Resources for the Bushfire Crisis

19 January 2020

Unprecedented nationwide bushfire activity in 2019–2020 has had devastating and wide-ranging impacts, not just on those who have seen their homes and properties destroyed or damaged by the bushfires, but also businesses suffering financial hardship. The following Resource Roundup includes updated information, resources and other pertinent links.

Organisations and individuals across Australia are doing incredible things in response to the bushfire crisis, from offering pro-bono work, organising volunteers, managing fundraising opportunities and providing resources. The architectural profession is right at the forefront, with several initiatives underway to assist with bushfire recovery. See the following links to pertinent information, relevant resources and available assistance:

Business, Financial Assistance and Advice

Fair Work

Practitioners who have been affected by bushfires can find timely advice on employment conditions during natural disasters and emergencies on the Fair Work Ombudsman website. 

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, employers who need to temporarily close their practice due to circumstances outside their control (such as the effects of natural disasters) are entitled to stand down employees if work stoppages are unavoidable. Employers are not required to pay employees during this period (though they may choose to do so), but employees continue to accrue leave in the usual way. The Fair Work Ombudsman also advises on alternatives to standing down employees, including taking a period of accrued leave and considering flexible work arrangements.

It's important to note that all employees, including casuals, are entitled to community service leave to take on emergency service management activities.

Government Assistance

The Australian federal government has set up a National Bushfire Recovery Agency with advice and links on recovery and assistance.

The Department of Human Services has information on available support for people directly affected by bushfires in disaster declared areas, including the Disaster Recovery Allowance and the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.

The Australian Tax Office has stated that deferrals will be made for activity statement lodgements and payments for businesses or residential addresses within the identified bushfire-impacted postcodes. If your postcode is not listed on the ATO website, phone the Emergency Support Infoline on 1800 806 218 for assistance.

ASIC’s Moneysmart has a useful page of information and links regarding financial counselling.

National Debt Helpline

This not-for-profit organisation has professional financial consultants offering free, independent, confidential advice to people who are experiencing debt problems. See the Bushfires – Financial Difficulty page for step by step advice on how to deal with the financial challenges and distress that can arise when people experience a bushfire. Also see its guide for making insurance claims following a bushfire.

Australian Financial Complaints Authority

The independent, not-for-profit AFCA has published advice on Bushfire disaster support. Those who find themselves in a dispute with an insurer or financial provider about a claim or request for assistance can contact the AFCA for help to resolve it.

Assistance and Volunteering

Australian Institute of Architects

As part of its bushfire response, the Institute has made relevant Acumen resources available to all. This includes information on undertaking pro bono work, post-disaster rebuilding and working in bushfire-prone areas.

Architects Assist

The Institute is also managing Architects Assist, an initiative set up by Atelier Jiri Lev in early January. This online register provides a platform for registered architects to offer pro bono assistance, and a means for those in need to request help. Since its establishment, the register has grown to well over 400 practices nation-wide, all keen to dedicate some of their resources to pro bono work for bushfire recovery efforts.

Architects Assist supports design outcomes that are “architecturally considered, owner-builder friendly, resilient in natural disasters, built with sustainable materials, compact and spatially efficient, and extremely affordable”. The platform offers the opportunity to Get Assistance and Give Assistance.

Volunteer Register

Victorian practice Irons McDuff has put out a call for architects, landscape architects and other built environment practitioners to register to assist in future rebuilding. They write: “Past experience with CFA has taught us it is better to be on the ground, present and listening. Sometimes it is simply guiding people, sometimes consulting, sometimes getting hands dirty. While we determine when and where, please put your hands up to help.” In the first instance, they are collecting expressions of interest via email at bushfires2020@ironsmcduff.com.au.

Irons McDuff will be collaborating with the Australian Institute of Architects as much as possible to enable an effective, collective effort. 

For a thoughtful reflection on post-bushfire recovery work, see the republished interview with Kim Irons.

BlazeAid

For those who are keen to help out straight away, consider registering with BlazeAid. This volunteer-based organisation was born out of the Black Saturday fires of 2009, working with rural families and individuals “to rebuild fences and other structures that have been damaged or destroyed”. In the last decade, thousands of long- and short-term BlazeAid volunteers have helped to rebuild over 400 km of fences, removed fallen trees from fence lines, and assisted with gardening and small building projects (such as the odd chicken coop).

The BlazeAid website has lists of current camps with location, camp coordinator details, practical details and advice on volunteering. The site also includes a page on Being a BlazeAid Volunteer, including the information that “fencing isn’t only men’s work” (30% of volunteers are women) and age is no barrier, with volunteers aged from 12 to 85.

Find A Bed

In the midst of the bushfire crisis, Erin Riley from Razorback, NSW, set up Find A Bed, a service linking people who need a place to stay with those who can offer accommodation. So far, over 6,500 people have volunteered a place to stay for people and animals affected by the fires. Find A Bed has also helped relocate animals and livestock, provided generators to fire-affected communities and are currently linking people with practical skills to those in need.

Climate Action

Architects Declare

Since its establishment in July 2019, Architects Declare has had 799 architects and practices sign up to the movement, which aims to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the urgent need for action in the built environment. In mid-January, many practices joined the Carbon Neutral 2020 campaign, with a series of steps to follow, including switching over to Certified Green Power, completing a carbon audit, and achieving carbon neutral status.

For more information about the organisation, current action and future plans, see the comprehensive report of the Architects Declare meeting in Melbourne in December by Talina Edwards.

Donations

During the crisis, countless individuals and businesses have donated much-needed funds to assist with bushfire recovery efforts, and the call for donations continues. To help people avoid scams (sadly, they’re out there), the Australian government has published a list of DGR-endorsed, registered charities with bushfire and relief recovery activities. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has also prepared some useful tips on Bushfire and Scams.

Mental Health

Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue has developed some useful information around Bushfires and Mental Health. It contains evidence-based advice on dealing with the emotional impact of bushfires, information about the signs and symptoms of emotional distress, and links to several useful services.

Lifeline

The 24/7 crisis support organisation has developed a toolkit for Getting through bushfires, drought and extreme climate events. The telephone counselling service is available on 13 11 14.

For a more general list of links and contacts for people living with mental illness, see the ACA's Mental Health Resource Roundup.

Image: @brendanh_au