Local pollies respond to your bushfire concerns

WHAT A DAY: 'Unprecedented' fire activity gripped parts of NSW on Friday, November 8 2019. Photo: Richscape Photography.
WHAT A DAY: 'Unprecedented' fire activity gripped parts of NSW on Friday, November 8 2019. Photo: Richscape Photography.

As the prime minister Scott Morrison continues to cop flak for his handling of the bushfire crisis, state and federal local politicians have weighed into the conversation.

The Port News spoke to bushfire-affected residents in a number of local communities. Those residents expressed a range of concerns around the handling of bushfires - including the efficacy of the emergency warning system, mobile phone and internet blackspots, hazard reduction restrictions, Rural Fire Service funding and deficiencies in the general bushfire recovery effort.

Fire management comes under the jurisdiction of the state government however given the scale and magnitude of the bushfires over the last two months the federal government also has a role to play.

Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie said the federal government was "determined" to get to the bottom of landholder concerns around hazard reduction.

Dr Gillespie said residents should make a submission to the inquiry. Submissions can be sent to environment.reps@aph.gov.au and close on February 28 this year.

He said the federal government's payment to volunteer firefighters which was announced late December after significant public pressure was "welcome".

"The call on these volunteers has been prolonged and you can only support your family for so long without going back to work," Dr Gillespie said.

Cowper MP Pat Conaghan echoed Dr Gillespie's comments around hazard reduction.

" Whether that is a result of changing environmental conditions or a failure of agencies and policies to address proper land management and clearing will be part of our inquiry," Mr Conaghan said.

"It is important to conduct the inquiry calmly, rationally and with open minds, so we may develop a national strategy for Australia to prevent similar large scale events in the future."

Mr Conaghan said the "government's immediate focus has been supporting the Rural Fire Service and state governments to combat the bushfires and help communities recover".

"We have now established the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to be headed up by the former AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin.

"This two year, two billion dollar commitment, will help those Australians affected by these fires get back on their feet as soon as possible. In addition, our government has announced that up to 3000 army reservists are available for compulsory call-up for disaster relief."

Melinda Pavey. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick

Melinda Pavey. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick

State member for Oxley Melinda Pavey said the fires were the result of a "combination of factors, not singular things such as hazard reduction, RFS resourcing or climate change".

"We are clearly experiencing a major drought - the region's rainfall in 2019 has been around just one-third of average - and with a reduced ability to conduct fuel-reduction burns in the dry conditions of last year and 2018, high fuel loads of highly flammable eucalypt debris have developed in the forest estate and across the landscape, including residential areas," she said.

"On top of this, a persistently dry weather pattern, pre-frontal westerly airstreams, lightning strikes and arsonists all led to fire intensity and extent this summer being extreme."

Ms Pavey commended the NSW Rural Fire Service for an "enormous, remarkable and unforgettable job in the face of an extreme event over an extended time".

"Locally, the RFS fire control centres at Wauchope and Kempsey have very experienced senior officers and they have the budgets and authority to co-opt staff, resources and equipment from other agencies, such as NP&WS and Forestry Corporation, and private contractors as required," she said.

Ms Pavey said in due course there would be "reviews of the resource and response arrangements and the fire mitigation and management processes, to ensure we continue to have the best system available."

She acknowledged frustrations around mobile/internet connectivity which may affect how people are able to receive emergency warnings but said the state and federal governments were working together on a massive "multi-million dollar expansion of the mobile phone tower network across NSW".

"So far, 166 of 183 mobile base stations have been built under this joint program, and the NSW government is funding an additional 21 sites directly," Ms Pavey said.

NSW Emergency Services minister David Elliot said the NSW RFS would receive a record $541 million in the 2019/20 budget, "an increase of 12.9 per cent from funding announced in the 2018-19 budget".

Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams was contacted for comment for this article.

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