In correspondence (dated 11th September 2015) to Mr Blunt, Clerk of the Parliaments, Mr Elliott refers to the 29 recommendations made by the General Purpose Standing Committee, No 5.
Mr Elliott stated that the NSW Government appreciates the Committee’s efforts to engage with the local community and the NSW emergency management sector at all levels to canvas these important issues.
He pointed out that the Coroner is still to hand down findings arising from the Coronial inquiry into the Wambelong fire and that the NSW Government will finalise its position on all of the Committee’s recommendations once the findings and any recommendations that may be made by the Coroner are released and considered.
Mr Elliott stated that the NSW Government will prepare a combined response to the recommendations of the Committee and any recommendations of the Coroner , once they are handed down. This will ensure that the NSW Government does not pre-empt the findings of the independent Coronial process.
Many of our readers will be pleased to learn that Mr Elliott acknowledged that fire trails are also a key issue referred to in the recommendations. He stated that the NSW Government recognises that there is a need to improve the fire trail network across the State, particularly to link trails across private lands between public lands and the road network. In addition, there are instances where fire trails have either been closed or are in poor repair, impeding firefighting access or restricting hazard reduction activities. The ability for firefighters to quickly access remote areas is critical to effective firefighting.
Mr Elliot also stated that the NSW Government has recently committed to deliver an enhanced fire trail network. The Government is also committed to enhancing powers for the NSW RFS to ensure strategic fire trail networks across all tenures can be maintained in a way that provides for the safe and effective suppression of fires, and ensures essential hazard reduction work can be carried out.
The implementation of an enhanced fire trail network will require legislative amendments to the Rural Fires Act 1997. The NSW Government has requested that a detailed proposal for the required amendments is developed in close consultation with the relevant agencies and be submitted for consideration before the end of the year. The recommendations of this Inquiry and of the Coronial inquiry will be carefully considered in preparing these amendments.
Protection of Pastoral Assets
The protection of pastoral assets during bush fires is also addressed in the recommendations. Mr Elliot stated that he would like to draw the Committee’s attention to the NSW Government’s commitment to protect a broader range of assets which are important to landowners and the general rural economy.
The need to broaden the range of assets protected was highlighted by the Hazard Reduction Audit Panel Report. This led to amendments being made to the Rural Fires Act 1997 in November 2013 to include specific reference to ‘the protection of infrastructure and environmental, economic, cultural, agricultural and community assets from destruction or damage arising from fires’.
Mr Elliot advised that the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service updated its boundary fencing policy to significantly streamline procedures supporting the re-establishment of boundary fencing following bush fires.
The revised policy, published in February 2014, provides that when a fence is damaged by fire, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service will consider and approve, if appropriate, requests for assistance to repair or replace the fence through a simple, streamlined process.
Mr Elliot stated that the NSW Government understands that the impact of the Wambelong fire was immense, and effective support services are important in assisting communities recover after natural disasters.
Support services were provided to residents following the fire through the Warrumbungle Bushfire Support Co-ordination Service. This service aimed to assist bush fire affected households in their recovery with a range of services including crisis support, short term counselling, referral to health and other community services, and assistance linking with to other funding and subsidy sources. The service was jointly funded by the NSW Government and the Commonwealth Government.
This service was evaluated by the University of Newcastle Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health. These findings have influenced the strategic planning and service development of future psycho-social recovery interventions. These lessons, and those from support models established after other recent natural disasters, have been incorporated into the development of a guideline for establishing support service interventions. It is envisaged that this will be included in the NSW Disaster Assistance Guidelines. This higher level policy document will outline the trigger points, rationale and potential service models and other elements of service development.
Mr Elliot stated that the NSW Government is also considering changes to the way in which fire and emergency services are funded.
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