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Looking south from Yamba when Angourie was threatened by fire in September last year. Image: Lynne Mowbray

CVC makes submissions to ‘Black Summer’ bushfire commissions

CVC director Des Schroder: “Council is concerned that ratepayers, [as a result of] next year’s RFS budget request, will see a very large increase in the [ESL] contribution sought, given councils are still recovering from the combination and cascading affects of drought, fires, flood and now coronavirus,” Mr Schroder wrote, “any rise cannot be sustained by councils.”

Not everything has stopped due to the coronavirus; governments still have to make decisions and prepare for life once the pandemic has passed.

It wasn’t too long ago when Australia’s unprecedented fire season became global news – with COVID-19 now dominating the news, the fires seem like a distant memory.

However, the Clarence Valley was one of the first and most widely affected regions during the fires.

“…over 50 per cent, around 540,000 hectares, of the Council area was burnt in the fires, affecting 1,500 landholders, destroying 169 houses and 5 Council timber bridges”, staff advised councillors at the March 24 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting.

Councillors unanimously endorsed CVC’s submission, which was submitted to Australian Government’s ‘Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements’ – sometimes referred to as the ‘Bushfires Royal Commission’ – and to the NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry.

In general terms, Environment, Planning & Community director Des Schroder advised councillors that “the combined impact of the drought and fires has led to a 50 percent reduction in agricultural output and a yet unquantified affect [on] the forestry sector, which will be significant.

“In addition, the tourism sector was heavily impacted from August through to December.

“There are short and long term impacts on mental health, which are significant.

“The long term impacts on bio-diversity are yet to be quantified but, again, this will be large.”

The council made 18 recommendations under the following headings:

  • Impacts on the Clarence Valley;
  • Lessons from the Emergency Response;
  • Larger State Issues Coming out of the Emergency;
  • Recovery Lessons;
  • The Medium to Long Term Responses; and
  • Monitoring Outcomes.

Significantly, in recommendation 2, Mr Schroder advised that, as a result of the fires, CVC’s current $791,124 contribution towards the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) could be significantly more in the next financial year.

“Council is concerned that ratepayers, [as a result of] next year’s RFS budget request, will see a very large increase in the [ESL] contribution sought, given councils are still recovering from the combination and cascading affects of drought, fires, flood and now coronavirus,” Mr Schroder wrote, “any rise cannot be sustained by councils.” (Mr Schroder’s emphasis)

In his report to council, Mr Schroder wrote, “The key message is that this is a marathon and the recovery will take years…

“It’s important over the next few months that we don’t forget the important issue of supporting our communities in fire recovery as this new [COVID-19] emergency unfolds.”

Clarence Valley Council’s submission can be downloaded here.

Looking towards the future, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his February 20 media release (to announce the royal commission’s establishment), he said: “In particular, we need to consider the need to establish new powers for the Federal Government to declare a national state of emergency to trigger direct Federal Government responses to national disasters, including the direct deployment of the Australian Defence Force.

“Currently, there are no such powers and Federal responses are supposed to only be undertaken in response to State requests and authorisations.”

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