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Annual Report 2008-09 Output 3.2

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Natural disaster relief and mitigation

Summary

The Department administers Australian Government financial assistance for the States and Territories for various natural disaster mitigation and relief programs and initiatives. This includes management of the following administered programs:

  • Bushfire Mitigation
  • Natural Disaster Mitigation
  • National Aerial Firefighting, and
  • Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

Major achievements

The Bushfire Mitigation program and the Natural Disaster Mitigation program are delivered through funding partnerships with all levels of government. Both programs operate on a cost-sharing basis with the States, Territories and local government, with each level of government eligible to apply for funding.

The national Bushfire Mitigation program aims to identify and address bushfire mitigation risk priorities across Australia. It funds construction and maintenance of fire trails and associated accessibility measures that contribute to safer communities better able to prepare for, respond to, and withstand the effects of bushfires. Through the Bushfire Mitigation program the Australian Government approved funding of $4,452,307 for 344 projects in all States and Territories in 2008–09.

The Australian Government approved funding of $18,587,463 for 161 projects across Australia in 2008–09 under the Natural Disaster Mitigation program, which aims to identify and address natural disaster risk priorities.

In Western Australia, Stage 1 of the $25 million Carnarvon flood mitigation works consisting of the upgrade of two floodways on the North-West Coastal Highway south of Brown Range was completed in 2008 at a cost of $7 million. The project will protect the high-value plantations outside Carnarvon from serious flood damage.

Preparations subsequently commenced for constructing Stage 2 works that include installing flood levees and embankments, redefining floodway zones, undertaking land acquisition or helping to relocate. This work is due for completion in 2009. The Australian Government has contributed $4.25 million to the project.

Work also continued on the $6 million Kowanyama Multi-Purpose Sport and Recreation Centre on Western Cape York Peninsula. As well as some funding under other programs, the Australian Government is providing $690,000 under the Natural Disaster Mitigation program to incorporate infrastructure and facilities into the proposed centre to enable its use for emergency shelter and accommodation during and after severe weather events. This includes self-contained power and water, and meal preparation, washing and storage amenities.

The centre will provide a valuable sporting, community, social and cultural hub for a community of approximately 2,500 people in this remote and isolated location.

In 2008–09, the Australian Government provided $14.22 million under the National Aerial Firefighting Arrangements to help the States and Territories establish a national fleet of specialised firefighting aircraft. The arrangements afford a cooperative national approach to sharing costly, specialised resources that can be strategically positioned across Australia.

In 2008–09, the national fleet comprised a range of rotary and fixed wing aircraft, including five high-capacity aircranes based in Sydney, Melbourne and, for the first time, Adelaide. This year witnessed the first use of a new Eye-in-the-Sky helicopter in Sydney. This new surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, fitted with state of the art digital technology, enables firefighters to see through smoke and identify fire movements and hot spots not normally visible to the naked eye. Transmitting data to incident controllers in real time, the technology proved an invaluable tool in fighting fires.

Overall, the 2008–09 bushfire season proved to be one of the nation’s most severe, with Victoria experiencing the most devastating bushfire in Australian history. This placed a heavy call on aerial firefighting resources. The Australian Government responded by providing an extra $4 million (in addition to the $10.22 million committed at the start of the year) to the National Aerial Firefighting Arrangements. This extra funding helped extend Australia’s aerial firefighting capability and provide much needed support to firefighters on the ground.

The Department administers the Australian Government’s Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA). The NDRRA provides partial reimbursement to the States and Territories for costs of eligible relief and recovery activities following natural disasters. This guarantee of financial assistance ensures States and Territories are able to provide immediate assistance to disaster affected individuals and communities. Activities such as provision of emergency food and clothing, restoration of essential public infrastructure and counter disaster operations are covered by the NDRRA.

In the second half of 2008–09 Australia experienced a number of significant natural disasters including:

  • Queensland monsoonal floods from January to February 2009
  • Victorian bushfires in February 2009, and
  • New South Wales mid north coast floods in March, April and May 2009.

The Department worked closely with the State governments and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as well as a number of other Australian Government agencies to ensure that relief and recovery assistance was made available to those affected by these events.

Following these events, the Prime Minister activated additional NDRRA assistance in the form of clean up and recovery grants to primary producers and small businesses. This assistance was made available in recognition of the significant impact the events had on these sectors. In response to the Victorian bushfires a $10 million community recovery fund and $10 million tourism assistance support package were also made available. The Government considered that this additional assistance was needed to help communities recover from an event of such scale and severity.

An unprecedented level of NDRRA assistance has been provided following the Victorian bushfires. In June 2009 a payment of $220 million was made to the Victorian Government to provide assistance to bushfire affected individuals and communities. Through the NDRRA, the Australian Government committed to sharing equally the costs of rebuilding communities affected by the bushfires. Under this arrangement, the Australian Government will contribute 50 cents in the dollar to all eligible Victorian expenditure, regardless of total expenditure.

In 2008–09 almost $300 million was paid under the NDRRA to State and Territory Governments for their costs on natural disaster relief and recovery activities.

Purchaser/provider arrangements

Under the National Aerial Firefighting Arrangements, Australian Government funds are provided to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre Ltd. The centre is responsible for national coordination and sharing of aerial firefighting resources between jurisdictions. Program funds were fully expended in 2008–09.

Outlook

Both the Bushfire Mitigation program and the Natural Disaster Mitigation program will cease to offer funding from the end of 2008–09. Both programs will be rolled into the new Disaster Resilience program from 2009–10. The Disaster Resilience program will support projects intended to develop community resilience and communities’ ability to withstand the affects of emergencies and disasters.

The impact of climate change is likely to see an increase in the severity and frequency of bushfires and the Australian Government remains committed to helping the States and Territories through the National Aerial Firefighting Arrangements. The Government reaffirmed its support in the 2009–10 Federal Budget.

Response to the Victorian bushfires recovery will continue to be a major priority for the Department in the early part of 2009–10.

The Department will also host an NDRRA stakeholder group meeting as part of the COAG review of natural disaster arrangements.

Performance indicators

Table 22: Performance indicators, Output 3.2—Natural disaster relief and mitigation

Key performance indicators 2008–09 target Result

Maintain an aerial firefighting capacity and improve the quality and effectiveness of Australia’s fire trails

The program is administered according to the program guidelines and meets Australian National Audit Office requirements

Achieved

Program was administered in accordance with established guidelines and ANAO requirements.

Input is sought from key stakeholders in the design phase and feedback is sought prior to the next program cycle

Not required

Program will not be offered in its current form from 2009–10, but will be subsumed into the wider Disaster Resilience program.

Deliver the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements administered program in accordance with the provisions of the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements Determination

All funds are paid in accordance with the provisions of the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements Determination

Achieved

All payments made were in accordance with the terms and conditions of the NDRRA Determination.

Administered items Results

Natural disaster mitigation

Achieved

Funding was provided in accordance with formal program arrangements.

Budget price: $15.160 million

Actual price: $8.801 million

National aerial firefighting

Achieved

National aerial firefighting capability was maintained at the required level and supplemented as the severity of the bushfire season increased.

Budget price: $14.220 million

Actual price: $14.220 million

Bushfire mitigation

Achieved

Funding was provided in accordance with formal program arrangements.

Budget price: $1.565 million

Actual price: $1.403 million

Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements

Achieved

In 2008–09, over $296 million was paid to State and Territory governments under the NDRRA for costs associated with relief and recovery activities. This required supplementation of funds from the Department of Treasury.

Budget price: $58.675 million

Actual price: $58.546 million


Our people

Taking an all-hazards approach to swine flu

Kim Schearer and Joshi Pitman, Crisis Coordination Branch, Emergency Management Australia Division

Kim Schearer and Joshi Pitman, Crisis
Coordination Branch, Emergency
Management Australia Division.

Maintaining the flow of information

The Department’s Coordination Centre, within Emergency Management Australia, is an around-the-clock, all-hazards operational centre. It receives information from various sources, and monitors the domestic and international media for developments relating to national security and emergency management. In April 2009 the Centre noticed media reports of outbreaks of the H1N1 influenza virus – swine flu – in Mexico and the United States.

The Centre’s five Watch Office teams monitored this emerging threat as it quickly spread to Australia. The challenge was to coordinate a comprehensive whole-of-government response to support the Department of Health and Ageing as the lead agency. The Centre compiled all stakeholder agencies’ reports on their actions relating to the swine flu pandemic. The team developed a work plan and facilitated high-level meetings while contending with other incidents and normal day-to-day running of the Centre.

While on shift, Team Leader, Joshi Pitman, and Operations Supervisor, Kim Schearer, maintained the flow of information into situation reports and disseminated that information, on time, to all stakeholders. Situation reports included statistics on the impact the virus was having on the workforce of Australian Government agencies, the spread of the virus, global related mortality, and Australians potentially affected both domestically and internationally.

‘Leading and managing the team through incidents is always a challenge, but I enjoy the variety of events we monitor; you never know what each shift will bring. Because of our all-hazards approach, H1N1 was just one of many unique situations the Centre has been faced with,’ Joshi said.

‘Being part of the management team is very interesting’ Kim added, ‘especially getting to see at first hand the decisions the Australian Government makes in the face of a major health crisis.’

‘The fact that we’re a 24/7 operation means we’re extremely well placed to identify any new developments as they happen, and then provide advice to those who need to know,’ Joshi explained.

The Centre continues to monitor the H1N1 influenza pandemic to ensure distribution of the most comprehensive and accurate information to key stakeholders, including the Department of Health and Ageing, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

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