Governments, councils, industry supporting bushfire communities

Support including money, people with skills and resources, information and equipment continues to be expanded into bushfire affected communities across the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 15 January announced funding for additional mental health support and for “community recovery hubs” which provide much needed well being recovery services and programs including mobile hubs to reach remote areas.

The Commonwealth’s $76m for mental health support involves counsellors organised via primary health networks.

The National Rural Health Alliance has compiled this list of health resources  for people living or working in fire-affected communities.

Meanwhile, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has launched a special site, Regional Business Recovery, for people operating small and medium businesses in bushfire-affected areas.

It lists information such as financial and tax advice, mental health support, and state-specific services.

Councils helping councils

Staff from 10 councils and the Local Government Association of South Australia have this week been helping their Kangaroo Island counterpart on the fire-hit island, and more support is on its way.

At least 50 Victorian councils have joined the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) Human Resource Sharing Database to offer staff for fire-hit councils.

The database, which features almost 200 offers of help, allows the MAV to sort offers by location, skillset and availability to ensure it quickly connects fire-affected councils with the most suitable support, the MAV said.

Local Government NSW President Linda Scott joined representatives from 15 metropolitan councils in Sydney at the Inner West Council chambers on 13 January to coordinate assistance for their fire-hit cousins in regional and rural NSW.

Councils agreed to compile a list of plant, equipment and staff who can be made available in affected local government areas.

They will also create a “sister council” program to match city councils with a fire-damaged council or shire, where general managers and CEOs can talk directly to allow the quick transfer of resources and support.

“We are determined to help our brothers and sisters in the bush,” meeting convenor and Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne, said.

“But before we can send crews in trucks with chains to clear roads and lanes of dead trees, we need to ascertain the needs of the different communities.”

“Metropolitan councils can provide immediate assistance in areas like tree management, community services, cleaning crews and waste, and in the longer term in town planning and infrastructure.”

As reported last week, LGNSW is a member of the Local Government Bushfire Recovery Support Group that is matching fire-affected councils with their unaffected counterparts.

Bega Valley Shire Council on the NSW south coast, which was severely affected by this summer’s fires, in December published a case study about locally-led recovery efforts following two bushfires in 2018.

The Council commissioned an evaluation report of its recovery support service it established after fires hit communities in Tathra and Yankees Gap in March and August 2018.

Those 2018 fires alone caused the loss of more than 80 homes, 35 caravans and cabins, and damage to 50 residences.

The NSW Office of Emergency Management assisted council in 2018 with support services such as case workers, counselling, assistance with referral and applications and liaising with government agencies to complete paperwork.

That office is providing support to Bega Valley again in 2020, and other local government areas.

“Clients of both [2018] fires provided extensive feedback, presenting a picture of a service that was highly valued and necessary for communities experiencing significant trauma and financial impacts,” the report by Risk Frontiers said.

“The service quickly established itself and won the trust of the communities through the wide range of tasks they undertook for clients and in the personal relationships they developed. “Clients and stakeholders interviewed, strongly recommended a similar service model for similar disasters in the future.”

PHOTO: Staff from various SA councils working on Kangaroo Island recovery operations courtesy Dr Andrew Johnson, Port Pirie Regional Council.