Wollondilly Council calls for better bushfire evacuation routes

A red haze coated the shire as the Green Wattle Creek fire burned earlier this year. Picture: Simon Bennett
A red haze coated the shire as the Green Wattle Creek fire burned earlier this year. Picture: Simon Bennett

Wollondilly Council is calling on the state government to improve bushfire evacuation routes in the shire as towns recover from the effects of the Green Wattle Creek blaze earlier this year.

The bushfire crisis that gripped Australia in the latter half of 2019 through to early 2020 has had a devastating impact on communities around Australia.

In Wollondilly, more than 30 homes were damaged or destroyed when the Green Wattle Creek bushfire swept through the shire.

The council represented the community and provided evidence at the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements earlier this week.

Wollondilly mayor Matthew Deeth said the extreme bushfire season resulted in overwhelming damage to homes, infrastructure, natural environment and wildlife.

"Wollondilly was hit hard by the Green Wattle Creek fire, and our community didn't have time to recover before we were hit by floods and Covid-19," he said.

"It is important that we take this opportunity to reflect on what has happened, what worked well and what could have been done better during the catastrophic conditions we experienced."

Local government plays a pivotal role in all stages of an emergency under the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989.

Cr Deeth said evacuation during the peak of the bushfire was a major issue for the residents of Wollondilly.

"There is a downfall in the planning process where the impact of extra homes being built in our towns has not been considered in relation to the capacity of evacuation routes," he said.

"Overall, there is not enough investment in evacuation routes. The problem would have been avoided if a Picton bypass had been in place.

"We can't go to into the next fire season without a commitment from the state government to funding the Picton bypass. This is a huge issue - people's lives are at stake."

The Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements was established in February 2020 with a focus on national natural disaster arrangements and how they are coordinated with the states and territories.

The inquiry will consider the legal framework for Commonwealth involvement in responding to natural disasters.

The terms of reference for the inquiry acknowledge that the changing global climate carries risks for the Australian environment and Australia's ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to bushfires and other natural disasters.

The terms of reference state, "that Australia as a nation must take action, including the development and implementation of adaptation actions, to address the consequences of longer, hotter, drier seasons and severe weather events."

It is recognised that the focus on national coordination will give Australians confidence that natural disaster coordination arrangements are the best they can be.

The Commission will draw information from a variety of sources, including public submissions and hearings.

The final report will be delivered by the end of August 2020.