Threat to bushfire research

Threatto bushfire research

9 January 2007

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Australia — Australia’s first national bushfire research program could bedisbanded within two years because it will fail to meet tough new FederalGovernment rules demanding research deliver marketable commercial benefits.

The news comes just days after the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climatereport revealed Australia was experiencing climate change at a faster rate thanother parts of the world, with bushfires already becoming more frequent andintense.

The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, which has more than 60 fireresearch programs operating across the continent, has flagged it may not rebidnext year for a second seven-year term of government funding, unless thecontroversial commercial benefit rules are scrapped.

Instead, it may look to state governments and universities to help fund apermanent national research institute to help address a critical national skillsshortage in fire ecology and forestry research.

“We are an environmental, public-good research effort that was set up todeliver scientific expertise and community education in relation to bushfires,”the centre’s chief executive, Kevin O’Loughlin, said.

“It was never envisaged we would have a strong focus on commercialoutcomes or products. In that sense, we have nothing to commercialise and giventhe current criteria, it’s unlikely our bid would succeed.”

The $100million national research effort was launched in 2003 by formerfederal science minister Peter McGauran who described the aim of the CRC asbeing to “help all Australians prepare for and control bushfires andminimise their destructive impact on people, property and the economy”.

The Bushfire CRC, which is midway through its first seven-year term, hasalready delivered research results that have led to an overhaul of domesticsmoke alarm systems and more effective methods of fighting bushfires from theair.

It has also collaborated with the Australian Institute of Criminology onresearch into arson, with early findings identifying peak times when fires arelikely to be deliberately lit.

Other research includes reducing smoke-related health impacts on firefightersand a new bushfire risk management model, with a sophisticated computersimulation capable of predicting the spread of fire.

Mr O’Loughlin said concerns that research programs might not meet commercialbenefit criteria was “creating a good deal of uncertainty” among thecentre’s scientists and research partners which include the CSIRO, theUniversity of Wollongong, and state fire and land management agencies.

Two of Australia’s most successful and high-profile national environmentalresearch programs the National Weeds Management and Tropical SavannasCooperative Research Centres were refused a second round of federal funding lastyear because they failed to meet the new commercial criteria.

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