Latrobe City councillors slam emergency management responses to last month’s storm

Latrobe City Councillor Melissa Ferguson.

By Michelle Slater
Latrobe City has slammed the poor emergency management responses following last month’s storm with one councillor describing it as “near bad enough for a Royal Commission”.
Latrobe City will ask the Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp and state government ministers to ensure council is consulted over the terms of reference into a review of the June 9-10 storm.
Councillors want to make sure the review will include an assessment of the adequacy of warning systems and emergency responses into the storm.
Council will also ask Bushfire Recovery Victoria “in the strongest possible terms” to ensure local residents will be reimbursed for footing the bill to clear access to their properties.
South Ward councillor Melissa Ferguson raised the series of motions which were supported at Monday’s council meeting.
Cr Ferguson cited an example where some residents were stuck on their properties for nine days while waiting for services without power or access in or out.
“Residents sat and waited in distress during the event. Nine days it took for a response. Some of these people were trapped without food, water, sewage or supplies,” Cr Ferguson said.
“This is unheard of in a first world country. This is near bad enough for a Royal Commission.
“They sat and waited, and if they were trapped in their houses, they had to fight to get out of there at much cost financially, psychologically, working around the clock.”
Cr Ferguson said she had seen invoices from residents who had spent thousands of dollars clearing access to their properties, or had lost thousands of dollars in livestock.
She said in the meantime, local emergency services were “hamstrung” by bureaucratic systems with limited power and resources.
However, councillors were careful to hand out praise for local responders who had rolled up their sleeves to get in and help the community.
Cr Dale Harriman described it as a “terrible indictment” that bureaucratic processes did not include Latrobe City Mayor Sharon Gibson and chief executive officer Steven Piasente in the early response.
“The fact so many people were trapped for so long and these bureaucrats were not aware of it because they weren’t talking to Latrobe City staff or councillors beggars belief,” Cr Harriman said.
“People were not advised that floods were coming, were not advised to evacuate or given assistance … because it was not being properly run from Melbourne.”
The Victorian government announced Latrobe City was one of 10 storm-affected councils to share in an $82 million support fund to employ additional recovery staff and specialist contractors.
It comes as state and federal funding is also being made available for landholders to clear damaged structures or dangerous trees.
A state government spokesperson said Latrobe City Council will be provided the opportunity to contribute into the Public Information and Warnings After Action Review.
“BRV will continue to work with council to understand community need throughout the recovery stage,” the spokesperson said.
“Our emergency service agencies and departments, including hundreds of volunteers, have been working around the clock on the response effort and work now continues on relief and recovery.”
Property owners are being encouraged to register for the Storm and Flood Clean-Up program by visiting or phoning 1800 560 760.