Fire anger


26 March 2007

published by

Australia — A group of landowners who lost crops, stock and fences in Grampiansbushfires last year are demanding State Government compensation.

About 100 farmers and business owners in the Grampians district claim StateGovernment negligence led to the spread of fire from public to private land.

They have threatened a class action along with 400 other Victorians affectedby bushfire if compensation is not offered.

In particular, landowners want the State Government to admit it did notcomplete sufficient fuel reduction works on public land.

Half of Bruce Wheeler’s 1000-acre property near Moyston was burned in thefires.

He said the State Government should be liable for bushfire damages and costs.

“There has to be an onus on somebody,” he said.

The main boundary fence of Mr Wheeler’s property backs onto Crown land atMafeking in the south- east of the Grampians National Park.

“It has been a family farm for more than 30 years and I’ve never seen afuel reduction burn conducted there,” he said. “The government is thefirst to jump on your back about keeping noxious weeds off your land, but whatare they doing to clean up their land?”

Mr Wheeler could not estimate the financial cost of the fire for him.

“All our fences were burnt, we lost two residences, a wool shed and halfa machinery shed,” he said.

Mr Wheeler said damage to a 500-acre bluegum plantation was unending.

“The costs will be ongoing – 200 to 300 acres of trees have already beenbulldozed,” he said.

Charles Slidders, from Melbourne- based law firm Slidders Lawyers, is workingwith the group of property owners.

“We are acting on behalf of everyone who has suffered damages,” hesaid.

“We want to sit down and talk to government to demonstrate the lossesfarmers have suffered and get some sort of compensation for them.”

Mr Slidders said he hoped a compensation agreement would emerge fromdiscussions with Parks Victoria, Department of Sustainability and Environmentand Environment Minster John Thwaites.

“Government hasn’t undertaken adequate fuel reduction burning in thenational parks, they have breached forrest and national park acts,” he said.”They need to act accordingly in regard to property loss. These people areentitled to compensation.”

Mr Wheeler said the legal move was not just about covering costs.

“This might highlight how the bureaucratic policies for managing theparks don’t work, and might save the next farmer whose property is under threatfrom fire,” he said.

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