Community input critical in fire affected Victoria

Chair of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, Christine Nixon.

By Angela Dorizas

Communities affected by the Black Saturday bushfires have demonstrated their resilience and determination to rebuild, according to the chair of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, Christine Nixon.

Ms Nixon told the Local Government Manager Australia (LGMA) National Congress that in fire-affected areas across the state the natural environment was regenerating and communities were building again.

But the most devastated communities would require more time to recover from the trauma.

“We’re a long way from perfect,” Ms Nixon said.

The bushfires on February 7, 2009, affected 25 municipalities, killed 173 people and destroyed 2113 properties. Responding to the crisis required ongoing community involvement, Ms Nixon said.

“Communities recover best if they are the ones making decisions about what they think is important.”

Ms Nixon said it was critical to bring together community members from the beginning to provide information and to share concerns.

“I went to communities where that didn’t happen and it was a nightmare,” she said.

“I remember going to one particular community seven weeks after the fires and when I got out of the car I thought they were going to attack us.

“They said it was the first time anybody had got them together. It was a significant fire in that area and nobody had thought about bringing the community together.”

With an expiration date of mid-2011, the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority is now turning to the communities to plan the next stage of the process.

“We’re now bringing the 33 community recovery committees together as well as a range of other representatives from the community to help them think about what it is they want to do.”

Ms Nixon praised local government for its leadership and encouraged councils to continue sharing resources and personnel in the rebuilding process.

“Local leadership was really an incredibly important part of it,” she said.

She said she was confident the Victorian Government would adopt many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the bushfires, which is due to report on July 31.

“I think this has given all of us in Australia a huge shock and one that we really do need to think more about and learn from.”

Ms Nixon last month appeared before the Royal Commission concerning her actions on Black Saturday as Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police. This week she rejected allegations that she potentially misled the Royal Commission over her whereabouts on the evening of February 7, 2009.

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