Nationals Member for Lowan is angry that the Andrews Labor Government has rejected a request from West Wimmera Shire Council to declare the recent fires at Poolaijelo and Langkoop a disaster.
The communities were devastated by a quick-spreading grass fire on New Year’s Eve that killed thousands of sheep and cattle, dozens of farm outbuildings, hundreds of kilometres of fencing, plus pastures and vehicles.
Ms Kealy raised the matter in Parliament last week, concerned that residents impacted by the bushfires were unable to unlock state government support through Bushfire Recovery Victoria without a disaster declaration from the minister.
Bushfire Recovery Victoria is a new arm of the Victorian Government specifically established to streamline and provide bushfire support to affected families, businesses and councils.
In a major disappointment to the community, the Minister for Emergency Services has since rejected the request to declare the event a disaster, citing the fact that such declarations need to happen during an emergency rather than during the recovery stage.
Ms Kealy said the minister’s response was a complete cop-out given the request for disaster declaration came through on the second day of the fires, and the minister chose not to act.
“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,” Ms Kealy said.
“The minister now says it’s too late as the communities are in the recovery stage, but her failure to respond in a timely manner over her holidays doesn’t override the fact the request was made by officials on the fireground just two days after the fire broke out.
“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 increasing numbers of COVID cases in the local area.
“The additional state government support that is provided through Bushfire Recovery Victoria following declaration of a disaster is essential to ensure that all the support services that will be so important over the coming months are available to families in the Poolaijelo and Langkoop communities to help them recover and rebuild.
“The minister’s response is totally unacceptable and insulting. I’ll continue to pursue the bushfire support for this isolated region that they need and deserve.”