Australia — New Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday admitted a voluntary buyback of properties in high bushfire risk areas could take decades.
However, he stood by his pledge to adopt that and every other recommendation of the royal commission into last year’s Black Saturday fires.
Speaking on his first day as Premier, Mr Baillieu said the Coalition had set aside funds for a buyback program, an idea the Brumby government rejected.
“The first thing to do there is make an assessment of exposed properties,” Mr Baillieu said.
“This is a program of identifying land and mutually agreeing that it’s in everybody’s interests for a buyback to take place.”
The defeated Labor government dismissed the royal commission’s call to acquire properties in high-risk areas as part of a “retreat and resettlement” strategy, saying it would increase the danger for neighbouring properties if the land became vacant.
Nationals leader Peter Ryan said criticisms that a buyback could include 52,000 properties at a cost of $20 billion should not be taken seriously.
“We will give effect to the recommendation and it will be done on a basis of making sure we engage all elements of community,” he said.
The Coalition has also pledged to upgrade all power lines in high-risk areas within 10 years, creating a $50 million fund.
Residents in bushfire-prone communities are split on whether a buyback program is an appropriate way to minimise loss of life, or if the money could be better spent on other forms of prevention.
John Burgess, chairman of the recovery committee in Flowerdale, where two out of every three houses were destroyed on February 7 last year, said he had met only one person interested in selling their land to the government.
“It would be very daunting to me if people on either side of me decided to go through a buyback,” he said.
“It would only further put my life and property in jeopardy.”
Dandenong Ranges Community Bushfire Group secretary Mel Gajdek said funding should instead go to safety measures that recognised people’s reluctance to leave their homes on potentially dangerous fire days.
“The community up here is more interested in seeing refuges in place than talking about a buyback,” she said.