Discussion and conclusions

The Board commends the State, GDF Suez, the Latrobe City Council and other organisations for their significant efforts towards supporting relief and recovery in Morwell and the broader community. Latrobe City Council worked hard from the first week of the emergency to plan for and implement relief and recovery activities and to advocate for its community, particularly in relation to the scope of the clean up package.

The Board acknowledges that DHS developed tailored relief payments to meet the needs of the residents of Morwell, in particular residents who were advised to temporarily relocate. However, there was confusion about eligibility requirements regarding the respite and relocation payments and flaws in communication, which caused distress in the community. The relief payments created divisions in the local community that have impeded recovery. The Board recognises and supports the decision by DHS to review the Personal Hardship Assistance Program and Implementation Guidelines for consistency and clarity of purpose.97 The Victorian Government advised the Board that they intend to implement new technology for recording emergency assistance payments.98 The Board supports this proposal.

While acknowledging that clean up assistance has not previously been provided by the Victorian Government to households after floods and bushfires, the Board considers the self-clean package was inadequate to the scale of the cleaning task faced by community members. The clean up assistance package for Morwell was not announced until 18 March 2014, and there were further delays in implementing the assisted clean up package because Council could not let the cleaning contracts until after the package was formally announced. This diminished the usefulness of the package as many people had already made their own cleaning arrangements.

It is apparent from community consultations that the community was not clear about the source of decision-making and funding relevant to the clean up. The Board agrees with Latrobe City Council that improved systems of coordination and communication are required in emergencies of this extended and complex type, in relation to relief and recovery roles and responsibilities. It recognises that the formal changes to the governance of recovery activities through the Emergency Management Victoria reforms is a means to improving systems of coordination and communication.

The Victorian Government, through Regional Development Victoria, has provided considerable support and assistance for small businesses in Morwell affected by the mine fire. Financial assistance was made available through the Morwell Business Relief Fund, administered by VECCI, and a range of other practical support was also available. GDF Suez has provided additional stimulus to Morwell retailers through its ‘Revive Morwell’ initiative and Community Social Capital grants.

The Board affirms the Victorian Government’s commitment to support local councils through Local Government Victoria, particularly in developing formal and informal networks between emergency management officers and a resource base that Local Government Victoria can work closely with during the response and recovery phases of future emergencies. The proposal for Local Government Victoria to coordinate emergency management officers across local councils is an appropriate approach.99