Wimmera calls for roadblock flexibility after bushfires

THE State Opposition has called for a parliamentary inquiry into bushfire roadblocks.

In parliament on Thursday, Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Wade Noonan called for bi-partisan support to establish an inquiry to review how the system of roadblocks could be improved before the next fire season.

“Recent fires, including theMickleham-Kilmore fires and the Grampians fires, have again demonstrated some problems with road closures, particularly in the days following those fires,” he said.

“There were reports of desperate farmers being unable to access their properties to feed or destroy starving and injured livestock.

“Some of those who stayed to defend their properties were driving up to roadblocks to receive basics such as food, fuel for generators and clean water from family members on the other side of the roadblocks.

“There is a concern that roadblocks can unnecessarily prevent bushfire victims from saving what little livelihood they have left.”

'Less effective'

Member for Lowan Hugh Delahunty told the Mail-Times a parliamentary inquiry would be less effective than reviews by the state’s emergency service leaders.

“The fire commissioner and chief commissioner of police assess, with other agencies, all major fires,” he said.

“Parliamentarians can have an input into that review.”

He felt a parliamentary inquiry would take too long.

“At the end of the day, we need people with expertise looking into these things,” he said.

“The police chief commissioner and fire commissioner have much more expertise in this area than parliamentarians.” 

Brimpaen farmer, Country Fire Authority member and Horsham Mayor David Grimble supported the idea of a parliamentary inquiry.

“It would be a good start,” he said.

Cr Grimble said legislation and traffic management procedures would have to change before police could offer fire-affected people the flexibility they had been demanding. 

“Police are only abiding by the parameters they are bound to,” he said.

“There is no opportunity for flexibility.

"If people want more flexibility on traffic management points, there has to be a way to remove liability from the police at traffic management points.”

Cr Grimble said there were valid reasons why people with pecuniary interests should be allowed to return to their properties.

“They have certain rights, and the system needs to look at how it might manage them,” he said.

He said some were emotional and others practical.

“A lot of houses are lost after the head of a fire has gone through,” he said.

Cr Grimble said allowing property owners in fire-affected areas to return as soon as safely possible could reduce the likelihood of rogue, lingering embers burning structures that survived the initial inferno.

He has been analysing access protocols to fire-affected areas for many years.

“It should be under continual evaluation,” he said.

“It is complex and there are no solutions that fit every situation.”

Improvement needed

Fellow Brimpaen farmer Ivan Smith said the system was better than it had been, but still needed improvement.

“If we keep working on it, we’ll get it right,” he said.

He said there were some instances during the Grampians bushfires when property owners, private fire-fighting appliances and authorities had been held up at traffic management points for long periods.

“One fireman had been fighting the fires and got the message it was coming to his place,” he said.

“They stopped him at a roadblock and didn’t want him getting through, even though he had all his gear on.”

But Mr Smith said the man had a profoundly positive impact on the fire situation once he gained access to the area.

“He saved his house, his family and played a big part in notifying neighbours the fire was coming,” he said.

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