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Communities anxious over royal commission report

Emily Bourke reported this story on Monday, August 17, 2009 12:38:00

ELEANOR HALL: The royal commission into Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires is preparing to hand
down its interim report later today.

The Victorian Premier is promising swift action but says many of the commission's recommendations
will overlap with measures that his Government has already taken in preparation for the next fire
season. The Government though has ruled out introducing a mass evacuation procedure, despite
suggestions that the commission is likely to be critical of the stay-or-go policy.

In Melbourne, Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: The royal commission's interim report into the Black Saturday fires is expected to
run into the hundreds of pages. For those affected by the February 7th blazes, there are high hopes
that the report will deliver strong recommendations that will protect communities and lives.

LYN GUNTER: The feeling that I am picking up from the community is definitely some wanting to know
what these outcomes are going to be. A bit of anxiousness about the coming fire season in relation
to what the report is going to have in it.

EMILY BOURKE: Lyn Gunter is the Mayor of Murrindindi Shire.

LYN GUNTER: And there is certainly a hope that the report is going to cover some of the issues that
they have highlighted which is, you know, warning systems, communications and contacts being able
to get through to the 000 number.

EMILY BOURKE: The Victorian Premier John Brumby says while the stay-or-go policy needs tweaking,
introducing a widespread evacuation procedure is unrealistic.

JOHN BRUMBY: And that is because we have got more than a million Victorians who live in these
areas. So whether it is Macedon or the Otways or the Dandenongs or Kinglake, all of that area, that
is a lot of people and it is just not practicable to imagine that you can evacuate them all on one
night so we will look to what the commission says in that area but I think we need to get
stay-or-go right.

EMILY BOURKE: With the fire season just around the corner, Premier Brumby has also pointed to
changes his Government has already made.

JOHN BRUMBY: And whether that is the new building codes that have been put in place, whether it is
the new money for communications, whether it is the additional money for the CFA, whether it is the
additional DSE employment, we have taken a whole raft of decisions which are about making the state
fire ready and fire safe.

EMILY BOURKE: It is not known whether the report will make any adverse findings against the head of
the CFA Russell Rees who has been criticised for his handling of the fires.

During the commission hearings much has been made of the apparent reluctance to criticise the CFA
for fear of demoralising the volunteers who give up their time to fight fires.

While the CFA is not officially speaking publicly before the release of the report this afternoon,
one CFA captain John Schauble spoke to local radio in Melbourne this morning and he said the
volunteers shouldn't escape scrutiny.

JOHN SCHAUBLE: We all make decisions and sometimes we make mistakes so just because you have the
name volunteer around you, doesn't automatically sanctify every action you take.

EMILY BOURKE: But whatever the commission's findings, he fears complacency over fire safety may
creep into communities.

JOHN SCHAUBLE: Whether it is going to change now because every couple of years we have a serious
bushfire season and people are going to pay more attention I don't know but don't underestimate the
capacity of people to become complacent.

EMILY BOURKE: For those who survived the fires and are continuing to put their homes and
communities back together, there's some welcome news today from the Federal Government.

The Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry says sweeping changes to the charitable tax laws will make more
assistance money available.

NICK SHERRY: The fund can provide for long-term assistance to orphaned minors without the need for
annual assessments of their health; providing reimbursements for individuals or organisations for
performing charitable activities. Discretionary payments of up to $15,000 to assist households for
the period in which they were in or are in transitional housing.

EMILY BOURKE: Farmers will also be eligible for some extra funds.

NICK SHERRY: Primary producers, a grant of up to $10,000 for repair and restoration of farm
activities including re-fencing and importantly for farmers, they often use the legal structure of
a trust and that has been a particular legal problem and we are establishing what is called a "look
through" provision so if a family has a farm in the trust, they will be covered as well

ELEANOR HALL: That is the Federal Assistant Treasurer, Nick Sherry ending that report from Emily
Bourke in Melbourne.