25 June 2020
Bega Valley Shire Council’s advocacy on behalf of our community continues in the aftermath of the Black Summer Bushfires, with General Manager, Leanne Barnes appearing before the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (commonly referred to as the Bushfire Royal Commission) yesterday.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established on 20 February 2020 in response to the extreme bushfire season of 2019-20 which resulted in the tragic loss of life, property, wildlife and environmental destruction, and impacted on our community so significantly.
Ms Barnes, who has sat as Deputy Chair on the Regional Recovery Committee and led the local recovery action team in the aftermath of the bushfires, was part of a panel that also featured Craig Magnussen of Southern Downs Regional Council (QLD) and Ally Dench from Wollondilly Shire Council (NSW).
Each panel member outlined in detail the impact of the fires on their respective areas, provided historical context surrounding the magnitude of the events, and outlined the lessons learnt and what can be done better across the whole of Australia in the future.
In her presentation Ms Barnes also highlighted the extreme drought that has been felt in our Shire over the past few years, the flooding that occurred immediately following the fires, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pointed to Council’s written submission (http://begavalley.infocouncil.biz/Open/2020/03/OC_18032020_AGN_554_AT_SUP_WEB.htm).
Council has also provided responses to a range of requests for additional information from the Commission which will now all be available on its website.
Responding to questioning from Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission, Dominique Hogan-Doran SC surrounding recovery coordination and recovery issues, Ms Barnes, spelled out how our recent experience with the Tathra and District and Yankees Gap Fires in 2018 and the East Coast Low in 2016 had provided very valuable lessons and allowed Council to respond quickly and effectively to establish the necessary support framework for our community this time around.
“These previous unfortunate events and in particular the work done by Euan Ferguson as recovery coordinator following Tathra meant we had committees formed, the relevant agencies activated and recovery support service and programs rolling out and still in place when the fires hit this summer,” Ms Barnes said.
“One of things we were able to do quickly was call on staff who had worked in all aspects of recovery across the organisation to step into roles that would be able to support the community.
“We had also undertaken and engaged in some independent external evaluations that informed our preparedness activities that rolled out over 2019.
“The scale and magnitude of the 2019-20 fires was something that was unpredicted, but we were as prepared as we possibly could be.
“We have relied very much on walking with the community in recovery, so it is a community-led recovery; and communication (both listening to and providing information) is one of things that has been absolutely critical, and we have been seen as the point of contact for the community,” Ms Barnes said.
Due to our location and the impact the fires also had in Victoria, Ms Barnes also gave an insight into working with our cross borders neighbours and what worked and can be improved in the future.
Ms Barnes’ contribution follows Council’s written submission and the then Mayor, Cr Kristy McBain, presenting to an earlier hearing in Eden.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements is ongoing – for more information and to view the public hearings, visit https://naturaldisaster.royalcommission.gov.au