LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Bushfire: time to get serious
Recently, quite a few people have expressed their anger over their annual rates rise, often caused by skyrocketing property values. These residents don’t appreciate the real threat to their wallets.
How nasty could the bushfire situation have become without the 26mm of rain which blessed us on the memorable day of 6 February this year? The whole area was on the brink of a firestorm; 65,000ha in the Huon Valley alone had been on fire for three weeks. What would the insurance payout have been like for properties now worth half or three quarters of a million?
According to the report by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, Tasmania was hit by 2,400 dry lightning strikes from December 2018 to March 2019. This is a new danger caused by climate change, unknown in the south before.
The review made nine recommendations, some relating to remote-area firefighting.
Dry lightning caused a fire 200km from Canberra a few years ago. Firefighting efforts were inadequate, and ten days later, the fire invaded the urban fringe, destroying 488 houses.
The Tasmanian government declared it was unable to implement the report’s recommendations ahead of this season. But similar advice regarding remote-area fire fighting had already been given in 2016. We have wasted the intervening time, when we could have been building up fire defence capabilities. Now only the immediate availability of winged aircraft would make a difference. These are expensive, but are still cheaper than the cost of an inferno wiping out large parts of the south and the greater Hobart area.
Not likely? It is more and more so. Climate change will not stop. Nobody in Canberra expected the fire which threatened their city. We experienced such an event already here in 1967. The state was far less populated, and not bearing the burden of climate change, yet 1,550 homes were lost.
Preventative measures should include not allowing 1m3 burns during fire permit periods, a ban on summer camp fires, and a general fire ban for the most dangerous months of January to February.
Cygnet Medical Centre
The last hope of the Cygnet Medical Centre not being sold may rest with holding a public meeting, hence the importance of the petitions, the second containing 1,087 signatures recently submitted. The meeting will be held on October 14, with a recommendation from HVC staff to hold it in Huonville (hardly the most accessible location).
Selling now, a new medical centre, only completed in 2012, with a predicted building life of at least 50 years and beyond, is not security of medical service provision. When the medical centre is privately owned it may be re-sold and repurposed after 2032. Far from providing security to the community, the council is destabilising it by continuing on this course of selling it.
The HVC staff and councillors don’t seem to understand that with a population that is ageing and on low incomes, many in the community can barely afford to travel further for medical services, even if they had the ability to catch a bus. Doctor John Wilkins retired recently. He provided home visits and had a patient list of 1,000. These former patients are now having to access the two available Cygnet medical service providers with doctors: Cygnet Family Practice and Huon Valley Health Centre. With long waiting times at both for appointments, the need for medical services outstrips the current supply.
Cygnet residents see the value of the Cygnet Medical Centre as a town asset, which also services a far greater region beyond. It would be doubtful if the Commonwealth Government would fund building another medical centre in Cygnet, especially when other townships don’t have proper medical centres or a medical centre at all.
Selling prematurely de-values the net worth of this asset, which could continue to be profitably rented by the council. As the township population grows, the need for medical services will not diminish.
Cygnet Medical Centre sale: appeal
The appeal against council’s intention to sell the Cygnet Medical Centre was held at the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal (RMPAT) last Friday. The council was represented by council’s legal and governance officer, and the general manager was the only witness for council. The appeal was presented by Archie Donley, the appellant, and the hearing lasted until mid-afternoon, with the tribunal asking questions of all parties.
The medical centre was built on public land owned by the council with $1.16 million from the Commonwealth Government and it opened in 2012 with a commitment from council that it will operate as a medical centre until 2032. Information from the general manager at the appeal confirmed that, under the funding agreement with the Commonwealth Government, part of the funding must be repaid if the medical centre does not operate for any reason for four weeks. The amount to be repaid is currently between $700,000 and $750,000. This risk appears to be the main reason that council proposes to sell the centre. It is still not clear how, if the centre were to be sold, this obligation, and thus the risk, would be transferred to the purchaser, and how this would affect the sale price obtained by the council for ratepayers. If kept in council ownership until 2032 the medical centre, having increased in value in line with Cygnet property prices, will be a valuable community asset and the council will have fulfilled its obligation to the Commonwealth Government and the Cygnet community.
The petition signed by about 800 people in the Cygnet area asking the council to hold a public meeting in Cygnet was tabled at the August council meeting. In response the recommendation from staff to the council meeting this Wednesday is that the meeting be held not in Cygnet but in Huonville at 6pm on October 14. This is apparently because there were a few (less than 10) signatories from Southport, Lune River and Hastings and therefore the meeting should be held at a more central location than Cygnet. You can hear this issue debated at the council meeting on Wednesday this week at 6pm and hopefully the councillors will recognise that the meeting should be held in Cygnet as requested in the petition.
Letters to the editor are the opinions of the writers, whose name and address appear with each letter, and do not necessarily express the opinions of this publication. Letters are published in part or full at the sole discretion of the editor and no correspondence will be entered into. Please keep letters short and to the point.
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