Bureaucracy adds to pain of Black Saturday recovery
Our flag flutters from letterboxes, fenceposts and trees along our roads – an enduring and binding tribute to the resilience of our communities in the 12 months since that fateful February day we now call Black Saturday.
Their resilience was tested like never before on February 7, 2009. And it has been severely challenged many times since as they struggle to slowly rebuild lives, homes and entire towns.
The progress has been slow, painfully so, for many communities. A year on Kinglake is still without a petrol station, Marysville still waits for a school and new shops. And people in each community have had to battle ever increasing bureaucracy and building permits based on new building standards that still can’t deliver the required roofing and window materials.
Many people want to stay and rebuild but it simply shouldn’t be so difficult and for many, they need employment that can only come with the return of businesses and tourists.
Some have decided that life for them is no longer in the areas devastated by the fury of Black Saturday. Their decision to move on is made with the knowledge their place in the community had earned them respect and forever will they hold strong ties with those who remain.
This Sunday’s first anniversary of Black Saturday will be a moment of reflection – remembering those who perished in the inferno, recollecting stories of survival and giving thanks to the heroic efforts of our emergency service and relief volunteers who battled nature’s fury and provided aid while the fire raged and in those debilitating days and weeks afterwards.
This Sunday, our communities will be at the forefront for all Australians, not just by family and friends but by the same from right across our nation people who rallied like never before to support our communities in time of need.
But it will also be a time to respect the privacy of people in our communities after a year in the spotlight. It is important they be allowed to remember, grieve and unite at this time in ways they feel appropriate.
The anniversary also provides the moment for a change in approach to the reconstruction of our communities, a task that has been too painfully slow and presented with unnecessary obstacles to recovery through the centralised bureaucracy of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.
Our communities desperately need a new body, independent of government, comprising local people with the skills to drive their community’s recovery and reconstruction in the direction and manner their communities want for their future. Only such a body, independent of government, has the ability to ensure funding is delivered and targeted to community needs.
VBRRA is an arm of government, an extra layer of increasing bureaucracy, operating at a frustratingly slow pace and dismissive of community ideas and visions for the future. Communities must be allowed to drive reconstruction of their towns.
We must finally learn the lessons that will be at the forefront of our minds over the coming days. The graphic descriptions of Black Saturday 2009 were so similar to the recorded observations of massive fires that engulfed Victoria in 1851 and 1939,
The most disastrous fires in Australia’s history have been in Victoria, and particularly communities in my electorate of McEwen. Tragically, more than half those who have perished in those fires since 1851, including Ash Wednesday in 1983, were from our local communities.
We must be more vigilant in better protecting our people. Since February 7, those with practical local knowledge and bushfire behaviour experts have constantly raised the failure of government agencies to reduce fuel loads along our roads and on forest floors.
Victoria’s current one-dimensional approach to fuel reduction – burn-offs – is at odds with proactive overseas programs and the primary responsibility we all share to keep people safe, a non-negotiable priority already identified by the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
Our communities should be allowed take charge of reducing highly-combustible fuel loads by forming local armies of volunteers.
Governments and fire-fighting agencies need to broaden attitudes by embracing world-class fire detection technology. My studies overseas last year on fuel reduction and fire detection have achieved trials of this technology in Australia over the summer.
But there remains a distinct reluctance of fire agency bureaucrats to install the technology that can detect fires quicker and have our amazing local brigade volunteers better equipped with information and resources to beat the summer peril.
The Black Saturday anniversary will allow our communities to reflect on a day that tested our people like never before, a year of challenges we hope future generations will never face.
We can all draw infinite strength from the past 12 months and apply the wisdom of those experiences for the future protection and safety of our people.
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