Australia –THE state government has been accused of backing away from its pledge to adopt all the recommendations of the Bushfires Royal Commission, after its own documents suggested some changes had been watered down or not implemented in full.
Premier Ted Baillieu’s promise to implement all 67 recommendations – ”lock, stock, and barrel” – has been thrown into question, once again putting the nation’s worst bushfire disaster under the political spotlight.
Labor has accused the government of walking away from its commitments after the Coalition’s formal response to the bushfires royal commission, tabled in Parliament last month, found some recommendations had not been fully adopted. For instance:
■ The commission recommended giving home buyers more information about bushfire risks, through vendor statements that would show whether the land is in a designated bushfire area, the standard to which the dwelling was constructed, and how prone the home is is to bushfire. However, the government’s response shows the Justice Department would amend the law to provide vendor statements showing ”where land is in a bushfire-prone area” but not necessarily include the other information.
■ The commission wanted a voluntary land buyback scheme in areas of extreme bushfire risk. But while the government accepted this recommendation, the documents suggest home owners will now have to meet more stringent criteria before land is bought back, and the government must be ”willing to buy” in the first place.
■ The commission recommended changing Building Code of Australia provisions so that ”deemed to satisfy” provisions are removed on bushfire homes. It also asked the Country Fire Authority to amend guidelines for assessing permit applications for communities in bushfire prone areas. The government’s response, however, reveals the Building Code provisions will be retained, while the CFA is yet to amend the guidelines as requested by the commission.
The February 7, 2009, bushfires were the worst in Australia’s history, claiming 173 lives and destroying more than 2000 homes. But Labor’s spokeswoman for the bushfires, Jacinta Allan, accused the Coalition of politicising the issue before the election to gain ground over the former Brumby government.
”They completely politicised the royal commission last year, and [Deputy Premier] Peter Ryan went around saying we were making it worse for communities by not accepting all of the recommendations. Now there are a number of examples where their response does not uphold what the royal commission wanted,” she said.
However, a spokeswoman for Mr Ryan disagreed.
She said the CFA would eventually provide new guidelines for buildings in bushfire prone areas in line with the commission’s recommendations. The government would also ”request that the Australian Building Codes board take action” to implement the changes asked of it, and in terms of land buybacks, $5 million had already been provided towards the scheme and work was continuing.
”Work is under way regarding this recommendation, including developing the necessary criteria to assess whether the risk of a given property is unacceptably high,” she said.
”The Coalition government will ensure the community has the opportunity to comment on the scheme through a consultation process. The program will be operational this year.”