Australia — Around 45 people attended Daylesford’s Bushfires Royal Commission community consultation on the weekend to voice their opinions about the final report recommendations.
Daylesford and several nearby towns – including Hepburn, Trentham, Greendale and Blackwood – are on the list of 52 declared high-risk bushfire areas.
Community members discussed and wrote down ideas about the six meeting topics; safer places, evacuations, powerlines, fuel reduction, acquisition of properties in high risk areas and the role of local government.
Groups posed difficult questions and scenarios when it came to evacuations.
Daylesford resident Loraine Nicholls says a mass evacuation from Daylesford would be impossible.
“Evacuate where to? Daylesford is surrounded by bush.
“It can’t be done. You’d set in panic, mad panic. Which way would we go? Where’s the fire coming from? We’d have to see the fire first. It’d be too bad if we all went one way and that was the way the fire was coming.”
What about vulnerable people?
Along with the points of “where do people go?”,”how do people get there?”, “how do you inform tourists?” and “people need to be able to make an informed decision”, several groups had raised concerns about vulnerable people in the community.
Castlemaine resident Lorraine Le Plastrier, who is confined to a wheelchair, is happy people are asking these questions.
She suggests the creation of a safer space where vulnerable community members can go.
“My experience of talking to other people who have some forms of disability or parents who have children with a disability is that they’re not going to go, it’s just such a huge thing to pack all the things up that you need and find some way of using them.
“They’re not going to go, they’re going to stay, so I think that’s one of the reasons for organising a safer space where at least those people could be brought together, and then if there’s need for large scale evacuation then council mini-buses could be used to put the people together and take them all out in one go.”
But she admits it’s difficult to determine when vulnerable people would leave to such a place and how they would get there.
“I’d prefer to stay at my own place with the sort of safety arrangements and needs that I have in place.
“But if I knew that the fire was four or five kilometres away, it’s a very considered question as to how you get there.”
Victorians want “a suite of options”: Emergency Services Commissioner
Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin attended the Daylesford hearing and listened to community concerns.
He says that people in Daylesford and other high-risk communities want a range of options to be explored.
“They want to be given a suite of options to choose from, they want to be given some guidance in how to make an informed decision.
“Quality information was a constant theme and the range of options was a constant theme that that notion of local planning for local needs and people being able to have almost like a toolkit that they can choose from for their particular set of circumstances.”
Mr Esplin says there is confusion about the differences between neighbourhood safer places, refuges and bunkers.
“There’s an opportunity to clarify just what each of them is, what are the good things, what are the dangers that are inherent in each of them.”
He shared concerns among residents that it’s difficult to establish how many people would use a refuge in an emergency.
“I can think of only one thing worse than not having a fire refuge where it’s necessary and that’s having one that’s too small for the amount of people that want to use it.”
Mr Esplin asked residents what they thought about multi-purpose bunkers.
He says it is difficult for communities to justify spending a lot of money for something that can only be used as a bunker.
“One of the things people talk about at a local government level and even at a community is how much is it going to cost and who is going to pay?
“You might build a bunker that actually can perform the function of a changing-room for a football club or a cricket club or a netball club.”
He says he heard some interesting suggestions in the consultation including community emergency rehearsals and using information centres to provide bushfire risk warnings.
Where does the feedback go?
Loraine Le Plastrier was one of several community members that raised concerns about the community’s comments “disappearing into thin air” and questioned whether comments from each meeting would be made available to the public.
The meeting’s facilitator, Robert Masters says all of the information will go straight through to the State Government.
“All the views are collated and prioritised and that goes into the Premier’s office the next day.”
Mr Masters says they are considering making the views from the meetings made public.
Changes to the Fire Services Levy – which would see emergency services funding moved from an insurance policy levy to a property based levy – is one of the eight recommendations that the State Government has not yet committed to.
However, community members are not asked to provide feedback on this topic at consultations.
Attendees at both the Daylesford and Ballarat consultation meetings put their hands up to support the recommendation.