The impact of the Black Summer bushfires in North East Victoria will be the focus of a Senate inquiry next week, with witnesses from hard-hit towns like Corryong and Walwa, the Alpine region, and the tourism and agriculture sectors.
Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines secured the dedicated hearing for North East Victoria to ensure the voices of affected communities are heard.
“This means the experiences of individuals from the Upper Murray and Alpine region will be listened to,” Dr Haines said. “Our region was hit hard by the Black Summer bushfires, and it’s vital that those experiences are properly reported to this committee.
“Towns and communities in the North East have also led the way in the recovery process, and the lessons from that will be vital for the future.”
The Senate Inquiry into Lessons to be Learned in Relation to the Australian Bushfire Season 2019-20 had originally scheduled a hearing in Wodonga, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions the virtual hearing will be held on Wednesday September 29.
Corryong Health, the Walwa Bush Nursing Hospital and Dr Rebecca McGowan will give evidence about the health impacts of the bushfires. The Corryong and Walwa Community Recovery Committees will also give evidence about the recovery projects in their towns.
North East Tourism and the Alpine Resorts Management will give evidence about the impact on tourism in the region, and the North East Wine Zone and HVP Plantations in Myrtleford will speak about the impact on the wine and timber industries.
Alpine Shire, Towong Shire and Indigo Shire, Wangaratta and Wodonga Councils are also witnesses.
Dr Haines said giving evidence to the committee would help improve the ongoing recovery efforts for these areas, as well as ensure better responses for future disasters all over the country.
“In our region, the major centres of Wodonga and Wangaratta played a vital role in the response effort by providing evacuation and relief services. Their experiences can inform our response and recovery for bushfire disasters in the future.”
“Canberra must listen and act on what the voices in those towns say. We have come a long way in bushfire recovery but there is more work to be done.”
This hearing will also give witnesses the chance to explain how the recovery efforts have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just as our communities were starting to look to the future after the fires, they were faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdowns and the resulting isolation and mental health issues, the struggle for businesses – it’s been hard across the country, but we were already on the back foot after the fires,” Dr Haines said.
“I am glad this is going to be covered by the Senate committee, it’s important these experiences are recorded.”
Securing the dedicated hearing for the North East builds on the work Dr Haines has already done for people in Indi impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.
This includes the almost $80 million that has been secured in bushfire grants for Indi since the Black Summer bushfires.
Dr Haines has worked hand in glove with local governments and community organisations, to secure over half of all funding under the Victorian Local Economic Recovery Program, totalling over $31.8 million, for 22 community-led projects to boost economic growth and bushfire recovery.
Dr Haines also fought to expand the $10,000 grants for bushfire-affected small businesses to Mansfield, Indigo and Wangaratta, with Indi small businesses receiving over $13 million under this program.
Dr Haines brought Agriculture and former Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud and Major General Andrew Hocking the former Deputy Coordinator for the Engagement and Operations Division National Bushfire Recovery Agency to visit bushfire-affected communities and later during the COVID lockdowns organised former head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency Andrew to visit Indi on a virtual tour.
These efforts have ensured bushfire-affected towns in the North-East have been better supported and will continue to be supported.