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Innes proclaimed “no-one can go against the advice Rural Fire Service” yet Council did

The Beagle Editor,

Congratulations for printing Nick Hopkins moving letter to the Prime Minister following destruction of his house at Malua Bay in Eurobodalla Shire during the recent disastrous bushfires. It wasn’t only national political inertia and intransigence that played a role in Nick’s tragedy, there were numerous contributory local governance issues as well.

Despite widespread community support and a series of eloquent speakers (including the amazing 11 year old school student Kaeleigh Peard), Eurobodalla Shire Council refused to pass a motion to declare a climate emergency on 13 August 2019, instead passing a motion noting that the weather is “variable and changing”.

Eurobodalla Council’s long running efforts to water down zoning and subdivision restrictions on large tracts of extremely hazardous bushfire prone lands against the express objections of the Rural Fire Service were rewarded on 11 October 2019 when NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes signed off the Eurobodalla Rural Lands Local Environment Plan, a decision at odds with the option recommended by his own Department of Planning.

Large areas of these rezoned bushfire prone lands were ravaged by the fires beginning on 31st December 2019. In the midst of this disaster period, when interviewed on national radio the Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes proclaimed “no-one can go against the advice Rural Fire Service”, which is completely at odds with her Council’s conduct over the previous 4 years regarding hazardous bushfire prone land rezonings. The Eurobodalla Mayor also found time to apologise for the frosty reception given to Scott Morrison by residents of Cobargo, despite the fact that Cobargo is not located in her LGA, but she ignored the nationally-televised, less than complimentary comments of Nelligen RFS fire fighters towards Scott Morrison, which occurred in her own LGA within a few kilometres of her home.

Inspection of the Eurobodalla Council’s current strategic disaster planning documents discloses a litany of outdated materials, many well beyond their statutory renewal periods or only “cosmetically” updated. The current Fire Management Plan was dated 2011, and should have been updated by September 2016, or earlier if circumstances warranted, such as our current worst-ever drought. The communication component of this plan has no mention of Fires Near Me or Live Traffic, which were both invaluable during the recent emergency, and is oblivious to the existence of social media. Eurobodalla’s statutory responsibility to update bush-fire prone land mapping across the shire has also been neglected, with this project stalled for the last 4 years, meaning it could be conveniently ignored in the rezoning deliberations. In contrast, neighbouring Shoalhaven City and Bega Valley Shire Bush Fire Risk Management Plans were both renewed in 2018, and acknowledge the existence of social media.

Eurobodalla Shire Council’s refusal to countenance a climate emergency, its flawed planning decisions and the woeful state of its strategic emergency planning documents cannot be ignored when assessing where things can be improved as we come to grips with the 21st century realities now confronting us. Willful blindness and “business as usual” myopia are spread through all layers of government, be they national, state or local. Communities expect their elected representatives to serve the greater public interest, and must hold them to account when they fail to discharge this obligation. Name and address supplied

Above: Willful blindness and “business as usual” myopia are spread through all layers of government, be they national, state or local.

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