Australia –A SPECIALISED office has been established to manage bushfires following the release of the Keelty Report into the Margaret River bushfire.
Following the release of the report last week, Premier Colin Barnett announced that the State Government would establish a new Office of Bushfire Risk Management to oversee changes to the prescribed burns program.
“This office will sign off on each Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) burn, once DEC has completed its own assessment of the risk,” Mr Barnett said.
“It will report directly to Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) chief executive officer Wayne Gregson to ensure DEC’s role in the process is independently scrutinised before ignition of the burn.
“The new office has the authority to direct, subject to specific criteria, that any prescribed burn not occur or be delayed if risks are seen as too great.”
Mr Barnett said DEC’s planning in relation to prescribed burning, particularly in relation to the Margaret River fire was “inadequate”.
“Mr Keelty’s report also found shortcomings in DEC’s planning and implementation of its overall prescribed burning program,” Mr Barnett said.
” Environment Minister Bill Marmion has directed DEC to temporarily suspend further burns within five kilometres of town sites and rural subdivisions until a complete risk assessment is undertaken.
“The Government believes prescribed burning is vital. To not undertake prescribed burning is too great a risk to the community, a conclusion unambiguously reached and stated by the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission.
“The prescribed burning program will continue under more rigorous management and oversight.”
But Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said the Government needed to reveal whether it had been requested to boost the DEC’s resources in the Blackwood River area but had knocked those requests back.
“The Barnett Government must reveal if the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) sought additional resources to fight fires but was denied them in the past two State budgets,” he said.
“Premier Colin Barnett must also reveal if FESA was under-resourced and why the inquiry’s terms of reference were so narrow as to not investigate the management of the fire itself,” Mr McGowan said.
Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood said Mr Keelty did not draw attention to the fact that fire is not a core function or funding priority for DEC.
“Until this changes, DEC will not give sufficient priority to bushfire operations,” he said.
“Mr Keelty has made a comprehensive investigation and has uncovered a litany of failings by DEC staff in relation to the two burns that escaped. We also note that Mr Keelty recognises that DEC fire staff are under-resourced and poorly located.
“We note that he did not recommend that this situation be rectified.
“We are glad to see the government acknowledges the serious fire situation in the Cape to Cape region, and are proposing to do something about it and we look forward to elaboration of the detail.”
Mr Underwood said the Bushfire Front was pleased to see the creation of the Office of Bushfire Risk Management.
“Although this adds another layer of bureaucracy to an already complex operation, the office will provide another opportunity to deal with the current situation, which is not effective,” he said.
“We will be keen to explore with the government the roles and responsibilities of this office.
“We understand the complexities and difficulties in bushfire operations and we were therefore pleased to note that Mr Keelty said that DEC people are part of the community and no evidence received by the special inquiry gave rise to any concern that DEC staff were doing anything other than what they believed to be right.”