Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements told bushfire recovery a ‘marathon’ as thousands still struggle

24 September 2020

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AUSTRALIA – Thousands of people are still calling a dedicated lifeline number 12 months after Australia was hit by devastating bushfires, a royal commission has heard.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements also heard today some people affected by last season’s bushfires have only just come forward to seek financial assistance.

Coordinator of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, Andrew Colvin, told the commission recovery was still in the very early stages.

Mr Colvin said recovery would be “very long and in some parts slow”, but he cautioned it needed to proceed at the pace of the individual.

“Even now, 12 months after the fires, charitable services, the state and local governments are reporting new presentations, presentations for the first time to seek support of the government or non-government sector as a result of the fires,” he said.

“That just underscores recovery is a marathon, that’s the word that’s been used.

Mr Colvin said many people were still working through the emotional impacts of the bushfires.

“There’s still 1,700 calls a week to dedicated lifeline number and that is steadily increasing,” he said.

“There are 600 presentations a week on either telehealth or face-to-face for support in relation to trauma caused by the bushfires.”

Calls for national disaster recovery body

Mr Colvin said many people were already feeling anxious about the coming season.

“The overwhelming sentiment that we are seeing in the community at the moment is one of fatigue, not surprisingly … we’re also seeing an overwhelming sentiment of anxiety as we approach another high-risk weather season.”

He said COVID-19 had made the process challenging and required adaptations including telehealth consultations and online community meetings.

One of the draft propositions put forward by the royal commission earlier this month was for a single, scalable national body to focus on natural disaster recovery and resilience.

Mr Colvin told the commission from his experience, that was what’s needed.

“You don’t want to be trying to make arrangements while actually dealing with a disaster,” he said.

“You want to have those well-embedded, understood and in place so that they can be rolled out when they need to be, as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

He said things to consider were making sure petrol and fresh water were available in the immediate 24 hours after events like cyclones and bushfires, and getting financial assistance to people so they could buy groceries.

“We need to be thinking about what will recovery need to entail, what will relief need to entail even before a disaster has hit a community and that gets the elements of resilience as well.”

He also said there was nothing nationally to prioritise resilience in recovery, relief and response operations.

He said the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement was often seen as a framework for recovery and resilience, but that was not the case.

“It doesn’t incentivise, it doesn’t prioritise resilience or building back better in the way that I think as a country we should,” he said.

“This is where I believe an agency at the national level can bring a lot of influence to bear.

“To bring not just our government partners but our non-government partners, the charitable sector, the philanthropic sector, they have a big role to play.”

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