There were 190 applications from Black Saturday bushfire victims for the state government to buy back their properties under the bushfire buyback scheme when applications closed last month — a lot fewer than had been thought eligible.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice says it was estimated that about 550 properties could meet the four eligibility criteria. They are:

  • Owner-occupiers whose principal place of residence was destroyed in the fires
  • Those who have not started rebuilding on the property
  • Those whose property has no site available for the building of a replacement dwelling further than 100 metres from forest vegetation that adjoins a large area of forest such as a national park, state park, state forest or private plantation.

The department says that 111 applications have progressed to the valuation stage. Of those, 47 letters have been sent to landowners detailing the valuation, and 27 landowners had accepted the government’s offer. Twenty-six applications have been considered ineligible.

The government has committed $50 million to the buyback scheme. If more was needed, the spokesperson says, the government is committed to making it available.

“All eligible properties that apply for the scheme will be acquired. The Bushfire Land Acquisition Panel does not take funding into consideration when assessing applications for this scheme,” the spokesperson said.

Under the scheme, landowners are presented with two offers: one based on a valuation as at January 1, 2009 and the other at the time of inspection. Valuers value the land on behalf of the Valuer-General Victoria by gathering sales evidence of properties in and around the areas affected before the fires and at present.

The basis for the latter assessment are vacant land sales that occurred about January 1, 2009, and vacant land sales that have occurred around the time of the 2012 inspection of the property. The valuer then analyses the sales evidence and decides the market value of each property that would have applied at the two relevant dates.

The department says eligible landowners interested in selling will be offered the higher of the  valuations.

The scheme is the government’s response to recommendation 46 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, which stated “the state develop and implement a retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the state of land in these areas”.

However, eligibility is limited to those who lost their principal place of residence in the Black Saturday fires. This was criticised by the Shadow Minister for Bushfire Response, Jacinta Allen, who said it had no regard for people who lived in high fire-risk areas in other parts of Victoria, including the Otways, Cockatoo and Mount Macedon.

The spokesperson from the Department of Justice said: “A clear priority of the Royal Commission was to buy back land from landowners whose homes were destroyed during the 2009 bushfires. The government chose this model to support those most in need.”

There are many others who were affected by the bushfires and who were not eligible for the scheme, including people who had holiday homes and those who were renting their property. Local resident and real estate agent from Marysville, Dianne Lisle, said: “There’s a lot of people who had holiday homes which weren’t their principal place of residence, but they wanted to retire there. The buyback scheme isn’t for them.

“I think it’s unfair. Those weekenders played a part in the community as well.”

Robyn Schrader, a real estate agent from Alexandra, says many who owned holiday homes and rental homes have not rebuilt, are not entitled to bushfire funds and do not qualify for the buyback scheme.

A spokesperson from the Department of Justice said late applications for the scheme would still be considered.