Fires survivor pleads for land buybacks

Fires survivor pleads for land buybacks

09 August 2010

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Australia — Premier John Brumby should risk defeat at the Victorian election and impose compulsory land buybacks in high fire risk areas, a Black Saturday survivor says.

The Bushfires Royal Commission final report released last month recommended a non-compulsory state acquisition scheme for landowners wanting to sell in high-risk flame zones.

The government is yet to provide its full response to the commission’s 67 recommendations until consultations have concluded, but Mr Brumby said communities had so far failed to back the idea.

“There’s very little support for a whole range of reasons,” Mr Brumby told reporters on Monday.

But he would not detail any arguments launched by communities against the scheme, saying the consultation process was not due to finish until the end of the week.

Black Saturday survivor Marlene* from Kinglake pleaded with Mr Brumby to put the future of Victorians in fire-prone districts ahead of his government’s fate at the November 27 state election.

“If he does a compulsory buyback, he’ll lose his job. The election will swing the other way. It will be a complete upheaval in the community,” she said.

“Leadership comes at a cost sometimes. It may be at his personal cost and it may be at the cost of his party at the election but what if there was another fire and those policies were in place to better protect those people who were immediately homeless?

“When he’s sitting in his armchair he may reflect on how many lives he affected in a positive way in the decades to come.”

Marlene’s house and many others in her street were razed in the February 7 fires that killed 173 people across the state including dozens in the Kinglake region.

Initially she declared she would rebuild but a year later, with new house plans ready, she changed her mind, fearful her block would always be too vulnerable.

Marlene has since moved to a safer site nearby.

“There are people that don’t want to stop rebuilding. They want to live in the flame zone, and you’re dealing with their democratic choice,” she said.

“I don’t know how you navigate that path, but I would hope there was some true leadership. I wish that expert reason would override the emotional impulse to rebuild.”

Opponents, though, say a buyback could kill off some communities and could put other properties at risk by leaving neighbouring blocks unattended.

On Monday, Mr Brumby told reporters that improved communications and the need for a clear position on roadside clearing were emerging as key concerns at each community forum held around the state.

“Whether that’s mobile phone towers, whether that’s better internet, whether that’s issues with digital radios, that’s come through very strongly,” he said.

Parliamentary debate on the royal commission’s final report is due to begin on Tuesday.

* not her real name

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