The Premier, John Brumby, today released the Victorian Government’s interim response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission report, identifying key recommendations the Government would consult on before forming a final view.
Releasing the interim response with Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron and Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings, Mr Brumby said he and the Government would conduct a short-term, targeted consultation with key agencies, communities and interested stakeholders before announcing the Government’s full response within coming weeks.
“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.
“I am equally determined that the path forward unites all Victorians in one commitment to do all we can to preserve human life in the face of the threat of bushfires.
“My Government will act swiftly and decisively, and we will bring the community with us.”
Mr Brumby said whilst the Government was open to discussion on all recommendations, it was putting forward key issues for further consultation.
“We will undertake a short and targeted consultation on a range of issues before announcing our final response,” he said.
Mr Brumby said the Government would speak to stakeholders about a range of issues, including:
- Refuges – How to integrate the provision of refuges into local emergency management;
- Local Government – Obligations for local government, particularly in the area of local bushfire and emergency planning;
- Evacuations – Requirements and policies around evacuations, recognising that there are strong views in the community;
- Power lines – The progressive replacement of single-wire earth return and 22 kilovolt power lines with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology to reduce the bushfire risk, including all options for mitigating risk and financial implications for consumers;
- Acquisitions – A retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the State of land in these areas, to determine the implications of such a policy on the viability of small towns; and
- Fuel reduction – Increasing fuel reduction burning to an annual rolling target of 5 per cent minimum of public land, recognising that fuel reduction burning must increase, but that there are strong views held in different sectors of the community.
“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 there have been 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.
“These measures stem both from the Government’s response to the Royal Commission’s interim recommendations and our own new measures, and include Emergency Alert and changes to warnings, changes to command and control arrangements, leading the first-ever dedicated Fire Action Week, a new 10/30 rule for landowners and significant additional resources.
“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.
“I thank the Royal Commissioners for the tireless, compassionate and committed work to chart the way forward on bushfire safety in Victoria.
“I will listen to views of individuals, communities, agencies and other stakeholders, but I will act swiftly and decisively to make our State as fire-safe and as fire-ready as possible.”
Attached – the Victorian’s Government’s interim response to recommendations.
Chapter 1: Bushfire Safety Policy
- The State revise its bushfire safety policy. While adopting the national Prepare. Act. Survive. framework in Victoria, the policy should do the following:
- enhance the role of warnings—including providing for timely and informative advice about the predicted passage of a fire and the actions to be taken by people in areas potentially in its path;
- emphasise that all fires are different in ways that require an awareness of fire conditions, local circumstances and personal capacity;
- recognise that the heightened risk on the worst days demands a different response;
- retain those elements of the existing bushfire policy that have proved effective;
- strengthen the range of options available in the face of fire, including community refuges, bushfire shelters and evacuation;
- ensure that local solutions are tailored and known to communities through local bushfire planning;
- improve advice on the nature of fire and house defendability, taking account of broader landscape risks.
- Support in principle, with further consultation to be undertaken around the issue of evacuation and shelters.
- The State revise the approach to community bushfire safety education in order to:
- ensure that its publications and educational materials reflect the revised bushfire safety policy equip all fire agency personnel with the information needed to effectively communicate the policy to the public as required;
- ensure that in content and delivery the program is flexible enough to engage individuals, households and communities and to accommodate their needs and circumstances;
- regularly evaluate the effectiveness of community education programs and amend them as necessary.
- The State establish mechanisms for helping municipal councils to undertake local planning that tailors bushfire safety options to the needs of individual communities. In doing this planning, councils should:
- urgently develop for communities at risk of bushfire local plans that contain contingency options such as evacuation and shelter;
- document in municipal emergency management plans and other relevant plans facilities where vulnerable people are likely to be situated—for example, aged care facilities, hospitals, schools and child care centres;
- compile and maintain a list of vulnerable residents who need tailored advice of a recommendation to evacuate and provide this list to local police and anyone else with pre-arranged responsibility for helping vulnerable residents evacuate.
- Support in principle with further consultation regarding evacuation, shelters and a register.
- The State introduce a comprehensive approach to shelter options that includes the following:
- developing standards for community refuges as a matter of priority and replacing the 2005 Fire Refuges in Victoria: Policy and Practice;
- designating community refuges—particularly in areas of very high risk—where other bushfire safety options are limited;
- working with municipal councils to ensure that appropriate criteria are used for bushfire shelters, so that people are not discouraged from using a bushfire shelter if there is no better option available;
- acknowledging personal shelters around their homes as a fallback option for individuals.
- The State introduce a comprehensive approach to evacuation, so that this option is planned, considered and implemented when it is likely to offer a higher level of protection than other contingency options. The approach should:
- encourage individuals – especially vulnerable people – to relocate early
- Support in principle, with further consultation to be undertaken around the issue of evacuation.
- Victoria lead an initiative of the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs to ensure that the national curriculum incorporates the history of bushfire in Australia and that existing curriculum areas such as geography, science and environmental studies include elements of bushfire education.
- The Commonwealth lead an initiative through the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management, facilitated by Emergency Management Australia, to develop a national bushfire awareness campaign.
Chapter 2: Emergency and Incident Management
- The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment amend their procedures to require the following:
- that at locations that attract preparedness levels A or B there be a full incident management team under the leadership of an accredited level 3 Incident Controller in position by 10.00 am on days of code red fire danger and a core incident management team (eight personnel) under the leadership of an accredited level 3 Incident Controller in position by 10.00 am on days of extreme fire danger; and
- that a full level 3 IMT be led by a level 3 Incident Controller unless the State Controller determines otherwise.
- Support in principle with consultation about implementation.
- The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment:
- prescribe; and audit the minimum number and nature of level 3 joint training exercises in which incident management team staff (including volunteers) are required to participate.
10. The State clarify whether, during major fires, Victoria Police should discharge its coordination functions from the State Emergency Response Coordination Centre or from the State Control Centre.
11. The State consider amending the Emergency Management Act 1986 and the Emergency Management Manual Victoria in order to achieve the following:
- remove the title of Coordinator in Chief of Emergency Management from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services;
- clarify the function and powers of the Minister; and
- designate the Chief Commissioner of Police as Coordinator in Chief of Emergency Management, who would have primary responsibility for keeping the Minister informed during an emergency.
12. The State consider either amending the Emergency Management Act 1986 or adopting a standing practice to require the Minister for Police and Emergency Services or the Chief Commissioner of Police to consult the Premier about the possibility of declaring a state of disaster for all of or any part of Victoria whenever the Minister or the Chief Commissioner of Police becomes aware of circumstances that make it a reasonable possibility that the criteria for making such a declaration will be satisfied.
- Support in principle, together with recommendation 13.
13. The State consider amending the Emergency Management Act 1986 to introduce a graded scale of emergency declarations short of a state of disaster.
- Support in principle, together with recommendation 12.
14. The Victorian fire agencies amend the AIIMS framework before the 2010–11 fire season in order to do the following:
- designate the Information Unit as a separate section reporting directly to the Incident Controller and require that the Information Unit contain a dedicated Public Information Officer whenever a full incident management team is required;
- specify a set of functions in relation to which the Deputy Incident Controller for a level 3 incident will have oversight, which may be adjustable for a particular incident by agreement between the Incident Controller and the Deputy Incident Controller; and ensure that an individual with local knowledge is incorporated in an incident management team.
15. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment:
- amend their procedures to require that an incident action plan summary be completed within the first four hours of an incident being reported and be provided to the State Control Centre and, where established, to the relevant Area of Operations Control Centre;
- adopt DSE’s incident action plan summary as the template to be used by all incident management teams and ensure that the template is included in the online IMT Tool Box; and
- provide regular training to IMT staff, highlighting the importance of information and reinforcing the support available from specialists within the State Control Centre.
16. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment improve mapping support in the following ways:
- DSE providing mapping data free of charge to emergency response agencies;
- greatly increasing the CFA’s ‘write’ access to FireMap for incident management team staff; establishing a joint DSE–CFA training program to ensure that mapping officers in level 2 and 3 incident management teams are fully trained in using FireMap, including in producing fire prediction maps; and
- requiring before the 2010–11 fire season that FireMap be used for joint incidents.
17. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment establish before the 2010–11 fire season:
- a uniform, objective and transparent process based on the current DSE approach for the accreditation of level 3 Incident Controllers;
- a performance review system for level 3 Incident Controllers; and
- a traineeship program for progression from level 2 to level 3 incident management team positions.
18. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment amend their procedures to require that a suitably experienced, qualified and competent person be appointed as Incident Controller, regardless of the control agency for the fire.
19. The Country Fire Authority provide to all CFA volunteers an identification card or similar to facilitate their passage through roadblocks established in accordance with the 2009 Guidelines for the Operation of Traffic Management Points during Wildfires.
Chapter 3: Fire Ground Response
20. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment amend their policies on aerial preparedness and standby arrangements, their dispatch protocols and the management of aircraft in order to do the following:
- require that at locations that attract the risk assessment or preparedness level A on code red days all personnel needed for air operations must be on standby by 10.00 am; and
- establish a system that enables the dispatch of aircraft to fires in high-risk areas without requiring a request from an Incident Controller or the State Duty Officer.
21. The State, in conjunction with Emergency Management Australia and the Department of Defence, develop an agreement that allows Commonwealth aerial resources that are suitable for firefighting and support activities to be incorporated in preparedness plans and used on days of high fire risk.
22. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment standardise their operating systems and information and communications technologies with the aim of achieving greater efficiency and interoperability between agencies.
23. The Country Fire Authority review and improve its communications strategy as a matter of priority and develop a program for identifying and responding to black spots in radio coverage.
24. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment amend their procedures for investigating safety incidents and ‘near-misses’ to ensure that all dangerous incidents, including back-burns, are fully investigated and that all relevant people are consulted and informed of the results.
25. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment require without exception that all relevant staff be trained in the need for Incident Controller approval to be obtained before a back-burn is lit.
26. The Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment adopt the title ‘safety officer’ (as opposed to ‘safety adviser’) and require without exception that a safety officer be appointed to every level 3 incident management team.
Chapter 4: Electricity-caused Fires
27. The State amend the Regulations under Victoria’s Electricity Safety Act 1998 and otherwise take such steps as may be required to give effect to the following:
- the progressive replacement of all SWER (single-wire earth return) power lines in Victoria with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk. The replacement program should be completed in the areas of highest bushfire risk within 10 years and should continue in areas of lower bushfire risk as the lines reach the end of their engineering lives; and
- the progressive replacement of all 22-kilovolt distribution feeders with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology that delivers greatly reduced bushfire risk as the feeders reach the end of their engineering lives. Priority should be given to distribution feeders in the areas of highest bushfire risk.
28. The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to change their asset inspection standards and procedures to require that all SWER lines and all 22-kilovolt feeders in areas of high bushfire risk are inspected at least every three years.
29. The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to review and modify their current practices, standards and procedures for the training and auditing of asset inspectors to ensure that registered training organisations provide adequate theoretical and practical training for asset inspectors.
30. The State amend the regulatory framework for electricity safety to require that distribution businesses adopt, as part of their management plans, measures to reduce the risks posed by hazard trees—that is, trees that are outside the clearance zone but that could come into contact with an electric power line having regard to foreseeable local conditions.
31. Municipal councils include in their municipal fire prevention plans for areas of high bushfire risk provision for the identification of hazard trees and for notifying the responsible entities with a view to having the situation redressed.
32. The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to do the following:
- disable the reclose function on the automatic circuit reclosers on all SWER lines for the six weeks of greatest risk in every fire season; and
- adjust the reclose function on the automatic circuit reclosers on all 22-kilovolt feeders on all total fire ban days to permit only one reclose attempt before lockout.
- Support in principle, with further consultation about reclosers.
33. The State (through Energy Safe Victoria) require distribution businesses to do the following:
- fit spreaders to any lines with a history of clashing or the potential to do so; and
- or retrofit all spans that are more than 300 metres long with vibration dampers as soon as is reasonably practicable.
34. The State amend the regulatory framework for electricity safety to strengthen Energy Safe Victoria’s mandate in relation to the prevention and mitigation of electricity-caused bushfires and to require it to fulfil that mandate.
Chapter 5: Deliberately Lit Fires
35. Victoria Police continue to pursue a coordinated statewide approach to arson prevention and regularly review its approach to ensure that it contains the following elements:
- high-level commitment from senior police;
- a research program aimed at refining arson prevention and detection strategies;
- centralised coordination that includes comprehensive training, periodic evaluation of arson prevention strategies and programs, and promotion of best-practice prevention approaches; and
- a requirement that all fire-prone police service areas have arson prevention plans and programs, according to their level of risk.
36. The Commonwealth, states and territories continue to pursue the National Action Plan to Reduce Bushfire Arson in Australia, giving priority to producing a nationally consistent framework for data collection and evaluating current and proposed programs in order to identify and share best-practice approaches.
Chapter 6: Planning and Building
37. The State identify a central point of responsibility for and expertise in mapping bushfire risk to:
- review urgently the mapping criteria at present used by the Country Fire Authority to map the Wildfire Management Overlay, to ensure that the mapping used to determine building and planning controls is based on the best available science and takes account of all relevant aspects of bushfire risk;
- map and designate Bushfire-prone Areas for the purposes of planning and building controls, in consultation with municipal councils and fire agencies; and
- finalise the alignment of site-assessment methods for planning and building purposes, taking into account bushfire risk to human safety as well as to property.
38. The State implement a regional settlement policy that:
- takes account of the management of bushfire risk, including that associated with small, undeveloped rural lots; and
- includes a process for responding to bushfire risk at the planning stage for new urban developments in regional cities, the process being similar to that used for new developments in Melbourne’s Urban Growth Zone.
39. The State amend the Victoria Planning Provisions relating to bushfire to ensure that the provisions give priority to the protection of human life, adopt a clear objective of substantially restricting development in the areas of highest bushfire risk—giving due consideration to biodiversity conservation—and provide clear guidance for decision makers. The amendments should take account of the conclusions reached by the Commission and do the following:
- outline the State’s objectives for managing bushfire risk through land-use planning in an amended state planning policy for bushfire, as set out in clause 15.07 of the Victoria Planning Provisions;
- allow municipal councils to include a minimum lot size for use of land for a dwelling, both with and without a permit, in a schedule to each of the Rural Living Zone, Green Wedge Zone, Green Wedge A Zone, Rural Conservation Zone, Farming Zone and Rural Activity Zone; and
- amend clause 44.06 of the Victoria Planning Provisions to provide a comprehensive Bushfire-prone Overlay provision.
40. The Country Fire Authority amend its guidelines for assessing permit applications for dwellings, non-dwellings and subdivisions in the Bushfire-prone Overlay in order to accommodate the amendments to the Wildfire Management Overlay that are implemented as a result of recommendation 39 and make the guidelines available to municipal councils and the public. The revised guidelines should do the following:
- substantially restrict new developments and subdivisions in those areas of highest risk in the Bushfire-prone Overlay;
- set out the CFA’s guidelines for assessing permit applications for dwellings, non-dwellings and subdivisions—including the minimum defendable space requirements for different risk levels;
- clarify that the CFA will approve new developments and subdivisions only if the recommended bushfire protection measures—including the minimum defendable space—can be created and maintained on a continuing basis; and
- emphasise the need for enduring permit conditions—in particular, conditions for the creation and maintenance of minimum defendable space to be maintained for the life of the development.
41. The State:
- amend the Victoria Planning Provisions to require that, when assessing a permit to remove native vegetation around an existing dwelling, the responsible authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, as referral authority, take into account fire hazard and give weight to fire protection purposes; and
- develop guidelines for determining the maximum level of native vegetation removal for bushfire risk mitigation, beyond which level the application would be rejected.
42. The Department of Sustainability and Environment develop and administer a collective offset solution for individual landholders who are permitted to remove native vegetation for the purpose of fire protection.
43. The Department of Sustainability and Environment conduct biodiversity mapping identifying flora, fauna and any threatened species throughout Victoria and make the results publicly available. The format used should be compatible with that used for Bushfire-prone Area mapping.
44. The Country Fire Authority produce for community guidance material on fire-resistant landscape and garden design, including a list of fire-resistant species.
45. The State press municipal councils—in particular, Murrindindi Shire Council—to urgently adopt a bushfire policy in their Local Planning Policy Framework and incorporate bushfire risk management in their planning policies and strategies for rebuilding communities such as Marysville, Kinglake and others affected by the January–February 2009 fires.
46. The State develop and implement a retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the State of land in these areas.
47. Standards Australia do the following:
- amend the objective of AS 3959-2009, Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas, to ensure that it incorporates reducing the risk of ignition from ember attack; and
- review, and amend as appropriate, the testing methods prescribed in its standards for Tests on Elements of Construction for Buildings Exposed to Simulated Bushfire Attack (AS 1530.8.1 and AS 1530.8.2) to ensure that, so far as is possible, the methods provide a reliable predictor of the performance of construction elements under bushfire conditions.
48. The Australian Building Codes Board do the following:
- amend the performance requirements in the Building Code of Australia to ensure that they incorporate reducing the risk of ignition from ember attack;
- work with Standards Australia to effect expeditious continuing review and development of AS 3959, Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas, and other bushfire-related standards referred to in the Building Code of Australia;
- negotiate with Standards Australia and SAI Global Ltd an arrangement for free online access to AS 3959-2009, Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas, the other Australian standards referred to in AS 3959-2009, and any other bushfire-related Australian standards referred to in the Building Code of Australia;
- amend the Building Code of Australia to remove deemed-to-satisfy provisions for the construction of buildings in BAL-FZ (the Flame Zone); and
- include in the Building Code of Australia bushfire construction provisions for non-residential buildings that will be occupied by people who are particularly vulnerable to bushfire attack, such as schools, child care centres, hospitals and aged care facilities.
49. The State modify its adoption of the Building Code of Australia for the following purposes:
- to remove deemed-to-satisfy provisions for the construction of buildings in BAL-FZ (the Flame Zone)
- to apply bushfire construction provisions to non-residential buildings that will be occupied by people who are particularly vulnerable to bushfire attack, such as schools, child care centres, hospitals and aged care facilities; and
- other than in exceptional circumstances, to apply a minimum AS 3959-2009 construction level of BAL-12.5 to all new buildings and extensions in bushfire-prone areas.
50. Standards Australia move expeditiously to develop a standard for bushfire sprinklers and sprayers.
51. The Victorian Building Commission, in conjunction with the Country Fire Authority, develop, publish and provide to the community and industry information about ways in which existing buildings in bushfire-prone areas can be modified to incorporate bushfire safety measures.
52. The State develop and implement, in consultation with local government, a mechanism for sign-off by municipal councils of any permit conditions imposed under the Bushfire-prone Overlay and the regular assessment of landowners’ compliance with conditions.
53. The State amend s. 32 of the Sale of Land Act 1962 to require that a vendor’s statement include whether the land is in a designated Bushfire-prone Area, a statement about the standard (if any) to which the dwelling was constructed, the bushfire attack level assessment at the time of construction (where relevant) and a current bushfire attack level assessment of the site of the dwelling.
54. The State amend the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 to enable the Chief Officer to delegate the power to issue fire prevention notices.
55. The State initiate the development of education and training options to improve understanding of bushfire risk management in the building and planning regimes by:
- providing regular training and guidance material to planning and building practitioners; and
- helping a suitable tertiary institution design and implement a course on bushfire planning and design in Victoria.
Chapter 7: Land and Fuel Management
56. The State fund and commit to implementing a long-term program of prescribed burning based on an annual rolling target of 5 per cent minimum of public land.
- Support in principle, with further consultation regarding implementation and scale-up.
57. The Department of Sustainability and Environment report annually on prescribed burning outcomes in a manner that meets public accountability objectives, including publishing details of targets, area burnt, funds expended on the program, and impacts on biodiversity.
58. The Department of Sustainability and Environment significantly upgrade its program of long-term data collection to monitor and model the effects of its prescribed burning programs and of bushfires on biodiversity in Victoria.
59. The Department of Sustainability and Environment amend the Code of Practice for Fire Management on Public Land in order to achieve the following:
- provide a clear statement of objectives, expressed as measurable outcomes;
- include an explicit risk-analysis model for more objective and transparent resolution of competing objectives, where human life is the highest priority;
- specify the characteristics of fire management zones—including burn size, percentage area burnt within the prescribed burn, and residual fuel loading; and
- adopt the use of the term ‘bushfire’ rather than ‘wildfire’.
60. The State amend the exemptions in clause 52.17-6 of the Victoria Planning Provisions to ensure that the provisions allow for a broad range of roadside works capable of reducing fire risk and provide specifically for a new exemption where the purpose of the works is to reduce bushfire risk.
61. The State and Commonwealth provide for municipal councils adequate guidance on resolving the competing tensions arising from the legislation affecting roadside clearing and, where necessary, amend environment protection legislation to facilitate annual bushfire-prevention activities by the appropriate agencies.
62. VicRoads implement a systematic statewide program of bushfire risk assessment for all roads for which it is responsible, to ensure conformity with the obligations in s. 43 of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 and with the objectives expressed in the VicRoads 1985 Code of Practice.
Chapter 10: Organisational Structure
63. The State enact legislation designed to achieve two specific ends:
- appoint a Fire Commissioner as an independent statutory officer responsible to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and as the senior operational firefighter in Victoria;
- make the Chief Fire Officer of the Department of Sustainability and Environment a statutory appointment;
- The Fire Commissioner should have responsibility for the following:
- promoting and directing reform aimed at increasing the operational capability, interoperability and resilience of Victoria’s fire services;
- developing and building operational capacity to prepare for the days of highest bushfire risk and exercising control over level 3 fires as the permanent State Controller;
- providing to government periodic advice on the metropolitan fire district boundary on the basis of triggers, frequency and criteria approved by government; and
- representing Victorian interests on operational matters in national committees.
64. The State replace the Fire Services Levy with:
- a property-based levy; and
- introduce concessions for low-income earners.
Chapter 11: Research and Evaluation
65. The Commonwealth establish a national centre for bushfire research in collaboration with other Australian jurisdictions to support pure, applied and long-term research in the physical, biological and social sciences relevant to bushfires and to promote continuing research and scholarship in related disciplines.
Chapter 12: Monitoring Implementation
66. The State appoint an independent monitor or the Victorian Auditor-General to assess progress with implementing the Commission’s recommendations and report to the Parliament and the people of Victoria by 31 July 2012.
67. That the State consider the development of legislation for the conduct of inquiries in Victoria – in particular, the conduct of Royal Commissions.