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MAV Opinion Editorial - Working together to keep community safe

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It goes without saying that 2020 has provided many challenges.

Reflecting on last summer, it's incredible to think that we were living through the worst bushfires in history. In Victoria alone, more than 300 homes were destroyed, 1.2 million hectares burnt and five lives lost in a matter of weeks.

Against the backdrop of this tragedy, we saw an outpouring of support from across councils and communities for the affected areas of East Gippsland and north-east Victoria.

This tragedy also provided many examples of the strength and resilience of the local government sector, and the broader community spirit.

One example that shows how councils respond in times of need is the Municipal Association of Victoria's Human Resource Sharing Database. It was set up at the height of the emergency in January this year, in response to the deluge of offers of assistance from unaffected councils.

This database, which can be used again if needed, helped to connect fire-affected councils with other councils to co-ordinate aid and assistance. I am proud to say that almost every council in Victoria contributed in some way, shape or form.

Councils' on-the-ground knowledge of their communities and environment makes them an important piece of the emergency management puzzle.

From detailed knowledge of land-use planning and local roads to understanding community demographics, councils can and do help to guide resources to the most needed areas.

Councils also utilise their partnerships across private and public organisations during emergencies, so communities are receiving the right support from the right people.

This insight was relied upon as we confronted the COVID-19 global pandemic when, once again, councils were the connectors between the state government, emergency agencies and community groups.

Councils have consistently showed their commitment to helping communities to stay connected and supported. They have excelled at adapting and innovating service delivery models in response to the pandemic

I saw first-hand the contribution of local government to emergency management as the COVID-19 pandemic hit during my term as mayor of the City of Wyndham.

This emergency highlighted the importance of clear and appropriate communications, especially how vital it was to provide resources for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

While mayors and councillors may not have an operational or response role during an emergency, we can still show leadership and support to ensure information is being provided in a relevant and timely manner.

Victoria's recovery and re-opening is now our top priority. This includes supporting efforts to ensure our regional tourism is boosted. As restrictions have eased, it has been heartening to see family and friends re-united as well as those venturing across the state to explore and support regional areas.

We have learnt a lot this year. We are now better prepared than ever if another emergency happens. Unfortunately, the risk remains high.

The Bureau of Meteorology's seasonal outlook has predicted an increase risk in grass fires and higher rainfall due to La Niña. With this insight, councils are implementing their summer preparedness plans, ensuring land and vegetation is maintained and potential hazards are assessed.

You may have already noticed the increase in thunderstorms, heavy rain and damaging winds across the state due to the La Nina phenomenon. Councils are working closely with the State Emergency Service to mitigate hazards such as securing outdoor dining furniture to ensure people are safe and damage is minimal.

The year ahead will provide further opportunities for all levels of government to come together to support the community and businesses as they move forward.

I continue to be inspired and motivated by stories of resilience, community spirit and kindness. This is what I will remember and celebrate this festive season.

On behalf of the board and staff of the MAV, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.

Wyndham City councillor Josh Gilligan was elected to the role of Interim President of the MAV board on Friday, November 20. The next president will be elected for a two-year term in March 2021.

This opinion editorial was published on 11 December and appeared in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and the Warrnambool Standard.