Australia — ELIZABETH JACKSON: A leading fire ecologist says the Victorian Government should reverse its decision to reject a voluntary land buyback scheme in areas of extreme bushfire risk. It was the only recommendation put forward by the bushfires royal commission which was rejected out of hand by the Victorian Government when it announced its response yesterday.
Dr Kevin Tolhurst is a fire ecologist at the University of Melbourne and a researcher with the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre. He also gave evidence to the royal commission. Speaking to Alison Caldwell in Melbourne, Dr Tolhurst says the Victorian Premier needs to reconsider his decision.
KEVIN TOLHURST: I think it’s probably ill-advised because what the royal commission recognised was that some people are living in places that should never have been opened up for development and building.
So we’re left with a legacy of bad decisions in the past and what the commissioner said is we need to use some objective methods of identifying those areas, making it publicly known and then, over a period of time, provide opportunities for the government to buy those properties back.
It reduces the risk to the individual but also at a community level reduces the potential loss of life and property when it’s almost certain to happen at some stage but is quite preventable.
ALISON CALDWELL: And the commission was only talking about maybe – relatively speaking – a handful of properties, wasn’t it?
KEVIN TOLHURST: Well I think that’s right and there’s been sort of talk about people living in fire-prone environments and it’s not really about that it’s about these extreme situations where people might be living out on the end of a spur where there’s only one way in and out. A fire from any direction even under mild conditions is going to be devastating to that area and I think we’re talking about tens or hundreds of properties, not thousands of properties.
And the buyback doesn’t have to occur in the next five or 10 years. It could be programmed to continue on and you would hope that over perhaps a 30-year period that the majority of those properties would be bought up. And even where there would be some perhaps individual properties left, as the Premier mentioned, over time you would still be able to acquire those properties when the properties eventually sold.
ALISON CALDWELL: Would you like the government to reconsider that?
KEVIN TOLHURST: Well I think there’s still an opportunity to reconsider that and it ought to be based on probably a more comprehensive and objective evaluation of what the bushfire risk is across the state rather than some generic measure of being in a fire-prone area. We need to have a gradated scaling, if you like, of bushfire risk it’s just those very extreme risk areas that we’d be considering.
So I’d like to see that revisited at some stage. It needs to be done even just for planning purposes so that new developments don’t occur in these areas, so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Fire ecologist Dr Kevin Tolhurst speaking there to Alison Caldwell in Melbourne.