The Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) would like to provide a 6th update on progress of the independent Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian fire season

This is our final progress update for 2020 on the Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian fire season.
With fires and a pandemic, what a year it’s been, to say the least.
Since our last Inquiry update, we’ve been working with 11 community recovery committees across East Gippsland and North East Victoria to understand how best to help their community members provide feedback into the Inquiry.
As a result, over past months we’ve invited communities to share their views and experiences of emergency relief and recovery through completing a survey, participating in an interview, joining a focus group, and of course, providing a formal submission.
Open from September through to early December, the survey focused on initial provision of relief and recovery. It was available online, by phone, and print through outlets like community recovery hubs.
To date we’ve received around 80 returns, with mailed copies still finding their way back to us. Our special thanks to those from local organisations and agencies who helped deliver the printed survey through their community.
Focus groups and interviews
During the months COVID-19 health provisions restricted face-to-face meetings, we held phone interviews with 30 community members from across East Gippsland and the North East.
We also held three online focus groups – each group involving up to 10 people directly affected by the fires; who all live, work, or are connected to a similar location, and therefore able to talk about shared experiences of relief and recovery.
You can register to join future focus groups through completing an online form (External link) or calling the Inquiry’s Community Engagement Advisor on 0409 249 054.
Return to place-based meetings
Recent easing of COVID-19 health restrictions has seen a welcome return to place-based meetings.
In late November, Inspector-General for Emergency Management Tony Pearce visited East Gippsland communities of Sarsfield, Benambra, Cann River, Goongerah (pictured), and Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust.
Through a mix of drop-in sessions, organised focus groups and interviews, nearly 50 community members recounted their stories, and shared – often emotional – experiences of the fires.
After months of COVID-19 restrictions, the meetings were often the first time these people have been able to get together and talk about the fires, and the additional challenges of recovery during a pandemic.
Our sincere thanks to the community members and Bushfire Recovery Victoria recovery hub coordinators who helped with these meetings – from organising venues and catering, through to spreading the word. We really appreciate your enthusiasm and willingness to see these meetings happen in your community.
What you’ve shared with us
We’re very grateful to everyone who has provided feedback in Phase 2, particularly for your honesty and openness.

While we’re continuing analysis of the information gathered through surveys, interviews, focus groups, community meetings, and formal submissions received so far, frequently shared themes or topics include:

  • communities supporting and rallying around each other
  • the challenge of accessing government support and assistance for the first time
  • the management of relief centres
  • the appropriateness and distribution of donations
  • the impacts of road closures on economic recovery as well as general health and wellbeing
  • timely access to resources for community-facilitated recovery
  • the deep connection to country held by Aboriginal peoples and the challenges associated with evacuation and recovery from the fires.

What’s next
With recovery a long-term process for many, Tony will continue his place-based meetings in East Gippsland and North East Victoria early next year; working again with local representatives, local government and Bushfire Recovery Victoria, to offer communities a convenient and safe opportunity to share their recovery journey.
Keep an eye out for confirmed details in our next community update, and on our website, Twitter @IGEM_Vic (External link) and Facebook @IGEMVictoria (External link).
In the meantime to share your views with the Inquiry, you can request an interview (External link) (or call 0409 249 054), and submissions remain open and are welcome through:

Thank you for your contribution to the Fire Season Inquiry over the past 11 months, and we look forward to your ongoing interest in 2021.
Take care and best wishes for the new year.