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Local voices heard at bushfire royal commission

Monday 29 June 2020

Eurobodalla Shire Council is ensuring local voices are heard as the NSW Bushfire Inquiry wraps up and the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements continues its public hearings.

Council submitted a comprehensive report to both inquiries, putting forward key recommendations based on the shire’s experiences during last summer’s catastrophic bushfires.

Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes said the community would forever be indebted to all those who stepped up in response to the disaster.

“What the agencies, our Council teams, volunteers, our local MPs, the ADF and community members did together in the face of such adversity was amazing,” she said.

“There have been so many lessons learnt that can be actioned to make our community, businesses and infrastructure more resilient to shape a better way forward.

“We know this will require a collective effort by individuals, businesses, service providers and all levels of government and our submissions are a call to action and for adequate support from the NSW and Australian Governments.”

Council’s Infrastructure Director Warren Sharpe said Council was already working to get positive change across key issues like telecommunications, major transport routes, power supply, fuel supply and our evacuation centres.

However, the number one priority is for the Australian Government to join with the commitments already made by the NSW Government and Council to sure-up the shire’s water supply long-term and fund the Eurobodalla Southern Water Storage in a three-way partnership.

Another key Council recommendation to the Royal Commission was the need for the NSW Government to take on funding NSW emergency services agencies.

“If you look at the strategic alignment of government functions, then surely the NSW emergency services agencies, the RFS, SES and Fire and Rescue, should be fully funded by the state government rather than by our local ratepayers,” Mr Sharpe said.

“Currently we are looking at a financial impact of nearly $2 million per annum from ratepayers out of $29.4m in general rates that goes toward NSW Government emergency services agencies and facilities.

“We also believe the buildings and plant belonging to the RFS and SES should be moved to the ownership of the NSW Government rather than Council. This fundamental change will improve efficiency, reduce confusion over roles and allow local government to refocus these funds on delivering more resilient infrastructure and improved services for our local community.”

Mr Sharpe said Council also recommended that the government look at integrating facilities, agencies and decentralising operations.

“We are calling on the NSW and Australian Government to take this opportunity to reform emergency management to bring a new focus on improved community resilience, response and recovery from natural disasters,” he said.

“In doing so we’ve asked governments to look at decentralising resources to regional NSW and to respect the essential role our amazing volunteers play in protecting our community. This includes providing them with the facilities and training they need to get the job done.”

Council is also calling for a new regional integrated emergency services precinct in Moruya to run incident and emergency operations.

Cr Innes said the days of running emergencies out of makeshift facilities in a town hall should be in the past.

“With the new Moruya bypass and regional hospital, this is the perfect opportunity to provide a new integrated State precinct that will grow jobs, boost our economy and provide for the future growth of Eurobodalla,” she said.

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry has to report back by Friday 31 July, while the Royal Commission will deliver a final report by the end of August.