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About 35 million hectares of Australia burned during the 2019-2020 fire season, the bushfire royal commission has heard.

That’s about 4.5% of Australia’s total landmass, or one German.

Andrew Colvin, the head of the Bushfire National Recovery Agency, said the figure came from the federal agriculture, water and environment departments. The footprint of areas eligible for fire emergency assistance is much smaller – 111 local government areas in New South Wales, ACT, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

Colvin said the difference between payments available in each jurisdiction created confusion and he wanted to implement “no wrong doors and one-stop-shop principle” to make it easier for those affected by fire to get help.

“It is ideal that a victim of a forest fire only needs to talk to one person and tell their story once, because every time they have to tell their story, we effectively carry out a retraumatisation of that individual.”

Colvin said the emergency response at aid centers was “extraordinary” even for him and there had to be a national coordination point for all disaster relief responses.

“I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who is trying to reunite their lives … We must try to be better here.”

Charities, other government agencies such as Services Australia, and victims of forest fires all tell the royal commission the same thing – they want an entry point to get help.

Shane Stone, coordinator general of the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Mitigation Agency, said that the overall support structure must be national and permanent but actual assistance on the ground must be led by the local community.

“Nobody is more skeptical than the Australian public when you show up and say ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ You need to get boots on the ground quickly and that’s part of our ethos, boots on the ground.”

He added:

“In the end you will be judged by how quickly you get to the ground and how quickly you provide the first support for people who are trapped in dire situations.


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