By Rob O'Brien
Councils responsible for implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Victorian Bushfires will need more state funding to make their communities safe, according to the peak local government body.
According to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) councils will need $20 million a year to expand their current responsibilities to deliver the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
“It could cost small shires with high-risk areas up to 10 per cent extra in rate revenue, which their communities simply could not sustain,” Chief Executive of the MAV, Rob Spence said.
A briefing attended by 150 representatives from more than 50 municipalities agreed that adequate funding was critical to ensure local government can deliver on the Royal Commission’s findings.
Mr Spence said councils had a key role to play in local implementation of many recommendations, but State financial support was essential.
“While the MAV was disappointed at the lack of a specific recommendation about funding, communities have a right to expect reforms from all levels of government that prioritise life and safety above all else.
“Councils attending the briefing expressed a genuine commitment to pull their weight, and called for clarity from the Government so they can get on with the tasks necessary to prepare for the upcoming fire season.”
Mr Spence said that local planning could potentially underpin the entire approach to bushfire emergency management, but new roles and responsibilities proposed for councils were costly and resource-intensive.
“Some of the nation’s highest bushfire risk areas cover small rural shires that don’t have the capacity to meet the new obligations on their own," he said. “Many have low populations and few options to raise extra funds."
Proposed new and expanded roles for councils include provision of community shelter options; local emergency management planning for vulnerable people and evacuation; monitoring of planning permit conditions; identifying dangerous trees and enhanced roadside clearance; and broader land use planning for bushfire risk.
The State Premier John Brumby and senior ministers attended the briefing which included discussions about the need to simplify the roadside clearance regime before the upcoming fire season and getting the telecommunications infrastructure in place to ensure timely warnings for endangered communities.
Mr Spence said that local government supported a regional settlement policy to guide future land use planning decisions, but that retreat and resettlement was not the preferred approach for existing communities in high-risk areas.
“Instead the MAV believes State-supported treatment options such as fuel management, refuges and personal bunkers could, in many cases, address the risks without uprooting established communities,” he said.
“If people choose to rebuild, buy into or remain in a high-risk area then they must also accept there are additional costs associated with insurance, bushfire building standards and ensuring personal safety.”
Mr Spence said that the MAV will be collating councils’ concerns into a formal submission to the Government within the next fortnight.
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