Storm Recovery

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:04): (414) My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services. It has been seven days since a devastating storm ripped a path of destruction through the town of Mirboo North and environs. Homes and community and sporting infrastructure were decimated by debris and fallen trees. Minister, when will your government roll out a comprehensive clean-up package for this natural disaster?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:05): I thank Ms Bath for her question and indeed her care, concern and action in supporting her community at a time of devastation. Much of Victoria was impacted by ferocious weather last week, whether it was fire out in the Grampians area or indeed storms that hit suburbs and country areas and caused the devastation that Ms Bath has alluded to. As we know, when you are confronted with emergencies there is an emergency response, and I want to thank all of our volunteers and personnel who responded on the day. That response is still active. As we transition into more of the relief and the recovery, foremost in terms of recovery from storms is obviously clean-up – clean-up of roadsides, clean-up of parks, clean-up of homes. There are a variety of streams that will be activated, Ms Bath, and I will be very, very happy to brief
you personally throughout the week as they come online. We have Parks Victoria and FFM Vic out there clearing now. I hate to say what is first and what is not, because there are lots of different
streams – everything is a priority – but ensuring you can clear roads so that essential services could get in, whether it is water, whether it is food, whether it is access for people to repair powerlines and the like, is what we have been focused on.  Immediately as the fires hit in that region, and the storms, we registered the disasters with the federal government, as you would appreciate. Unfortunately, we are all quite familiar with the processes these days because they happen so regularly. We have sought agreement for joint funding arrangements for clean-up. Emergency Recovery Victoria were on the ground in Mirboo North and the region on the weekend, scoping out opportunities for local sorting facilities, because a lot of the waste that we will be dealing with is green waste. I would also caveat that when you are dealing with properties that have suffered significant damage there are safety concerns in relation to asbestos removal and the like, so
the term ‘clean-up’ is a very broad term that will be led by both me and Minister Dimopoulos in terms of his responsibilities and my responsibilities, obviously, that are coordinated by ERV in relation to supporting homes and councils – and I would probably add the issue for councils who are predominantly responsible very regularly for waste disposal is that we know that if they have not already, they are very close to capping out in relation to their capacity – and then obviously parks, tourism. Everybody is focused on this, Ms Bath, and as more and more details of the streams, programs and supports become available they will be communicated to the community, and I will personally communicate them to you.

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:08): I thank the minister for her response. The community, as you have rightly said, has rallied most magnificently. We have seen organised and spontaneous volunteers on the ground since day one and hour one. We also know that timber harvesters are ready and available to do the work. Fallen trees are a public safety and also, in the long term, bushfire hazard. Locals understand that the timber there on the ground, on homes and on infrastructure can have value – sawlog value or chip value or firewood value for the community. So as part of that emergency recovery, will your government commit to utilising that resource for community benefit?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:09): Thank you, Ms Bath. These are really good issues that you have raised. These were topics that were discussed by the committee of cabinet last night that deals with emergencies. A head contractor will soon be appointed. Head contractors have responsibilities to engage with local contractors. I am very aware of people in your region that are well skilled – arborists and people that are familiar with the milling of timber and the like. The experience from the 2021 storms was that a lot of the material can be turned into fence posts, firewood and the like and be made available for the community. My approach and the government’s approach always in recovery is community-led recovery, so we will work closely with the South Gippsland council, who have been amazing, and also other locals that come to hand. Anyone that you have got that you want to connect to Emergency Recovery Victoria, please send it through, because we want this to be a community-led response and involve everyone who is happy to help