Bushfire-hit councils want more funding

Megan Neil
Some councils want emergency bushfire management restructured and led by a state government agency

The states should have prime responsibility for emergency management and its funding, one of the local councils hit hard by the unprecedented 2019-20 bushfires says.

While local governments want to retain a key role, NSW's Eurobodalla Shire Council wants emergency management restructured so bushfire recovery at the local level is led by a state government agency.

"The prime responsibility for emergency management in NSW should rest with the NSW government, rather than local government or the Commonwealth government," the council said in a submission to the bushfires royal commission.

"Financially these services should be a state government responsibility."

The submission suggested the role of lead agency for bushfire recovery at the local level should be shifted from councils to the state government, through its new disaster agency Resilience NSW.

It also suggested the NSW government take over ownership of Rural Fire Service and State Emergency Service assets and full responsibility for funding state emergency response agencies.

But the Eurobodalla council would oppose moves to regionalise emergency management or remove decision making from local personnel closest to the frontline.

Almost 80 per cent of Eurobodalla shire, on the NSW south coast, was directly impacted by the bushfires.

Towong Shire Council, which had a third of its land area in far northeastern Victoria burnt, said the scale of the bushfires was always going to overwhelm the small rural council.

"A key conclusion is that the weight of responsibilities in the 2019-20 Upper Murray bushfires rested far too heavily on the shoulders of the smallest rural council in Victoria," its royal commission submission said.

Richmond Valley Council, in northeastern NSW, said communities impacted by the unprecedented bushfires faced a long and arduous recovery.

The council, which said almost half of the Richmond Valley area was heavily impacted by bushfires, argued local government was best placed to lead the community in its recovery.

But it said funding models need to be reviewed, as the current level of financial support required for emergency services was unsustainable in the longer term.

"Funding from state and federal governments is required as the resource burden will be felt by local government for a number of years," the Richmond Valley Council submission said.

Rural Councils Victoria said the bushfires demonstrated the state-level emergency management framework had a one-size-fits-all model and not all councils had the capacity to meet the staffing and resourcing levels it presumed.

RCV said local councils are best equipped to co-ordinate fire emergency responses due to their local knowledge and networks, but argued the state and federal governments must provide proper funding.

A three-day Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements hearing focusing on local government begins on Monday.