Tasmanian bushfires: Senate calls for independent inquiry into World Heritage Area fires

Tasmanian bushfires: Senate calls for independent inquiry into World Heritage Area fires 

23 February 2016

published by www.abc.net.au

Australia–  The Senate has formally called on the Federal Government to establish an independent inquiry into the recent fires in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area.

A motion moved by Greens Senator Nick McKim and Labor Senator Lisa Singh passed the Senate on Monday afternoon.

The Tasmania Fire Service estimates about 1.2 percent or 20,000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) has been damaged by fire since they began in mid-January.

An inquiry would examine the response by authorities to the fires, the availability of resources and the impact of global warming on fire frequency and size.

Last week the Federal Government said it did not support an inquiry because it was a state matter.

But Senator McKim argues Australia is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, which binds the Commonwealth Government to responsibly manage the TWWHA.

He called on the Senate to note that it took at least 12 days for the Minister for Justice Michael Keenan to activate an emergency management response after the fires began on January 13.

Senator Singh said the Turnbull and Hodgman governments needed to prioritise an inquiry ahead of the next summer bushfire season.

“So we can more fully understand how climate change is placing Tasmania’s precious places at risk, and what we need to do about it,” she said.

“These areas have irreplaceable ecological and cultural value, including plants from the Cretaceous period, and centuries-old forests featuring stunning King Billy pines.”

Response too slow: Greens Leader

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale visited the World Heritage Area last week and said he believed authorities were too slow in responding.

“We’re seeing people come from New Zealand, we’re seeing the Defence Force deployed and we’re seeing firefighting equipment from right around the country, that’s what needs to happen at the outset of an event like this,” he said.

The Greens have also called for a new national unit to take the lead in emergencies.

However, a spokesman for the Attorney-General’s department said last week that states should remain in charge.

Lightning strikes sparked up to 70 bushfires in January, stretching Tasmania’s resources.

About half of the fires that are still burning are under control. but hundreds of interstate fire fighters remain on the job, helping local crews.

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