The Kam family lost their home and possessions during the NSW bushfires that ravaged their Southern Highlands house in the days just before Christmas. Since then, they’ve fought for their homes to be rebuilt, which used to be surrounded by beautiful bushland, possums, and lyrebirds.
Justin and Helena Kam, together with their daughter Gabriel, have lived in a tent, which was washed away by the floods earlier in the year before upgrading to a caravan. However, over their weekend getaway, the couple were granted permission to rebuild. While many other residents of the town have relocated, the Kams are determined to remain and rebuild.
Mrs. Kam said while the fires were challenging, the aftermath and the trauma were harder to manage.
“There are daily reminders of everything that has happened. You can’t help it. When you are walking down the land or dig on the land you see reminders of what you had before,” she said. “It’s three steps forward, two steps back. I keep looking over my shoulder thinking that something will happen and [rebuilding] will be stopped.”
Mrs. Kam is one of the thousands of people recovering from the 2019-2020 fires that destroyed ten million hectares of land, killed 33 people across the country, and destroyed over 3000 homes. Thursday marks one year since the National Natural Disaster Arrangements Royal Commission formulated the 80 suggestions it made.
The report concluded that Australia must be prepared for the possibility of catastrophic natural disasters by establishing more substantial peak agencies, more effective warning systems, and quicker military deployments. The report called for new laws that allow authorities from the federal level to proclaim a national emergency.
In response, the federal government stated that it would adopt a few recommendations that include an agency for national recovery that was first announced earlier this year.
Minister for National Recovery and Emergency Management and Resilience Bridget McKenzie said the 2019-20 bushfires were among the most devastating catastrophes the nation had ever experienced.
“Nothing will ever replace the damage the Black Summer bushfires had on our nation, but we are committed to doing whatever is necessary to rebuild our communities,” she made clear in an announcement.
Ms. McKenzie stated that she was pleased that the Coalition government was determined to ensure “that our national natural disaster arrangements are as effective as possible.”
“The Commonwealth has delivered important reforms to its emergency management architecture and is working with states and territory governments to ensure that Australians see tangible improvements to crisis response and recovery activities,” she stated.
As part of the government’s response, it has announced a $2 million national education campaign that provides public awareness and understanding of constant federal emergency warnings and a $20 million fire danger rating system. Funding has also been made available for a national air tanker.
The statement said that the Department of the Prime Minister and its Cabinet would continue to follow the recommendations, and Ms. McKenzie’s office would release periodic updates to the public.
The former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner and co-founder of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, Greg Mullins, said far more has to be done.
“Those of us that hold hoses and are in the direct firing line of climate change impacts are still waiting for the government to show that it is taking the royal commission’s report seriously,” he added.
“There are going to be many more dark summers coming our way. The government must start working on the task to protect Australians.”
Chief executive officer for Climate Council Amanda McKenzie also stated that far more can be accomplished to protect Australians better.
“Emissions must plummet this decade to tackle the root cause of extreme fires, climate change. The royal commission showed that climate change is fuelling longer, hotter, and more dangerous bushfire seasons and other extreme weather events,” she said.