State budget invests in emergency management

Premier Jacinta Allan and Emerald SES unit controller Ben Owen. Picture ON FILE.

By Emma Xerri

The 2024/25 Victorian State Budget has allocated more than $16 million towards future emergency management response.

With $9.5 million of those funds going towards ensuring Victorians and emergency service organisations have the most up-to-date emergency information, advice and warnings, residents of the Hills who have long suffered from poor access to emergency information may have cause for optimism.

However, for Rescue Logs founder, and former Hills resident Julia Hill, this optimism must come with caution.

“All I can say is that as a Hills community, we should not have to be worried about being able to get through when we have an emergency,” she said.

“As a consequence of living in the hills and having such bad communications, I am really conscious on hot windy days to have the radio going with the emergency services radio station playing, and making sure I’ve got the weather reports coming up on my internet.

“So for most of us that are young and fit, we just change the way we manage the information we get.

“But the flip side, for the elderly in the area, is that they’re not so connected, because they don’t tend to be on things like Facebook. And so unfortunately, they miss out on a lot of information.”

Long time Emerald SES volunteer Ben Owen is also all too familiar with the communication difficulties that have long plagued the Hills community.

“If there is to be an enhancement of emergency warnings going out, that would be an advantage,” he said.

“We have storms that come through quite rapidly, so we need new ways of sharing those warnings in a timely manner.

“But I would obviously like to see more sustainable telecommunication systems in the hills when power goes out. That would probably be a better, or equally important, way to spend the funds.”

However, as a member of the SES, Mr Owen is also intrigued to see what the $6.9 million budget allocation to the State Emergency Service will mean for his branch, which has long been underfunded.

“My early indications from the budget were that SES were going to take a cut. So, if the budget allocation means an additional $6.9 million on top of what we normally receive, then that’s fantastic. But if it’s $6.9 million for one thing, and other areas are going to miss out, then that’s a real concern.

And these uncertainties are shared by VICSES, who said “we’re still awaiting the full details from Tuesday’s announcement and the overall impact on our budget.

“We’ll continue to work collaboratively with the State Government to advocate for our needs to support our SES volunteers and their fantastic service to the community.”

Meanwhile Mr Owen maintains that when it comes to SES funding, the government has a long way to go.

“Our unit gets about a third of what we need to run per year from the government and the rest we’ve got to make up.

“I’m here today, ready to open up our CDS program where we collect containers. But we get 10 cents per container to put vehicles on the road, put fuel in the trucks, buy equipment, and put electricity on site.

“Our volunteers who are here today could be out there training or providing community education instead of having to fundraise.”