Bushfire risks won’t stop rebuild

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Victorian Premier John Brumby is standing by his decision to allow bushfire victims to rebuild in high fire risk zones, despite the Bushfires Royal Commission recommending the government substantially restrict development in the highest risk areas.

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Mr Brumby said he took the view after the 2009 fires it was not appropriate for the government to stop people from rebuilding their homes in the bushfire zones and he still did not want to be in the business of telling country towns they had to shut up shop.

“If people wanted to go back into those areas that were their communities and their homes and rebuild, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me or the government to say `no, no, you can’t go back into those areas’,” Mr Brumby told Fairfax Radio.

“We’ve got hundreds of thousands of Victorians who live in beautiful areas of our state, but they’ve got lots of trees near them and around them, and I don’t want to be in the business of telling country towns and country communities that we’re going to close you up.”

The royal commission report on Saturday recommended the government offer to buy back blocks in high bushfire risk areas and amend planning provisions to substantially restrict development in these areas.

But Mr Brumby said the buyback recommendation, as well as the commission’s recommendations to bury aging powerlines underground and to replace the Fire Services Levy with a new household tax, would need more time and discussion before the government decided whether to accept them.

He said the state spent about $1 billion a year on fire protection, with just over $500 million coming from the Fire Services Levy and the rest coming from consolidated revenue.

The commission’s recommendation for a new household tax would not affect how much was spent on fire fighting, but just how the money was raised.

“It won’t affect our fire fighting effort, it’s not about money, it’s not about cost,” Mr Brumby said.

“They’ve made a recommendation about how to raise money, in a sense, it’s not about the quantum, it’s about how to do it, but I think the community needs to have a bit of a discussion about that.”

Meanwhile, Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said the government had an obligation to consult with the community and emergency services agencies on the commission’s recommendations.

“I think just to accept all of these things without taking into account all of the various views is not the way governments have operated and not the way governments should operate,” Mr Cameron told ABC Radio on Monday.

“Some of these things will have very, very large costs, but what we’ve said is that we will be making a decision.

“Some of them will be tough decisions but we’ve got to do this, because this is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right.”