New Vic agency to help disaster survivors

By Callum Godde
Victoria is setting up a new unit to streamline and coordinate aid to people impacted by disasters. (AAP)

A dedicated emergency recovery unit will be established to help Victorians get back on their feet after disasters such as the black summer bushfires.

The Victorian government has agreed to establish the entity after it was recommended by an Inspector-General for Emergency Management inquiry into the 2019/2020 fire season.

It was the state's most severe and destructive fire season for more than a decade, with five people killed, 458 primary and non-primary residences destroyed or damaged and more than 1.5 million hectares burnt.

A 480-page report, tabled in state parliament on Thursday, is the second from the IGEM inquiry, and identifies multiple shortcomings in the crisis response.

It found a lack of information sharing between relief and recovery organisations, which forced community members to re-tell their stories and compile various forms of evidence to demonstrate impacts and navigate systems.

Organisations were aware of the issue, including the distress, frustration and delays it caused, but there were legal issues with sharing information, the report noted.

Community members spoke of their frustration in completing complex application forms, continually having to prove losses and not receiving timely responses.

"It's the worst written form I've ever seen in my life and the way it's administered is just appalling," one said.

The IGEM described the application and eligibility requirements for funding grants as "inflexible, onerous, confusing and distressing for affected individuals".

In addition, an influx of food donations led to waste and showed the need for a "concerted communications campaign" to discourage random donation of foodstuffs and other goods.

One person told the inquiry how they were getting donations of firelighters and barbecue beads.

"I think in that respect, it would be much better if we could get the community to centralise donations, to sort them and send them that way," the person told the report.

"Because if it is like that, the community's just going to do what they want to do, and they take the most inappropriate things to people."

Scores of Victorians also donated their time and services during and after the disaster, but there was no system or defined lead agency to co-ordinate spontaneous volunteers.

The IGEM has made a further 15 recommendations to improve Victoria's relief and recovery arrangements, on top of the 17 in its phase one report.

The Victorian government supports the recommendations, including creating a permanent and dedicated recovery management entity for all emergencies.

In the interim, Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes said Bushfire Recovery Victoria would continue to play a similar role to support recovery of communities over the coming extreme weather season.


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