Australia — MORE than 100 home owners whose homes were destroyed in the devastating Black Saturday bushfires have expressed an interest in selling their land to the state government, under the new $50 million voluntary buyback scheme for fire-ravaged communities.
More than 200 people attended information sessions held in bushfire-hit areas such as Marysville, Kinglake and Strathewen to discuss the package. But some of those people – such as community leaders who attended to seek information and help locals, and neighbours whose homes were not destroyed – are not eligible.
Landowners raised a series of questions, including what would happen to the land acquired by government, concern about the maintenance of all land in bushfire-prone areas, how land valuations would be undertaken and how long the process would take. Burnt-out properties discussed in the meetings varied from about 40 hectares down to regulation-sized building blocks.
Advertisement: Story continues below Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said that ”in excess of 100” people who attended were interested in selling their land to the government. Some people who did not attend would also want to sell, he said. ”It does indicate a high level of interest and we are now very keen to progress this and be able to offer the package to those who indicate an interest in participating,” he said.
Mr Ryan said many people who attended expressed a passionate commitment to the land they owned. ”Selling their land is a watershed moment in the recovery process for fire-affected landowners and I’m proud this government is giving that option in line with the Bushfires Royal Commission final recommendations,” he said. ”This is an entirely voluntary scheme, I can’t emphasise that too much.”
While $50 million has been allocated to the scheme, more money will be made available to buy land if demand surpasses that amount. The scheme is available to landowners who lost their principal place of residence in the bushfires of early 2009. They must not have begun rebuilding a new home on the property.
Under the scheme, the government will buy properties at whichever value is highest – the pre-bushfire value, or the current market value. Applications will open from March 2012.
The opposition’s bushfire response spokeswoman, Jacinta Allan, criticised the government’s handling of the scheme. ”It just shows that the way they’ve structured this program and the criteria does not deliver what the royal commission intended it to deliver – which was a statewide land buyback system,” she said.