Welcome to 2020.
I want to express my condolences to people who have lost their loved ones, homes, businesses and animals in the terrible bush fires affecting large parts of Australia in recent weeks and months.
The sheer scale of the fires and their destruction has been shocking, and many blazes continue to burn.
But the scale of the response from Local Government has been tremendous, and it’s been so uplifting to see staff helping their communities such as through battling fires, warning residents, staffing evacuation centres, or coordinating relief supplies.
Councils around the country have been in touch with ALGA or their state local government association to express their concern and ask how they can help.
And not just Australian councils. A local councilor in Turkey, Cemal Bas, contacted ALGA this week to say that Turkish local government stood with their Australian counterparts and the general public.
For example, Mayor Karen Vernon of WA’s Town of Victoria Park emailed to learn what help her council could provide, and ask how other councils could assist.
I told Mayor Vernon that ALGA was working with the Commonwealth following the Prime Minister’s announcement of $2b in funding and the creation of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
Some of this money will flow to local councils following the model used in the wake of the mass flooding in northern Queensland last year.
ALGA has approached the new agency and is in regular contact with the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud and Minister for Local Government, Mark Coulton.
We will continue to be a conduit between the Commonwealth and the state local government associations, and advocate that federal assistance go directly to councils and be administered simply.
This summer we’ve seen numerous examples of local government helping local government.
I’m pleased to learn from Sean Faulkner of the City of Norwood Payneham and St Peters that more than a dozen South Australian councils have been assisting their counterparts affected by the Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island fires via the Local Government Association of SA’s Local Government Functional Support Group.
For example, by driving machinery to clear roads or just be there to give their exhausted colleagues a rest after weeks of activity.
Matthew Morgan, CEO of the District Council of Karoonda East Murray, said while his council comprised 15 staff and was more than three hours from Kangaroo Island, “there was no hesitation to help out the island community.”
The Local Government Association of Queensland donated $77,000 ($1,000 for each of its 77 local councils) to charities, and is also coordinating with emergency services for other ways councils can assist.
South Burnett Regional Council, whose community endured bush fires last year, has offered its support to LGAQ to assist other councils in NSW and Victoria.
As South Burnett’s Mayor Keith Campbell said, his “region has not been immune from natural disaster and we can appreciate firsthand what these communities are feeling.”
Local Government New South Wales has worked with the NSW Office of Emergency Management, Minister for Local Government and City of Sydney to create the Local Government Bushfire Recovery Support Group.
As LGNSW President and ALGA Vice-President Cr Linda Scott said, the group aims to ensure the most coordinated response ever seen between NSW State and Local Governments.
Actions by the Municipal Association of Victoria include working with three State Government committees to help coordinate recovery and relief and emergency management, and joining teleconferences to convey councils’ concerns, including about animal welfare.
MAV is also working with a company so MAV’s Crisisworks software can this week begin managing offers of support and resources between councils.
I encourage your council to help if you can, for example by a financial donation, and through your local government association to see what in-kind support you can provide.
We’ll need to work together to get through this national disaster.