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The importance of community involvement at every level and every stage is imperative to help shape the recovery activities that address each community’s unique priorities. Local leadership, enhanced and supported through central resourcing and coordination, ensures that local governments can provide the best recovery outcomes in their affected municipalities.
The Affected Area Recovery Committees (AARCs) were central to decision-making that affected communities. They provided the mechanism to ensure councils were plugged firmly into both central operations and the community. The genuine involvement of all involved in the AARCs has enabled a smooth transition to long-term recovery, a process that began as soon as the emergency was over.
A more complete description of achievements and learnings regarding the AARCs is provided in the Framework for Recovery section.
Feedback shows that the hubs were considered to be comfortable and accessible centres, providing value to the community beyond just being a place to retrieve information or access services. The hubs were a connection point where community members felt listened to and given individual attention; the informal approach being a good example of the value of minimising bureaucracy. Community members appreciated the ‘human’ touches, and people who would normally be reluctant to contact government with their concerns felt comfortable accessing the hubs. Where appropriate, concerns raised were elevated, sometimes resulting in amended decisions regarding funding or service provision.
The co-location of a range of key services was also greatly appreciated to both keep people informed and provide a way for them to feed back their experience. The value of the close links of this local presence with access to central decision-makers was appreciated by many members of the community.
The rollout of the community assistance grants process garnered a mixed response from the community. Many who lost homes or had significant property damage did not feel ready or able to make a valuable contribution to the process. Others felt that the process enabled those indirectly affected to contribute energy and time and take the burden from those who were busy with their personal rebuilding projects. Further to this, there was significant external pressure for early and visible activation of recovery projects to promote feelings of hope and renewal within the community.
For the Central Highlands, announcement of funding for the three projects followed reasonably closely after approval processes were completed within Central Highlands Council. This was well received by the community and progress was underway shortly after the formalities had been attended to. For the Sorell/Tasman area, the response required a flexible, phased approach to provide a balance between community readiness with activity. Smaller projects were initially funded and the community workshops, consultations and stories of progress helped to promote the process for the larger, final rounds, which included all of the significant infrastructure projects.
Owing to concern regarding people’s readiness to engage in the process, the decision was made to revise timelines entirely. This meant that while some large infrastructure project submissions were received in the second funding round, consultation and decisions were delayed until the final round in order to provide the community maximum time for consideration of the projects.
Additional consultations, including ‘walk and talk’ style gatherings, were held by the council and design consultants to demonstrate how the plans might look and feel if they were developed. Feedback shows that the extension of time was appreciated both by the community and councils.
Community workshops were an important way for community members to discuss their project ideas and test concepts before providing full proposals. Communities valued the targeted approach, with a total of 12 workshops held for particular locations or themed in such a way that discussions could be concentrated on specific community needs.
Community feedback was an important part of the grant process and the consultation aimed to capture views from as many community members as possible to ensure that funding recommendations were actually addressing the priorities and desires identified by the affected communities. The level of interest in the community projects was demonstrated by a strong response (over 500 responses) to the feedback process.
An online survey tool was used to collate responses. It collected sufficient personal information to confirm that the range of individual responses received for the projects was representative of the community in terms of age and geographic spread. This gave Sorrel Tasman Affected Area Committee (STAARC) confidence when making recommendations that they had indeed canvassed the community to an appropriate degree for each round, but particularly important for the final round, which saw the distribution of the bulk of funding on infrastructure projects that will have significant long-term effect on the communities.
Some of the larger projects will take time to complete and STAARC is well placed to oversee their completion once the Bushfire Recovery Unit is wound up. Through STAARC, local governments and community representatives have been included throughout the entire funding process, making this an easy transition and allowing communities to fully own the process.