Responding to the bushfires – critical role of local government

by | Jan 10, 2020

Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the regional communities affected by the bushfires

As we return to work this week, communities in regional Australia are grappling with the devastation caused by the recent bushfires. For some, the threat to life and property continues. There is no doubt the scale and impact of this disaster is unprecedented. Here at Locale, our team is deeply grateful for the extraordinary efforts of emergency services personnel, council staff and elected councillors who have shown such dedication to their communities during the ongoing emergency.

It has also made us reflect on the critical role that local government plays in this time of crisis. Often behind the scenes, but at the coalface of the response, local councils and their dedicated staff and elected officials are working tirelessly for their communities whilst at the same time often being personally affected by the losses around them.

Impact on regional areas

As a business that operates in regional NSW, whose core focus is serving the needs of regional communities and local councils, it has been heartbreaking to see the devastation in so many places. Not only have lives and properties been lost, but huge swathes of wilderness, flora, fauna and livestock have been destroyed.

In the Clarence Valley Council local government area, over 50% of the area has been affected by the fires since July 2019  

In the Shoalhaven City Council local government area, as at the 5 January 2020, it has been reported in social media that 95% of the national parks, state forests and undeveloped crown land have been lost (note: figure unverified)

In the wake of the fires, many local councils on the South Coast remain closed whilst the focus is on restoring essential infrastructure and services. In the height of the tourism season, many businesses in these regional areas are facing huge losses and an uncertain future. The full social, environmental and economic impact of this disaster will not be known for some time.

Critical role of local government in response and recovery

Whilst the extent of loss is almost unfathomable, the response of our communities has been phenomenal. At the heart of this response is local government. We wanted to pay tribute to some of inspiring stories we have heard and seen in recent months of the many ways in which local councils play a leading role:

 Manpower – in a time of crisis, the human resources of local councils becomes critical in any response. Many know the land and communities intimately and a large number are core volunteers for the RFS. Council staff are redeployed from their usual roles to ones in emergency response centres or to the frontline to assess the damage to buildings and wildlife from the fires. Elected representatives step up to the plate to lead their communities.

 Community facilities – we have seen many images of communities coming together at evacuation centres which are set up at the local showground, community hall or recreational centre. These facilities become the hub and focal point for communities and this critically important use can easily be forgotten when these needs are not so apparent. 

 Dissemination of information – lin a time of emergency many residents and visitors turn to local government to look for accurate and reliable information. This includes social media channels and websites. Local councils play a pivotal role in getting information out both during and after the bushfires. 

/   Machinery to fight fires – the threat of bush fires remains for many communities including farms and properties around NSW. In many places, councils have provided machinery to others to help fight blazes, assist in back burning and shore up containment lines.

 Essential infrastructure and services – many regional councils are responsible for local water supply and managing the associated impacts from the bushfires including ash and contamination in our water supply. The communication of councils with their residents and visitors about any potential safety issues and issuing boiling water notices is critical to maintaining our public health.

/   Waste disposal – some councils have offered free dumping in the lead up to the fires, so that people can remove fire prone material around their homes and properties as a preventative measure. In the clean up following the fires, councils will be responsible for safe disposal of the waste.

At a regional level, councils are coming together to work together in the recovery process. On the South coast a Regional Recovery Committee has been formed with six affected councils including Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Shoalhaven, Snowy Monaro, Snowy Valleys and Queanbeyan-Palerang Councils. This Committee will be working closely with the State Government in co-ordinating the response.

On a broader level, we have also seen local councils coming together to help each other – with councils not affected by the bushfires teaming up with those that haven’t to pool resources and share the load. The Office of Local Government (OLG) has agreed to be the State coordinating agency between affected local councils seeking assistance and councils who have the capacity to assist. The OLG has teamed up with the City of Sydney, Sydney Resilience Office and Local Government NSW to provide a disaster recovery council resource co-ordination service to assist councils impacted by the bushfire crisis.

Ways to help

Like many people across the world, we are wanting to help our communities right now and wondering how best to do this. In these circumstances, money is often the best option so that those organisations tasked with the rebuilding and recovery efforts are able to immediately help without the fear of not being viable to do so. Here is a comprehensive list of different ways that you can contribute.

Other campaigns are starting to spring up with a specific focus on helping regional areas such as the #spendwiththem campaign launched by Turia Pitt who lives on the South coast. This campaign aims to support regional businesses impacted by the fires by providing a platform to buy directly from those businesses. 

Another campaign which has been running some time is #buyfromthebush which provides a way to support communities in drought.

As a team, we again express our sincere thanks to those that have been on the front line and behind the scenes. We know the communities we work with have a long and difficult path of recovery ahead and wish to assure you that we will be there with you on that journey. 

Emma Broomfield 

Director – Legal, Governance and Mediation

T     0421 180 881

E     emma@localeconsulting.com.au 

Steve Thompson Director Planning and Strategy
Steve Thompson 

Director – Planning and Strategy

T     0419 700 401

E     steve@localeconsulting.com.au

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