The ‘Stay or Go’ Policy
This policy has become confused in the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria. It is now interpreted as simply a ‘Go’ policy, with the order “Everybody Out!” arising every time a fire threatens residential areas or farms. It appears that the aim is to save lives, and that to do so it is necessary to sacrifice homes.
There is another approach. This is a policy to save both lives and houses, and it is the underlying approach of the original pre-Black Saturday policy which, correctly spelled out was “Stay if you are able bodied and your property is well prepared, and you have the necessary training and equipment to defend yourself and your house; if not go, and if you go, then go early.”
Unfortunately this rather wordy statement was abbreviated to Stay or Go, and many people in the Victorian fires stayed whose properties were not prepared and who were not able to mount an effective defence against a high intensity fire generating an ember storm. The reverse applied at Kelmscott (in the Roleystone fire), where houses were abandoned as part of an enforced evacuation. A post-fire review suggests that many of the houses could easily have been defended as they were impacted by embers, not a fire front.
There is a related issue that has been of concern for some years, and which came to the fore during the Roleystone fire. This was the actions of the police and security guards. The policy of exclusion of all from a fire zone frequently leads to difficult situations….for police officers as well as residents.
During the Roleystone fire, TV coverage showed a young man, who tried to cross the police barrier to defend his home, being handcuffed and placed in a paddy wagon. It may well have been that his defence of the home might have saved it. This policy places police officers in an invidious position. This matter is one of broad public disquiet and needs to be addressed.
The State government needs to clarify the policy on staying to defend a property or enforced evacuation. It should be possible to come up with a position in which both lives and property are protected.
The actions of police and security guards in forcibly preventing people from defending their homes need review and a revised policy developed.