John Brumby details the State Government response to the Bushfires Royal Commission

John Brumby details the State Government response to the Bushfires Royal Commission

27 August 2010

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Australia — All recommendations of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s final report have been accepted in-principle or in-full by the Brumby Government, bar one.

Recommendation 46 of the report, calling for voluntary government funded buybacks for houses in areas of “unacceptably high bushfire risk”, will not be implemented.

Kathy Bedford spoke to Premier Brumby about some of the key recommendations adopted by the Government today.

Recommendation 27 of the report advocates the replacement of single line power lines with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that reduces bushfire risk.

Mr Brumby says the Government does “support that recommendation in part, so we’ve already… contributed extra money today,” adding, “we pushed through the parliament just two weeks ago a tougher maintenance regime, tougher inspection regime, tougher penalties for power companies.”

Mr Brumby said the cost of fully implementing recommendation 27 is “literally out of this world, it’s $20b plus, and secondly, you could do all of that and you still get fires that are caused by machinery… lightning.. arson.”

The Government will set up a $2m taskforce, to work with industry to identify high priority areas for upgrading powerlines.

Recommendation 4 which looks at developing shelters and refuges in areas of high risk, is supported in principle.

The Commission recommended “the State introduce a comprehensive approach to shelter options”, including community, municipal and private options.

Mr Brumby said “the issue is that there is no standard across Australia for a, quote, refuge.”

“So we’ve got standards now for bunkers… but there is no standard across Australia for a refuge”

“A refuge or a shelter may be appropriate and so we will work to develop a standard for a refuge or a shelter.”

However, it’s unclear how long such a standard will take to develop, as there’s currently no timeline for its completion.

Recommendation 64 suggests a property based fire services levy, with concessions for low income earners.

There have been calls to change the levy for some time, with many in the community arguing it’s inequitable.

“We’ve had a commission report less than a month ago that said change it and I’ve come out today and said we’ll change it,” Mr Brumby said.

“We will have a white paper that reports back in March next year, and that will then give us the precise options for implementing it, it will require legislation, and the new arrangements will start in 2012.”

Recommendation 56 supports an increase of fuel reduction burns to five percent of the state.

The Government is planning to “stage up” the fuel reduction burns progressively over the next four years. This will be done in consultation with the community.

Mr Brumby said “the long term average is 90 thousand hectares a year, at the moment we’re on 150, we have said that over the next four years we will go to 275.”

Recommendation 46 was rejected by the Brumby Government. It recommends “a retreat and resettlement strategy” for homes in areas of “unacceptably high bushfire risk”, including a voluntary acquisition scheme.

“And all of those people have chosen to live there because they love the quality of life, but they are all in high fire risk areas,” Mr Brumby says.

When questioned about why the Government rejected the recommendation, he says “all the advice that we got from fire agencies is that there would be a higher fire risk, not a lower fire risk for those remaining” if land was voluntarily acquired.

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