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Bushfire response and recovery | Red Cross Calling | A thank you from Jim

4 March 2020

Bushfire response and recovery

Hi everyone,

Who would have thought that safe asbestos removal and storage would be a major factor in people not being able to get going in their recovery from the bushfires? The amount of asbestos in the burnt areas is doing just this – as people start to clear their land, they find they can’t because waste and asbestos removal and storage systems are overloaded. These are the types of issues people are coming up against as they start their recovery. 

As communities and as a nation, we have a long road ahead to recover from the fires, and the recovery will test us. The impact is widespread – impacting people’s lives, livelihoods and futures. Andrew Coghlan (Head of Emergency Services), Noel Clement (Director, Australian Programs) and State and Territory Directors Poppy Brown, Sue Cunningham, Jai O'Toole and I are working with all stakeholders to keep recovery front of mind and to play our role in solving problems and barriers as fast as possible.

As an example, Anne Leadbeater, OAM was in Canberra with Andrew and me last week as we met with Federal Government Ministers, Departmental Secretaries and the National Recovery Agency to talk through these issues. She described the recovery as being like snakes and ladders. 

She emphasised the importance of all involved working together to solve the practical barriers to recovery wherever they exist.

We also remain focussed on getting grants out to those who have lost loved ones, lost the places they live in, been injured or who suffered serious damage to their homes. So far, thanks to the generosity of Australians, we have provided around $48 million in grants to those who need support. A dedicated grants team is based in Melbourne, and outreach teams go out to multiple locations each week to help people apply for the grants. Our partnership with Commonwealth Bank also means that people can apply for the grants in their local CommBank branches in all affected locations. 

There are many complex cases and applications that need verification – this can vary from diligently checking through all the data sources which are available, to doing visual inspections of properties. Unfortunately a significant number of cases are fraudulent: that is, the information is deliberately (and cleverly) falsified and when we visit the property it is still standing.

We are also planning the mid-to-long-term recovery program - tailored recovery programs in affected communities for at least the next three years. The programs will acknowledge the different needs of each community, and that communities will progress at a different pace towards recovery. They will also be guided by local communities, facilitated by dedicated recovery roles in bushfire-affected regions across six states/territories. As part of this we recognise the unique and deep losses faced by First Nations peoples in the bushfires, including the Gunnai/Kurnai, Bidwell and Yorta Yorta communities, whom we are coordinating with to ensure they have support and lead recovery programming. Our recovery programs will also be run in collaboration with local, state and federal government and community agencies.

This is in addition to the incredible work Red Cross people are doing directly in those communities impacted and in our State and National offices to support these efforts.


I am sure you are all well aware of the growing presence and spread of COVID-19. The best way to mitigate the spread is to follow the simple instructions above.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer also gave some good advice on the weekend – you can read his article here.

Across the world the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is activated. I have included below an extract from an email last Friday from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescen (IFRC) Secretary-General Jagan Chapagain. 

“In response to the rapid spread of COVID-19, we have seen a significant increase in the level of awareness, interaction and activities by National Societies across the globe, as well as a commitment to collaborate as a Federation and with external partners, national governments and the United Nations (UN) system.

This emergency is also placing new challenges on the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Firstly, in the engagement of our volunteers and staff with people affected by the virus. This is a very understandable fear and we must support them in addressing and mitigating this fear. Business continuity planning also becomes a priority for all of us to ensure that we can continue to respond to this outbreak and the other humanitarian needs we face.

Secondly, we see many national governments asking for support of their National Societies. These include Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies taking charge of national Hotline call systems; transport of actual - and suspected cases to medical facilities; COVID-19 testing at homes of people suspected of carrying the virus; and not in the least taking charge of the isolation and quarantine of actual and suspected cases on behalf of national health services. This requires us to respond to new and uncharted levels and we stand together in addressing this.

To all of you, thank you for your tremendous work and commitment on behalf of the most vulnerable people around the world whom we serve."

Here in Australia, and with our neighbours in the Pacific, we are already supporting communities impacted. We are also linking with State and Territory governments on their planning. Just as importantly, we are preparing plans for the safety of the services we provide and the safety of our staff and will take action based on the decisions and guidance from the Chief Medical Officer and IFRC. As a precaution we have today further restricted travel to Japan, Iran, Northern Italy, South Korea, North Korea and Mongolia (in addition to China, Taiwan, and Macau). We are monitoring this regularly and may well restrict all travel (in and out of Australia) in the near future. These restrictions exclude our international delegates who may well be deployed in support of the response to COVID-19.

Across the Pacific we are also working closely with national societies and the IFRC to coordinate the Red Cross regional and national preparedness for COVID-19. We are offering small grants for community-based preparedness and public health awareness, and have offered technical advisors to support these activities. In addition, we are contributing to the global response with public health advisors in the Pacific, China and Geneva.

A thank you from Jim

Here’s a lovely story about Jim that I’d like to share with you as an example of what we are doing. Jim was working in China when he had to leave as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. Since then he’s been quarantined in home isolation for 14 days. During this time he had been receiving daily phone calls and support from Red Cross whilst being contained in his own home.

His Public Health Order ended last week and since then, he’s missed his daily phone calls from Red Cross volunteers.

Unannounced, he drove for two hours the very next day to come and say thank you to our volunteers that called him at the Queensland office. What a wonderful story of strength and support. 

Red Cross Calling launches this week

It is that time of year again. The time of year when we reach out to the communities we are a part of. This is a valuable opportunity for our members, volunteers and staff to connect in with local communities, particularly in light of the impacts of recent bushfires. In our offices around the country we hope people will come together for conversations too. To share morning tea, raise a little money and stop to check in with one another after what has been an intense start to the year.

While times have been tough recently, we know that there’s still work to do and help to be given. None of our other work has stopped while we’ve been responding to bushfires. That’s why Red Cross Calling is so important.

From 8 March, more than 5,000 people will be out in their communities, calling on their neighbours, checking in to see how they are and collecting donations.

If you’d like to get together with friends or fundraise in your community you can sign up online.

Reducing the psychosocial impact of a changing climate

From left: Noel Clement (Director, Australian Programs), James Ensor (Executive Officer, BHP Foundation), Mark McMullen (NSW Drought Resilience Coordinator), Jen Dawson (Australia Country Program Director, BHP Foundation) and Alex Tanfield (National Drought Coordinator).

In partnership with the BHP Foundation we are delivering a climate change adaptation program for drought-affected communities. The program seeks to alleviate the psychosocial impacts of drought and aims to support drought-impacted communities by working with local community leaders, volunteers, service providers and other partners to build resilience and improve policy and practice to reduce the psychosocial impacts of drought. You can read more about it here.

Last Tuesday, we held the ‘Communicating in Communities Under Stress’ workshop that brought together community organisations, frontline workers and community leaders across the Central West of NSW to look at communicating in communities under stress, in drought and disaster recovery.

The workshop draws on the existing disaster recovery experience we have, in particular the importance of and strategies to improve communication in relation to the psychosocial challenges communities may face. It places a focus on communications, promotes the resilience and strength in a community and promotes networks, connections and the sharing of positive solutions and ideas.

As Noel Clement observed, this is about how we share our knowledge and expertise from events like Black Saturday (2009 Victorian Bushfires) with other partners and help be the ‘glue’ in these communities, bringing people together. It is great to have BHP Foundation behind us on this important initiative.

That’s all for this week.