Mayor calls on Premier to extend bushfire role

Blue Mountains communities ravaged by the bushfires will be left without a leader of its recovery effort after the state government withdraws support at the end of this month.

Mayor Mark Greenhill has urged Premier Barry O’Farrell to continue aid until the official end of the bushfire season on March 31. He has written to the Premier twice this month about the issue.

The government plans to shut the Blue Mountains Bushfire Recovery Committee, chaired by former Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg, as soon as the last of the 212 burnt home sites are cleared at the end of this month. So far 155 blocks have been cleared.

Clr Greenhill said it was too soon to leave people reeling from the ongoing psychological and economic fall-out of the October fires and said the state government “came in late, they can’t leave early”.

“The government’s view seems to be that the bushfire recovery starts and ends with clearing the blocks,’’ he said.  

“It’s almost like there wasn’t a natural disaster once you have cleared the blocks. Well, this was the biggest single loss of property from a natural disaster in the history of NSW...”

“As of February, what co-ordinated support services for a community recovering from a massive natural disaster will there be? Answer: None.”

Emergency Services Minister Mike Gallacher says Mr Koperberg’s contract has already been extended by two weeks and it is possible for Mr Koperberg to stay on —if the council pays for his contract.

Businessman and adviser to the Blue Mountains Bushfire Recovery Committee, Michael Paag, said it was too soon to withdraw support.

“The bushfires have had a really deep impact on the economy, particularly in places like Mount Victoria, Blackheath and Bilpin,’’ he said.

“I know of a lot of businesses who have laid off casual employees; I know of families who have just left the area because they can’t find work and that has a knock-on effect on the whole community.”

And Max Fragar, a former Blue Mountains Council chief town planner and life fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, said three months help was “not a long time in my experience for people to make enormous decisions relating to their future”.

However, Springwood Rotary Club president Laurie Waterson said it was time for the community to look after itself.

“Somewhere along the line the community has to stand on its own two feet,’’ he said. “Phil Koperberg and the recovery team have done a great job but we’re getting to that point now where the community has to take over.”

Clr Greenhill said in Victoria “the Recovery Committee process remained in place for in excess of 12 months on the basis that the Victorian Government understood that recovery goes beyond merely clearing the blocks. It is about rebuilding communities and lives.”

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage, is away on leave until January 20 and so was unable to provide a comment on whether she believes the state government should pay for an extension of Phil Koperberg’s position.

Clr Greenhill has asked to meet Mr O’Farrell to finalise a recovery plan and discuss grant funding, which has not been confirmed. 

The Gazette understands as of late yesterday plans were underway for the mayor and the Premier to meet. 

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