Victoria's bushfire buy-back scheme nears completion

THE Victorian Government last week announced that its work to implement the recommendations of the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission is a step closer, with the $25 million Bushfire Buy-Back Scheme drawing to a close.

Bushfire Response Minister Kim Wells said the government expected to have settled on 114 properties by the end of last week – with another two properties in the final stages of the process – under the scheme, which allowed landowners to sell their properties in some of the state's worst affected bushfire areas.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommended that "the State develop and implement a retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the State of land in these areas."

The $25.6 million buy-back scheme gave landowners the option to sell their properties at either its pre-Black Saturday value or current market value –whichever was the higher amount – subject to two conditions: 1. their principal place of residence was destroyed in the 2009 fires; and 2. the property was within 100 metres of significant forest.

According to the government, of the original 198 applications, 138 were found to be eligible, with 116 of these going through to settlement

"While the government is pleased to have met a key recommendation from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, there is little joy to be had from this process. Many of the participants still have emotional ties to the land, and are still recovering from the trauma of Black Saturday," Mr Wells said.

"The Bushfire Buy-Back has helped these landowners start again elsewhere, and has been an important thing to do. These properties carry extreme fire risk and as such, this land will not have dwellings built on them ever again."

The Minister said the buy-back scheme has been overseen by the Bushfire Land Acquisition Panel, chaired by Patrick McNamara, which also made recommendations about future use for the land.

The government said the next stage of the process will be to offer the land for sale to neighbours to use as grazing land or an additional bushfire buffer that will help them to manage their own fire risk. Some sites may also be considered to become part of Crown Land.

This next stage of the process is being handled through the Department of Treasury and Finance in conjunction with the Valuer General's office. Land is being cleared and will be managed by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries as the next stage occurs.

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