Government announces inquiry and bushfire clean-up contractor

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced an independent expert inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfire season to provide input to NSW ahead of the next bushfire season.

NIBA CEO Dallas Booth has indicated that NIBA is likely to make a submission to the inquiry, given the impact of insurance taxes in NSW on the affordability of property insurance premiums, and the inability of many people, farmers and small business owners to take out proper insurance cover to protect their property in case of loss.

Dave Owens, former Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police, and Professor Mary O’Kane AC, Independent Planning Commission Chair and former NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, will lead the six-month inquiry, which will review the causes of, preparation for and response to the 2019-20 bushfires.

Premier Berejiklian believes that this inquiry will allow NSW to learn from this season and the catastrophic conditions the state has faced, and apply these learnings for the future. The inquiry will commence within days and accept submissions from the public.

A report will be submitted to the Premier at its conclusion. As part of recovery efforts, the NSW Government has announced that it has selected Laing O’Rourke Australia as the lead contractor to undertake the clean-up.

The Federal and NSW Governments have revealed that they will share the costs on a 50:50 basis for the clean-up of residential and commercial properties destroyed by the recent bushfires in NSW. The cost of the clean-up is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, though a definitive number cannot be settled until the fires have ceased and sites are assessed.

“This is an important step to get the clean-up and rebuilding process moving to help people get back on their feet,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Premier Berejiklian added, “The destruction caused by these fires is unprecedented and the process of recovery and rebuilding will take time, but I want people to know, we will be with them every step of the way.”

“Government is picking up the bill for the clean-up, at no cost to owners, so if you’re uninsured, this is one less thing to worry about and if you are insured, it means you will be able to use every dollar of your policy to rebuild.”

Commonwealth Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stated that an unprecedented joint effort  is required to assist with the recovery, rebuilding and future resilience of local communities.

NSW Deputy Premier and Minister responsible for Disaster Recovery John Barilaro said, “With 2,399 homes destroyed and more than 10,000 buildings damaged or destroyed all up, we have a long journey ahead of us.”

“Despite the enormity of the job, Laing O’Rourke has indicated the majority of properties will be substantially cleared by mid-year, with a focus on residential properties.”

The contractor will also be working hand in hand with Public Works Advisory to engage local suppliers and subcontractors, to keep local economies ticking over.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said he expected all savings insurance companies may accrue as a result of the Government funded clean-up to be passed on to policy holders to help assist them in the rebuilding process. “We are working with the new National Bushfire Recovery Agency to ensure a coordinated response to make clean-up as easy as possible for property owners,” he added.

Impacted owners wanting their property cleared need to call Service NSW on 13 77 88 to register their details and provide consent for access to their land. The NSW Government will provide regular updates to the Commonwealth on the progress of the clean-up.