Australia — DEPUTY Premier and Minister for Emergency Services Peter Ryan has released the new community fire refuges policy, delivering on a key recommendation of the Bushfires Royal Commission.
Mr Ryan said the Community Fire Refuges Policy provided the framework for identifying, establishing, managing and maintaining community fire refuges in areas of very high risk.
Victoria is the only state in Australia to have a fire refuges policy, which has been finalised following extensive research and stakeholder consultation, Mr Ryan said.
Mr Ryan said the release of the refuges policy was part of the Victorian Coalition Governments commitment to implement all 67 Bushfires Royal Commission recommendations.
Victoria is playing a leading role in the development of national regulatory standards for community refuges, Mr Ryan said.
In July this year, the Coalition Government amended the Building Regulations 2006 to establish performance standards for the construction of community refuges, pending the development of a national standard, due by mid-2012.
Since then an enormous amount of work has gone into the development and todays release of the Community Fire Refuges Policy, with the project being led by Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley.
With the building regulations and the Community Fire Refuges Policy having been finalised, the Fire Services Commissioner will work with councils, fire services and relevant communities to develop a pilot project and give practical effect to the Community Fire Refuges Practices and Procedures which accompany the policy.
Mr Ryan said community fire refuges were defined as designated, purpose-built or modified buildings open to the public that could provide short-term shelter from the immediate life-threatening effects of a bushfire event.
It has been critical to get the terms of the Community Fire Refuges Policy right to create an environment in which community fire refuges can be established in the very high bushfire risk locations where other survival strategies are not possible or likely to fail, Mr Ryan said.
Community fire refuges are one of a number of contingency shelter options contained in Victorias Bushfire Safety Policy Framework and should be considered in the context of all of the survival options available to a community in a high bushfire risk area.
Mr Ryan said a community fire refuge may not always be the most effective survival option for some high bushfire risk communities.
The appropriateness of establishing a community fire refuge will need careful consideration by councils and communities against other available safety options, Mr Ryan said.
For people living in high bushfire risk communities, planning and preparing for bushfire will always provide the best chance of survival. On Code Red days in high risk bushfire areas, leaving early is always the safest option.
Mr Ryan said the Coalition Government had allocated $1.5 million to progress an immediate fire refuges pilot as part of $13 million committed by the Victorian Government to establish Neighbourhood Safer Places and the development of other shelter options. Future funding for refuges will be considered as part of the usual budget process.
Mr Ryan said the release of the Community Fire Refuges Policy showed the Coalition Government had achieved what the former Labor Government never could.
Recommendation 8.4 of the Bushfires Royal Commission Interim Report released on 17 August 2009, recommended the 2005 Fire Refuges in Victoria policy be replaced, Mr Ryan said.
The former Labor Government accepted this recommendation but did nothing except release a policy discussion paper in the 15 months until November 2010 when it lost government.
In comparison the Liberal-Nationals Coalition has developed the complex package of measures under which fire refuges can now be built and has done so within 11 months of assuming government.
The Coalition Government is implementing more than 200 projects statewide in response to the Bushfire Royal Commission recommendations, including the new Community Fire Refuges Policy, Mr Ryan said.
The Community Fire Refuges Policy, the Community Fire Refuges Practices and Procedures, and Bushfire Safety Policy Framework of Victoria can be downloaded here: