Australia — Local government will have a lot more to deal with if all the recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission are eventually adopted by the State Government.
CEO of the City of Greater Bendigo, Mr Craig Niemann nominated planning and the management of roadside vegetation as two areas he expected to challenge many rural and regional councils in the future.
“No one would argue about trying to save lives and make our community a safer community, but we would also argue very strongly that it’s really important we do protect our native vegetation, and I think the community has come along in the last 10-15 years in understanding the importance of our natural environment and how we should be looking after it, and climate change and those sorts of things have been significant in our understanding around that.”
“So it is a really challenging area because it is not a one size fits all and there’s not one answer that says yes this is the way to do it from here on in.”
“We’ve done a lot of work with the State Government over the years about the high levels of biodiversity that exists on roadsides, and protecting that. Making sure that we could look after those remnant vegetation areas into the future, and of course there’s the fire prevention role we play on roadsides. Clearly I think our role is trying to satisfy all of these areas, and where there is competition we need to assess these on their merits.”
In terms of planning and building post-Royal Commission, Mr Niemann noted the challenges.
“Most of our city is surrounded by State or National Park which is restricted in terms of development, but we certainly have development leading right up to the edge of these parks so that’s a challenge for us, even the Maiden Gully/Long Gully fire we experienced in Bendigo, there was a reasonable amount of vegetation in that area that caused us some problems so it is a really challenging issue because people want to live in the natural environment, but it’s not always necessarily the safest place to be, particularly in regards to bushfire. We’ve got some challenges around that from a city perspective for sure.”
“I think there is certainly responsibility for the individual to put in place their own protection measures, but from a council perspective in terms of planning future developments we have a responsibility and a role to play in making sure that is appropriate development, that those properties are accessible, that they have the infrastructure and opportunity to protect themselves and the community as well.”
Long Gully resident Paul Epworth lost his house in the Bendigo Bracewell Street fire on Black Saturday.
His family has had to rebuild their home and he thinks the money spent on a Royal Commission could have been used in a more direct way to help those affected by the fires, and the wider community.
“There’s been a lot of money spent on the Royal Commission but it didn’t really come out with any significant comments or recommendations that we couldn’t have known 18 months ago,” Paul says.
“We can learn from it and if we’ve learned from the Royal Commission then we’re better off, and one of the main learnings is that we do need to put more technology and more infrastructure into CFA and DSE and things like that.”
“Some of the money spent on the Royal Commission could have been spent on (CFA) technology and fire trucks, but now we have to go looking for the money that could have gone straight into fire trucks and training and DSE burnings and the list goes on.”
When asked if he thought the report provided answers for those directly impacted by the fires, Paul Epworth said “I think there are some people out there in the community that might find a benefit in the Royal Commission answers, yeah there may be some people out there that have found answers in the Commission. I don’t know if there’s too many people I’ve spoken to that have said it’s going to be the closure of it or anything like that though. We’re still a long way from being over the Black Saturday fires.”