Australia — Land buybacks in high-risk bushfire areas should be compulsory instead of voluntary as recommended by the Bushfires Royal Commission, a key planning group says.
The Planning Institute of Australia has also written to Premier John Brumby urging him to implement two of the commission’s most controversial recommendations: a voluntary, taxpayer-funded ”retreat and resettlement” program, and the replacement or upgrading of overhead power lines.
They are among eight recommendations yet to receive support from the state government. It has backed 59 of the 67 recommendations made in last month’s report.
The institute said the government should introduce a scheme for property buyback of private land in extreme fire-risk areas. But, it said, for such a scheme to be effective it would need to be compulsory, not voluntary.
Institute president Neil Savery said bushfire-prone areas should be considered in the same way as areas susceptible to inland flooding and sea-level rise. ”Planning and where you put your communities is a key part of disaster management,” Mr Savery said.
”We know that one of these events is going to occur in the future, particularly with climate change, therefore we need to give consideration, as has happened with issues of flooding and sea-level rises, to whether we should allow development in these areas.”
The institute said the first step should be to identify how many properties were in areas deemed to have ”unacceptably high bushfire risk”.
The institute, predicting a community backlash against the scheme, recommended above-value compensation. It said the financial benefits of a compulsory scheme would outweigh the burden of promoting voluntary buybacks and providing community services to fragmented and declining populations.
Municipal Association of Victoria chief executive Rob Spence said it did not support compulsory buybacks and was cautious about voluntary acquisitions.
He said if the main point was the protection of life then there were other means, such as fire bunkers.
The institute acknowledged the prohibitive cost of progressively replacing dangerous power lines, but said the benefit in removing a cause of fires outweighed the capital expenditure.
Government spokeswoman Jessica Harris said compulsory acquisition of homes might not be an idea likely to attract government or wide community support but was the reason why the government was consulting the community before its final response to the commission’s report.
The opposition said it would continue to support the commission’s recommendations.
Special parliamentary debate about Black Saturday wrapped up late on Wednesday night after nearly two days in the upper house.