Vic govt slammed over burnoff record

 Vic govt slammed over burnoff record

21 April 2009

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Australia — Ten weeks after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires the Victorian government has been slammed for not meeting burnoff targets.

An opposition analysis of prescribed burning figures shows 20 per cent of land earmarked for burnoff in the past decade went untouched.

Hazardous fuel loads were left to accumulate on more than 200,000 hectares of land – an area twice the size of the Great Otway National Park.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has only met burnoff targets in the past two years since 1999.

Nationals leader Peter Ryan said it was a “lamentable effort”, blaming funding and staff shortages for the shortfall.

“The key issue here is making the money available, making the manpower available,” he said.

“One thing we know for certain, we are going to have more bushfires in Victoria. Preventive burning therefore is a vital program.”

The Victorian government last year rejected a recommendation by a parliamentary committee to triple annual burnoffs from 130,000 hectares to 385,000 hectares, about five per cent of public land.

The bushfires royal commission is examining prescribed burning policies as part of its inquiry into the February 7 disaster.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said more than 150,000 hectares were burned last year – the most in about 15 years.

But authorities were limited by the weather.

“You can only burnoff when the conditions are suitable and when it’s not too hot or too windy, and if you look at the available days last year, on every available day last year DSE and CFA were out there on fuel reduction programs.

“But the last thing you’d want to do for goodness sake … is to be undertaking fuel reduction burning on days when it’s not safe … and you run the risk of fires getting out of control and burning down local communities.”

Mr Ryan, who is the opposition spokesman on the bushfire recovery, is also rallying for fire survivors to be represented at the royal commission.

He is calling for Mr Brumby to amend the royal commission’s terms of reference so they can be included.

Mr Ryan said the families of the two men killed in the Longford Gas Explosion appeared before that royal commission, as did Mr Brumby when he was opposition leader.

“It seems to be an absolute travesty that the only ones lined up at the table in that commission apart from counsel assisting are those who are all saying collectively ‘don’t blame me’.

“Who is going to speak on behalf of 173 people who have died, on behalf of the thousands who have lost their homes, who’ve had their livelihoods destroyed?”

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