A massive scale-up of fuel reduction burning, 612 new career firefighters and 231 seasonal firefighters and new community bushfire warnings headline the Victorian Government’s $867.3 million investment to make Victoria as fire-safe and as fire-ready as possible.
The Premier, John Brumby, today outlined major new investments and reforms to the way Victoria prepares for and responds to bushfires stemming from recommendations of the Royal Commission, as well as further measures.
This brings to almost $1.4 billion the new measures the Government has announced to address the threat of bushfires since the Black Saturday and Gippsland fires.
In its final response to the Royal Commission inquiring into the fires of February 2009, the Government has accepted in full or in part 66 of its 67 recommendations, with recommendations not accepted in full based on a combination of expert advice and feedback received from communities.
Key changes include:
- Hundreds more firefighters and a doubling, then tripling of fuel reduction burns;
- A significant Increase in support for volunteer firefighters;
- New fire mapping technology for faster and more accurate community warnings;
- More funding to accelerate the roll-out of more Neighbourhood Safer Places;
- A tougher maintenance regime for electricity businesses and high visibility arson operations;
- Agreement to replace the Fire Services Levy with a progressive property-based levy and improvements to planning controls in bushfire-prone areas; and
- A major boost to community education and information about preparing for bushfires, including the introduction of bushfire education in the school curriculum.
“We have made big changes to how we prepare for and fight fires since the tragic Black Saturday and Gippsland fires, including investing over $1 billion towards the firefighting and reconstruction effort,” Mr Brumby said.
“Now we are going further and taking the next steps to continue driving a new focus on the protection and preservation of human life from the threat of bushfires.
“Our Government’s strong economic management means that our State Budget has the capacity to fund new measures as we undertake fundamental reforms to make our State as fire-safe and fire-ready as possible.
“We want to put as much high quality, accurate and timely information as possible in the hands of individuals, so they can make informed decisions on how they respond to the threat of bushfires.”
The Victorian Government’s $867.3 million package will deliver the following key investments and reforms to bushfire preparedness and response:
- Victoria’s Bushfire safety policy: $105.5 million to reform and further enhance Victoria’s warning systems, support for local councils in high bushfire risk areas to plan and prepare, new equipment grants for volunteer emergency services organisations, a new bushfire education curriculum in Victorian schools, more community education and information and support for vulnerable people in communities;
- Incident Management and Response: $120.9 million to drive further improvements in emergency and incident management including a new significant expansion of fire information systems using Australian-first fire mapping technology, more training for incident controllers, further upgrades to incident control centres, more joint fire agency training and a package of volunteer support initiatives including a new identification card;
- Fireground Response: $197.5 million for 342 new career CFA firefighters and 100 additional MFB firefighters, a new program to standardise the radio connections between the CFA and DSE to deliver quicker information to incident control centres, a new CFA program to identify and remediate communications black spots and improved aircraft despatch. This is in addition to 170 additional permanent DSE firefighters funded under the Land and Fuel Management package;
- Electricity Caused Fire: Implementation of new legislation to strengthen maintenance obligations of electricity businesses, new incentives to minimise fire starts caused by electricity distribution assets and enforce greater accountability for organisations operating powerlines with $2 million to be invested in a new Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce;
- Deliberately Lit Fires: A new high-visibility arson operation on high bushfire risk days will be deployed through Victoria Police’s new Operational Response Unit, with a further $2 million to Crimestoppers and to Victoria Police to gather information from the public about possible arsonists to further target police activity;
- Planning and Building: $28.5 million to better integrate building and planning in bushfire-risk areas, including new local policy solutions and changes to the requirements of vendors selling a home in a bushfire-risk area, an enhanced focus on vegetation management and an extension of the Government’s 10/30 rule for landowners;
- Land and Fuel Management: $403.8 million to meet a large-scale fuel reduction increase of 275,000 hectares of all public land over the next four years, rising to the 385,000 hectare target over the following two years, 170 new permanent DSE firefighting staff and 231 seasonal firefighters improve vegetation management as well as monitoring of the impacts of fires and fuel burning on the State’s biodiversity; and
- Organisational Structure: $6.1 million to reform the organisational structure of Victoria’s firefighting agencies through the establishment of a new Fire Services Commissioner to sit over the top of the state’s three firefighting agencies as the most senior operational firefighter.
Mr Brumby said the Victorian Government would prepare a full implementation plan for these reforms in coming weeks and be guided by emergency services agencies and departments about what steps could practically be taken ahead of the next bushfire season.
“The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission report is a catalyst for change that provides key recommendations to make our State safer from the threat of bushfires,” Mr Brumby said.
“I am determined that this Royal Commission report is never allowed to gather dust. It is crucial that we grasp the opportunity now to make our State safer.
“Our Government will act swiftly and decisively. We are determined that the actions we take, in partnership with emergency services agencies, local government, businesses and communities, unite Victorians in one commitment to do all we can to protect human lives from bushfires.”
The Government will also invest $1.1 million to appoint a monitor to oversee progress of government agencies and departments in implementing Royal Commission recommendations.
Mr Brumby also released the Government’s report bringing together all of the feedback received from the Victorian community in the weeks after the release of the Royal Commission report.
“I said when I established the Royal Commission that I wanted to leave no stone unturned in the examination of why the terrible events of Black Saturday and the Gippsland fires occurred, and why 173 people tragically died,” Mr Brumby said.
“Since Black Saturday we have delivered significant new measures introduced to improve Victoria’s preparation for and response to future bushfires and funding for our fire and emergency services is triple what it was a decade ago.
“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.
“Our Government believes it is vital that we take communities and emergency services with us to support new actions to make our State safer and that’s why we listened to the community before formulating our final response.
“Over 1500 people have attended more than 20 public meetings held across Victoria since the Royal Commission report was released. I thank members of the public who took the time to put forward their views on future directions to make Victoria as fire-safe and fire-ready as possible.”