ALP slams bushfire buyback exclusions

Jacinta Allan.THE state government’s bushfire land buyback scheme has been criticised for being ”too narrow” because it does not apply to some high-fire-risk areas such as Cockatoo and the Otways that were not hit by bushfires in 2009.
Nanjing Night Net

More than 500 properties destroyed by the 2009 fires are expected to be eligible for the voluntary scheme, for which the government has made available $50 million.

But Labor frontbencher Jacinta Allan slammed the program, saying it exposed as ”a sham” the government’s commitment to implement all 67 recommendations from the Bushfires Royal Commission.

”This Baillieu government scheme is for people affected by the 2009 bushfires only,” she said. ”It has no regard for people who live in high-fire-risk areas in other parts of Victoria and the [ commission] recommendation was to implement this policy in high-fire-risk areas.”

The buyback plan excludes high-fire-risk areas such as Cockatoo, Mount Macedon, and the Otways, devastated in previous bushfires, she said.

Ms Allan said the scheme did not give any detail on what would happen to land acquired under the buyback. ”Who will manage it to keep the fire risk down? If DSE [Department of Sustainability and Environment] is to be responsible, what additional resources will they be given and when?”

Recommendation 46 of the Bushfires Royal Commission final report urged the state to ”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”.

In a discussion of ”high-risk areas” attached to the recommendation, the commission said the government should consider a range of factors including ”giving priority to acquiring land that is in an area of unacceptably high bushfire risk and on which dwellings were damaged or destroyed by the 2009 bushfires”.

When asked yesterday why the buyback did not apply to high-fire-risk areas that did not burn in 2009, Bushfire Response Minister Peter Ryan said: ”When you have regard to the provisions of recommendation 46, this scheme is appropriate.”

Mr Ryan said the rules of the buyback were ”not set in stone” and the $50 million would be increased if needed. He also denied the buyback rules were too stringent, adding that people whose houses were destroyed in 2009 and had since built in a different location could still qualify for the buyback on their burnt property.

Mr Ryan said if acquired land was left vacant it would have a ”minimal” impact on country communities. Acquired land left in public hands would have to be maintained by the DSE to an ”appropriate standard” to minimise bushfire risk, he said.

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