Support urgently needed for rebuilding after Black Summer fires

July 12, 2020
In Cobargo, Blaze Aid has helped but there is an urgent need for more reconstruction and delivery of vital aid. Photo: Sue Bull

During the Eden-Monaro byelection, I distributed a flyer from the Socialist Alliance at pre-poll booths in Narooma, Bega, Merimbula, Tumut, Yass and Queanbeyan calling for more government assistance for those still trying to rebuild their lives and livelihoods after the devastating Black Summer fires.

It said that beyond basic construction, there was an urgent need for a range of other measures including: the installation of insulation and double-glazed windows; solar renewable energy and smart batteries; for ecotourism through the coastal waterways, the beautiful escarpment and alpine country with a special focus on the region’s Indigenous history; more intra-regional transport links; and education and assistance to develop sustainable agriculture. It also urged teaching and learning about cultural fire management from Indigenous communities and an end to native forest logging in favour of sustainable pine saw milling.

I also visited Cobargo where I learned from the locals that federal funds in particular is flowing to rebuild farms but not the bushfire razed houses, of which there are still many. There is a backlog of clearing up from the bushfire and insurance companies are taking their time in finalising insurance claims. This, in turn, is holding up federal money for rebuilding homes in affected towns.

In the July 6 Canberra Times, Cobargo Hotel publican Dave Allen criticised the lack of overall coordination (in contrast to the army which, when it was sent in to help fight the fires, were very efficient also with its liaising).

As the “granular level” of detail is not being properly assessed, Allen said that many people were falling through the cracks. People are still living in caravans, under tarpaulins, without proper toilets and showers. And in winter, this is a major concern for vulnerable elderly people, some of whom do not have access to water, other than by coming into town to fill water tanks/

Billionaire Andrew Forrest has provided some 10 self-contained “recovery pods”, with a 100 still to arrive, but Allen said that up to eight times more are required.

A mining company in Western Australia has offered 200 unused “dongas” (transportable living units for mine workers), and Allen has asked NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro for help. Barilaro’s electorate of Monaro covers Cobargo. But Barilaro was not promising anything,

Allen is also concerned about people’s mental health and he thinks that counsellors should be visiting people living in remote farms who are largely “invisible”.

The ABC’s Four Corners program on July 6 featured people living in the village of Quaama, near Cobargo,living in caravans and other temporary housing, without running water and in the middle of winter. The volunteer effort by the federal and state-funded BlazeAid was helping, but much more was needed to take the pressure off.

As Allen said New South Wales and federal agencies need to better coordinate the rebuilding effort and to keep better tabs on people’s needs, both physical and mental. This might fall to the Bega Valley Shire Council that would need to obtain funding for more coordinator positions. Right now, there are many gaps which desperately need to be addressed.

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