Premier John Brumby today tabled the final report of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission in the Parliament of Victoria and released it immediately to the public, saying his thoughts were today with the people and communities affected by the bushfires.
“The Black Saturday and Gippsland fires were the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history, tragically claiming 173 lives and changing our State forever,” Mr Brumby said.
“As Victorians we were united in our shock and grief. We were united in our determination to pull together and to help the people and communities affected to address the challenges ahead.
“We recognise that this is a difficult time for those communities and I know that the hearts of all Victorians will be with those who lost so much in this terrible tragedy, and with the firefighters who fought those fires so bravely.
“We will never forget the terrible suffering endured by so many and we will continue to stand by communities affected as they rebuild their lives, homes and towns.
“Across the state, there are signs of recovery. Schools and community halls are being rebuilt, sports clubs are getting back on their feet and our parks are sprouting new life again. We’ve made real progress but there is still more work to be done.”
The Victorian Government established a Royal Commission, the highest-level judicial inquiry, after the Black Saturday bushfires of February 7, 2009.
The Government appointed former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Bernard Teague to chair the Royal Commission and appointed State Services Authority commissioner Susan Pascoe and former Commonwealth Ombudsman Ron McLeod as commissioners to assist Justice Teague.
The Government provided the Royal Commission with the broadest possible terms of reference and capacity to inquire into every aspect of how and why the fires occurred, and recommend what steps could be taken to prevent a repeat tragedy.
In the coming week, the Government will outline an interim response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations. It will carefully consider the final report and over coming weeks give the Victorian public, agencies, business and community groups affected by the Commission’s recommendations an opportunity to have input before formulating its response.
“There is a significant number of groups and organisations – including local government, volunteer firefighters, environment, tourism, energy, health and building groups and community recovery committees – that want to be kept informed and express their views,” Mr Brumby said.
“That’s why our Government will speak with communities, groups and agencies impacted by the bushfires on how these recommendations may affect them into the future before final decisions are made to ensure that the concerns of the community are properly addressed.”
Mr Brumby thanked the Royal Commissioners for delivering the final report on time and for their hard work and dedication to the inquiry over the past 18 months.
Arrangements for distribution and access to the Royal Commission final report
The Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority (VBRRA) will distribute hard copies of the final report to communities affected by the Black Saturday and Gippsland fires from today through to early next week. There will be hard copies for viewing at the following locations:
Marysville Rebuilding and Advisory Centre/Hub
Murchison Street, Marysville
Murrindindi Shire Council Alexandra Offices
28 Perkins Street, Alexandra
Murrindindi Shire Council
The Semi-Circle, Yea
Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm
Civic Square, Croydon
Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm
Healesville Community Link
276 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville
Stud Park Shopping Centre
Stud Road, Rowville
Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm
4 Melbourne Street Mall
Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm
Strathewen Community Centre, School Road
425 Burwood Highway
Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm
Nillumbik Shire Offices
Civic Drive, Greensborough
St Andrews CFA Station
67 Caledonia Street, St Andrews
Kinglake Community Hub
19 Kinglake-Whittlesea Road,
Flowerdale Community Hub
3380 Whittlesea-Yea Rd, Flowerdale
Whittlesea Community Hub
36 Walnut St,
Labertouche Community Hub
Forest and Labertouche Roads
Traralgon South Hall
(near former Hub site)
Cats Drive, Traralgon South
Churchill Community Hub
CFA meeting room
Hurstbridge Community Hub
Hurstbridge Bowling Club site
12 Sydney St
Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 9am-5pm
Narre Warren Library
Fountain Gate Shopping Centre, Overland Drive
Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 2-5pm
City of Casey Cranbourne Complex, 65 Berwick-Cranbourne Road
30 High St, Eaglehawk
c/- 0409 422 105 to arrange access
For further information, including opening times and other locations across Victoria call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667 which will be open from 11am until 4pm today and Sunday.
Members of the public, including from affected communities, can access limited copies of the report from Information Victoria’s offices at 505 Little Collins Street, which is open today until 5:30pm. Support will be available for those from fire-affected communities.
VBRRA will also open its head office at Level 7, 55 Collins Street, to members of the public who wish to view the final report until 4pm today. Please call 9092 5891 to access the building. Support will be available for those from fire-affected communities.
opies to be delivered by mail can be ordered from the Victorian Government by visiting www.vic.gov.au or by calling 1800 463 684.
The Bushfires Royal Commission offices will not be open.
The report will be available online at www.royalcommission.vic.gov.au in HTML, high resolution PDF and low resolution PDF.
PDFs of the report will be available on www.vic.gov.au and a link to the report will be available at www.premier.vic.gov.au.
Telephone Information and support
The Information Victoria (InfoVic) call centre will be on duty today and Sunday to take enquiries from the public. The number is 1300 366 356.
The Victorian Bushfire Information Line, 1800 240 667 will also be open from 10am until 5pm on Saturday.
The Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service advice line 1800 050 400 will be open today and Sunday from 11am until 4pm. All people affected by the bushfires can call for advice and assistance.
People seeking advice on mental health services can contact the Mental Health Advice Line 24 hours a day on 1300 280 737.
This weekend, Community Hubs will be open on Saturday and Sunday to offer support and provide access to the Royal Commission report and for those affected by the bushfires.
The Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service advice line 1800 050 400 will be open Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm.
Prior to the final report, the Victorian Government requested an interim report from the Royal Commission by 17 August, 2009 in order to consider recommendations before the 2009/10 bushfire season.
The Government has implemented a range of measures to improve Victoria’s preparation for, and response to, future bushfires. These measures stem from both the Government’s response to the Bushfire Royal Commission’s interim recommendations and its own new measures.
In November last year, the Government engaged former Police Commissioner Neil Comrie AO APM to audit progress on its implementation of the Commission’s interim recommendations.
Mr Comrie reported to the Royal Commission on the Government’s implementation progress on 31 March this year. Mr Comrie concluded that:
- There was a strong commitment to implementation across Government;
- Good progress had been made overall;
- The overall outcome of the Government’s significant investment and activity was that Victoria was now significantly better prepared to respond to bushfires than it was in February 2009;
- Timelines for some projects were overly optimistic and much work remained to be done; and
- Given the mercifully benign summer, a number of the new systems and processes were yet to be “stress tested” by extreme events.
The Victorian Government has delivered a further update on its progress implementing each of the Royal Commission’s interim recommendations. That update is available on the Premier’s website at www.premier.vic.gov.au
In addition, the following is an update on actions the Government and its agencies have undertaken since Black Saturday to improve Victoria’s capacity to prepare for and respond to future bushfires.
- Adopted the new national Fire Danger Rating system with a Catastrophic-Code Red rating for forecast condition with a Fire Danger Index greater than 100. Victoria is actively participating in the current national review of this system;
- Refined and developed emergency management plans for Code Red days across a range of government services, including health and residential care, schools and children’s services;
- Increased the surge capacity of the Victorian Bushfire Information Line (VBIL) and in the most recent budget invested a further $3.1 million in VBIL’s surge capacity; and
- Commissioned and completed the first stage of research on developing a new fire severity scale to better describe the power of a fire and its potential impact on communities than the existing fire danger rating systems.
Prepare, Stay and Defend or Leave Early
- Conducted the State’s first ever Fire Action Week in October 2009. Fire Action Week is scheduled for October this year;
- Increased the number of Community Fire Guard groups to almost 1000 with 259 new groups formed and held 2046 community Fire Ready meetings – more than double the number of the previous fire season;
- Extensively revised publications and programs to assist the community in how to prepare for, and what to do in the event of, bushfires;
- Distributed more than 265,000 Fire Ready kits to residents in high risk bushfire areas together with an additional 83,000 kits to residents in bushfire prone areas;
- Published Fire Action Week supplements in metropolitan and regional newspapers across Victoria on the critical need to prepare for the fire season;
- Ran a large Summer Fire Campaign on television and radio and through outdoor advertising and the print media;
- Created a Household Bushfire Self Assessment tool (HBSAT) (available on line, as a CD-ROM and printed Workbook) to assist residents in their bushfire survival planning;
- Appointed 10 Bushfire Safety Officers to assist residents to use the HBSAT and undertake individual property assessments;
- Ran 1,061 Brigades in School sessions aimed at increasing students’ understanding of bushfires and how they can assist in getting ready for bushfire season;
- Trained spokespeople from 29 culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds on the revised messages to reach the non-English speaking community, published safety materials in 32 different languages and ran an extensive SBS and community radio campaign;
- Developed and distributed safety publications aimed at tourists in high risk bushfire areas;
- In the most recent budget, the Government allocated $41.8m over two years for the CFA to continue to help communities better prepare themselves for bushfires; and
- Committed $9.1 million over four years in the 2010 State Budget to a CFA program to support and advise private land owners, local councils and government agencies on vegetation management.
- Led the national development of Emergency Alert, which enables warnings to be sent to fixed line phones and mobile phones by billing address in a selected geographic area. Stage 2 of this project is progressing well and under consideration by states and territories for the sending of messages to mobile phones based on location;
- Amended the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 to make the Chief Officer responsible for the issuing of warnings and community information about bushfire risks;
- Adopted the new national three tier bushfire advice and alerts system;
- Developed the One Source-One Message software tool to enable Incident Controllers to send warnings concurrently to a variety of outlets – the media, fire agency web-sites and Victorian Bushfire Information Line (VBIL) operators;
- Entered into agreements with ABC Radio, all commercial radio broadcasters, Sky TV News and the community radio broadcaster, UGFM, to broadcast emergency information. Negotiations with free-to-air TV broadcasters and other community radio stations are continuing;
- Issued a new protocol for the broadcast of the Standard Emergency Warning Signal before emergency warnings in appropriate circumstances;
- Released guidelines for developing community arrangements for the use of CFA or other sirens as a bushfire alerting device;
- Developed use of new social media technology (including customised FaceBook and free official iPhone applications) to assist community members, particularly young people, to gauge their level of fire readiness and to communicate important information on fire danger ratings and warnings on going fires; and
- In the 2010 State Budget, the Government invested another $28.5 million over four years to upgrade and improve bushfire warnings, intelligence gathering and analysis and alerting capability (including for Emergency Alert).
Risk and Refuge
- Developed Township Protection Plans for 52 high risk areas across the state and a further 14 communities;
- Over 100 Neighbourhood Safer Places have been designated in partnership with local councils;
- Completed the Victorian Fire Risk Register assessment process in 37 municipalities, which is a critical aid in local fire management planning, with a further 21 to be completed before the next fire season;
- Released a public Discussion Paper as part of the process to develop a revised Community Fire Refuge policy;
- Reviewed school refuges and undertook remedial works;
- Made new Building regulations incorporating standards for private bushfire shelters;
- Applied the Wildfire Management Overlays to areas covered by 18 planning schemes and updated the existing WMO coverage in a further eight planning schemes;
- Constructed extensive strategic fuel breaks to protect Melbourne’s water catchments and communities and catchments in the Otways;
- Introduced the “10/30 rule” to simplify residents’ entitlements to reduce fuel loads around their homes; and
- Provided $41 million in the 2010 State Budget to increase bushfire resistance of school buildings in high risk areas.
Emergency and Incident Management
- Implemented changes to the state’s Command, Control and Coordination arrangements following a review by the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police;
- Amended the Emergency Management Act and Emergency Management Manual to facilitate these new management arrangements (with the fire agencies revising their agreements and joint operating procedures to embed those changes);
- Upgraded the layout, seating capacity and ICT infrastructure in the State Control Centre;
- Developed new arrangements for pre-positioning Incident Management Teams (IMTs) to strategic locations on dangerous fire risk days. (The fire agencies are currently reviewing these arrangements with a view to improving them for future fire seasons);
- Installed new equipment, information technology and transmission links in 43 Incident Control Centres across the State. All these centres are fully operational with some minor technical works that will be completed before the next fire season;
- Installed two satellite down links for fire detection line scanners in aircraft to improve transmission of data from the fire ground to incident control centres;
- Augmented IMT capacity during the 2009-10 bushfire season with three deployments of IMT specialists from the US and Canada;
- Trained an additional 60 ground observers to provide critical intelligence on fire behaviour to inform both operation planning and community warnings;
- Trialled (and currently evaluating) the use of a Very Large Air Tanker;
- Built on the substantial investment in improving emergency service communications ($563.5m to date with a further $547.5m committed through to 2014-15);
- Improved the coverage and capacity of pagers carried by emergency service staff and volunteers to allow for emergency messages to continue to be received quickly, and non-emergency messages to be received more quickly than before, by improving the configuration of messages and message groups;
- Finalised a new State Emergency Services Communications Strategic Framework to guide future investment in emergency services communications;
- Developed new guidelines for managing roadblocks during bushfires;
- Created new arrangements for relief centre operations in emergencies;
- Reviewed and revised the State Health Emergency Response Plan to ensure a coordinated response to the management of emergencies’ impact on community health;
- Invested a further $35.4 million over four years in the 2010 State Budget in training of IMT personnel; and
- Initiated boundary realignments among emergency services organisations (VicPol, CFA).
- Provided greater surge capacity for ESTA for dangerous fire risk days through the installation of 15 additional workstations and related ICT and cross-training police call-takers at the Ballarat Centre and installing 3 additional workstations at the Tall Ho Centre;
- Implemented arrangements to formally advise the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) and Telstra Triple Zero of forecast severe weather so they can take appropriate staffing action;
- Endorsed the National Protocol for Pre-recorded, State-based Tailored Voice Announcements for activation during extreme events.
- Cleaned up more than 3000 destroyed properties at no cost to residents;
- Appointed 394 case management positions to provide personal support and access to services to 5,500 cases in fire affected communities;
- Made 11,213 grants ($23 million) to assist affected people manage immediately after Black Saturday as well as help with temporary living expenses and re-establish their accommodation;
- Established a network of Community Service Hubs as “one stop shops” in fire affected communities, which at their peak were receiving up to 1,000 visits per week;
- Streamlined planning process for replacement buildings and established volunteer programs to provide free bushfire attack level assessments and a Rebuilding Advisory Service and Centres;
- Made over 23,000 payments to affected residents and communities from the $391 million Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund;
- Established four temporary villages and provided donated caravans and free toilets and showers to people whose homes were destroyed;
- Provided over 10,000 vouchers through the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund for counselling with over 2,400 people having obtained counselling;
- Established 12 Bereaved Support Groups, each with professional support being offered and over 110 people receiving specific grief or bereavement counselling;
- Rebuilding and replacing destroyed Government infrastructure including police and CFA facilities and three primary schools;
- Supported and funded over 500 community-led projects such as restoring local halls and community centres;
- Coordinated and distributed 21,000 pallets of material aid and $8 million of high value goods (such as store vouchers) and matched more than 100 projects with corporate or philanthropic supporters;
- Progressed environmental activities such as reseeding burnt forests, reopening parks and visitor sites and replacing picnic facilities, walking tracks and directional signage; and
- Supported economic recovery through a $10 million Tourism Industry Support package, establishment of the Marysville Central retail precinct, small business grants and mentoring and $10 million Business Investment Fund; and
- Committed $193 million with the Australian Government for rebuilding initiatives to drive the economic, social and environmental recovery of bushfire-affected communities with rebuilding priorities for each community which have been identified by those communities.