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The community needed immediate assurance that decisive action was taking place towards the restoration of homes, businesses and important community infrastructure. Decisions were made at the highest level to bring rapid restoration of essential services such as electricity and telephones, visible relief through the contracted clean-up and a sense of stability for families through the temporary school rebuild. Together, this enabled people to feel confident that the big ticket items were being taken care of, so they could get on with the task of rebuilding their lives.
The speed with which power and telecommunications were restored to the Sorell/Tasman area following the fires was noted and appreciated by most people. Aside from the obvious convenience factor, many people identified this, along with the re-establishment of the Dunalley Primary School, as a significant morale booster in the days immediately following the emergency.
The review identified that most people regarded the Hazell Bros and DIER-managed clean-up as a key success story in the 2013 recovery efforts. The decision to contract a single company ensured that the clean-up progressed in a coordinated and safe way so that individuals and families could get on with the task of rebuilding. While there were some criticisms, mainly regarding property rehabilitation, householders in general were extremely grateful for the clean-up assistance and its speedy arrival.
It is recognised that the rapid deployment of clean-up contractors comes at some cost (particularly in the early periods) to the ability to coordinate consent from insurers and land owners, and efficiently direct resources. Some stakeholders expressed the view that further time would have been useful prior to the commencement of the program. This should, however, be carefully weighed against the significant benefits to community confidence and reassurance associated with early and decisive recovery action from government.
A clear message throughout the entire process was the importance of the affected communities to know that their local contractors and suppliers would be incorporated into the process. While this was the intention, and local businesses were utilised wherever possible, the lack of initial communication of this caused some concern. This highlights the need for clear communication and regular progress updates on who was doing what.
The review highlighted that most people were pleased with the resurvey work that was provided at no cost to them. Some people thought that the program could have been coordinated earlier, to allow them to get back on with the task of rebuilding sooner. Feedback suggests that the parameters for the resurvey work, in terms of block size and settlement area, were provided but the messages about the scope of the program could have been communicated more clearly so property owners knew whether or not they could access the service. Other property owners, who contracted the work privately before the program was announced, were thankful to be reimbursed.
Collaboration between government and industry contributed to the Building Back Better Guide, which recently won a ‘Commendation in the Best Planning Ideas’ from the Planning Industry Association of Tasmania, which recognised the benefit of having comprehensive advice in such a format.
The Building Expo, attended by many of those who had lost homes and shacks in the fires, is another example of good collaboration between government and industry following the fires. In particular, it assisted many fire-affected home owners to make contact with the relevant organisations and individuals who were then able to provide ongoing help with their building activities.
The speedy establishment and opening of the temporary Dunalley Primary School was widely recognised as being a boost for the morale of the whole community, and it has served its intended purpose very well. For the reestablishment of permanent infrastructure, the community has been very vocal about the benefits of a more thorough, consultative approach. Proposals, consultation and integration of community-led infrastructure projects through the Community Assistance Grants program added another layer to the restoration of the settlements.
As with any community, there were differing views on how best to rebuild community infrastructure, such as the community hall and school. Some people and community groups thought they should just “get on with it”, whereas others wanted more time to plan, understand and contribute to the process. These varied views are difficult to reconcile and indicate the need for high levels of community engagement and coordination between recovery organisations, community groups and local government.
It is important to recognise that normal methods for consultation and established timeframes need to be adjusted during difficult times. With more than 500 submissions in response to the selection of community projects, this indicates that the consultation undertaken was important to the community. It was particularly important to ensure funding distributions were aligned with the recovery priorities identified by the people who live and spend time in the fire-affected areas.
Local governments have enormous technical and project expertise and links into the community which must be harnessed by the recovery effort from the outset. A number of initiatives involving community consultation and implementation of projects may have benefited from more effective coordination of these various elements. Concern was expressed by community members that all of the consultation was at times somewhat bewildering, which suggest that there was room for greater streamlining of planning and consultation on significant projects and initiatives.