The Nationals Member for Lowan Emma Kealy is calling on the Victorian Government to immediately declare the Poolaijelo-Langkoop-Powers Creek fires that broke out on New Year’s Eve a natural disaster event.
Without the formal declaration the local community and West Wimmera Shire Council is unable to access Disaster Recovery Funding and other supports from state government to help the local community and affected landholders rebuild and recover.
Ms Kealy visited the area yesterday and said while it was fortunate no occupied homes had been destroyed, stock losses were immense with one landholder losing approximately 3,000 of his breeding sheep and many others experiencing similar losses.
There have also been significant losses of outbuildings including woolsheds, haysheds, farm machinery and farmhouses.
Ms Kealy said that access to Disaster Recovery Funding was critical to ensure that funding and other support can flow as soon as possible to help families impacted by the fire to recover and rebuild as soon as possible.
“There is a whole raft of state government funding assistance and support that becomes available to communities once an event has been declared a natural disaster,” Ms Kealy said.
“This is a catastrophic event for this region, with so much pasture, hundreds of kilometres of fence lines, extensive farm infrastructure and thousands of head of stock destroyed by fire.
“After two years of battling COVID related border closures, this fire has been a massive blow to the morale of the community.
“While everyone locally is doing an amazing job in providing support to the families affected by the fire, support services are extremely limited in the region, with many already overwhelmed with advancing Covid cases in the local area.
“This is another reason why the additional state government support that is provided following declaration of a natural disaster is absolutely essential to ensure that all the support services that will be so important over the coming weeks and months is available to these families to help them recover and rebuild.
“A perfect example is the local Rural Outreach Worker, who has done an absolutely fantastic job over the last few days but will be unable to sustain the extra demands for the service as a result of the fires. Funding is urgently required to employ a dedicated Outreach Worker for the region for at least the next 12 months to work directly with affected landowners and other people on the ground who have been impacted by the devastation of these fires.
“Stock losses from this fire are estimated to be similar to the Gippsland fires last year, with a significant amount of land impacted. When coupled with the sheer distance from larger community support services it unequivocally demonstrates exactly why this event must be declared a natural disaster and the same level of assistance provided to this region as was rightfully afforded to the affected communities following the Gippsland bushfires.
“The Poolaijelo-Langkoop-Powers Creek communities need state government support, and they need it now.”
Ms Kealy said she had spoken to a number of affected landowners during her visit to the area, with many telling her that the hardest part has been the need to euthanise stock which have been horrifically burnt and which would be unable to recover.
“These farmers have put their hearts and souls into breeding and raising these animals, often over several generations, and to have to euthanise them is absolutely the worst thing many of them will ever have to do in their farming lives. It is horrifying for both the farmers and their animals,” Ms Kealy said.
“The EPA is taking far too long to respond to the need for pits to be dug to dispose of stock carcasses, meaning many farmers have had to take matters into their own hands and engage a private contractor to dig their own pits.
“These farmers are already under enough stress and shouldn’t have to be organising the digging of pits to bury their stock whose carcasses are starting to stink and decompose in the hot weather.
“It’s just not good enough and the EPA needs to get its act together and resolve this significant health risk as a matter of urgency.”