Victoria bushfire-prone burn-off plea rejected

  Victoria bushfire-prone burn-off plea rejected

19 August 2009

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Australia — The Brumby government rejected a recommendation from a parliamentary committee that it triple the amount of controlled fuel-reduction burns carried out in bushfire-prone areas of Victoria just two months before the Black Saturday catastrophe killed 173 people.

The Victorian parliament’s environment and natural resources committee made the recommendation in June last year after holding an extensive inquiry into the impact of land management practices on recent large bushfires in the state.

The committee said the 130,000ha of controlled burning being carried out each year was insufficient to reduce the risk of bushfires and recommended the area be tripled to 385,000ha.

But in its response to the inquiry’s findings, which it did not provide to the committee until December, the government rejected the setting of a fixed number of hectares for controlled burning.

Accepting the recommendation “in principle”, the government said the area designated for burning each year should be based on “science and risk-management frameworks” and subject to suitable weather conditions.

“The government supports a move away from focusing on hectare-based targets, which may lead to inappropriate planned burning programs,” the government’s response to the committee said. The committee also called on the government to make more funds available to carry out controlled burns, including hiring skilled personnel to conduct them.

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said yesterday the government’s “chronic failure” to implement the committee’s recommendations and those from previous inquiries had contributed to the scale of the Black Saturday catastrophe.

“John Brumby has to explain why they failed to do these things, why they shelved those recommendations,” Mr Baillieu said.

“This government until now has had little interest in controlled burning and getting controlled burning levels up. Otherwise they would have implemented the recommendations of that parliamentary committee report, which they had last year.”

Concern at the government’s lack of action over the parliamentary committee’s recommendation on tripling controlled burns has been raised in a report lodged with the Black Saturday royal commission.

The report, co-authored by Monash University bushfire expert and former CSIRO scientist David Packham, also examined recent large Victorian bushfires and said the committee’s recommendation did not need further analysis, as claimed by the government.

“What further analysis is going to add to the extensive body of knowledge currently available that will materially change the recommendations?” it said.

Mr Packham’s research has linked the levels of fuel loads in a bushfire, which dictate its intensity, to the number of people likely to be killed.

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