Prioritising recovery actions after the recent bushfires was the goal for a group of Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains community leaders who met at WSU last week.
The group, which included politicians, environmental experts and other officials, was called together for the February 17 meeting, by Dr Sally Box, the Chair of The Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel and Environment Minister Sussan Ley.
The roundtable focuses on recovery plans for native species and ecological communities.
It was the first ministerial roundtable to be held outside of Canberra since the establishment of the Expert Panel on January 13, 2020.
The roundtable was held at the Western Sydney University's Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment. Among those in attendance were Federal Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, State Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston and Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert.
Along with the experts from WSU, there were representatives from the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, NSW National Parks and Wildlife and Blue Mountains Conservation Society.
They were joined by representatives of Hawkesbury WIRES and the Hawkesbury Environment Network.
Minister Ley said the purpose of the roundtable was to receive local feedback about future funding interventions as part of the Federal Government's $50 million Wildlife and Habitat Recovery Package.
Findings of the expert panel will inform the further delivery of the Australian Government's response to the fire events, including priority emergency actions to support impacted animals, plants, and ecosystems, as well as medium, and long term responses required to support the recovery of Australia's environment.
"The Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains communities have faced terrible challenges in these fires and today is about all parties coming together to discuss the ways forward," said Ms Ley.
"There is a long road ahead but throughout the expert panel meetings which have included state representatives, and the series of ministerial roundtables to date there has been an enormous willingness to work together."
Minister Ley outlined the work under way in ensuring that heritage areas such as the Blue Mountains National Park were helped to recover with the input of scientists, indigenous experts, landcare managers and local communities.
Macquarie MP Susan Templeman said the meeting provided an opportunity for local environmental experts to outline their priorities, which included an urgent survey of the bushfire impact on the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
"The roundtable emphasised the urgent need for a survey of the damage to native plants and animals locally as the result of the bushfire crisis, which would be used to identify the priorities for recovery," Ms Templeman said.
"There was also a call for the Morrison Government to create an emergency research fund based on US and UK models, which would allow funding for research to immediately be allocated following a disaster.
"Normally, research grant funding has long lead times and a long evaluation process.
"But we need to get funding to these experts quickly to assess what has happened to populations of native animals and plant species, which will then prioritise what needs to be done in terms of recovery."
Ms Templeman said there were many people who wanted to ensure the recovery process occurred quickly, however there was no access to fast funding to allow them to go out to audit and assess.
"A special emergency fund set up to immediately allow research following a disaster would allow these experts to go straight out into the field and begin their assessments," she said.
"There's extraordinary talent in these local groups and long-term depth of knowledge.
"They need to be out in the field updating the data they have about native plants and animals, and ground-truthing what they predict the effects of the bushfires were.
"I am pleased the government has engaged with these groups and we will be continuing to work with them to ensure there is a decent response, so this particularly vulnerable area of world heritage has the best chance of recovery."
This roundtable comes off the back of multiple funding grants from both the state and federal governments.
It was announced on Jaunary 10 that Hawkesbury City Council would receive $1 million from the Federal Government under the National Bushfire Recovery Fund.
The Council have reported through the Bushfire Impact Assessment (as at January 23, 2020) for the Hawkesbury Local Government area, that the Gospers Mountain and Grose Valley fires resulted in:
- 24 destroyed and 13 damaged houses
- One destroyed and four damaged facilities
- 65 destroyed and 30 damaged outbuildings
- And 540 impacted rural landholders
The $1 million funding has been provided for the council to spend on projects and activities that council deem essential for the recovery and renewal of the local area following the impact of the bushfires.
The following month, on February 11, under the Bushfire Community Resilience and Economic Recovery Fund, Hawkesbury City Council received $250,000 to go towards the roll-out locally-led community and economic recovery activities in the wake of the bushfires.
At the end of January, Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett attended a roundtable discussion at Parliament House hosted by BizRebuild and chaired by General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
In a report submitted to council, authored by Ms Lyons-Buckett, she wrote: "This was a facilitated discussion to enable local government and local business chambers to put forward the needs of their fire-affected communities, with the aim of assisting businesses to recover, so local economies and communities can rebuild after the devastation. One of the strategies raised was the capacity to retool and re-equip those who have lost tools etc which they require to enable them to return to work".