, including: $21.1 million to replace nearly 100 CFA appliances within the next 12 months; $10.3 million to replace 15 SES heavy rescue vehicles, four-wheel-drives, boats and rescue kits; and more than $10 million to buy 42 “ultra-light” fire tankers.

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