AUSTRALIA – The Greens are pushing for an independent inquiry into government responses to recent bushfires that have devastated parts of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area (WHA).
Dozens of bushfires were sparked by lightning strikes across Tasmania several weeks ago.
About 2 per cent of the WHA has been burnt so far, with some fires still burning in inaccessible terrain.
Senator Nick McKim has moved a motion in Federal Parliament calling on both the state and the Commonwealth to establish and fund the inquiry.
“Over 18,400 hectares have already been burned inside the World Heritage Area, including fragile alpine ecosystems and Gondwana species, which in the whole world only exist in very small parts of Tasmania,” he said.
“This is a national crisis and we need more resources thrown into the fray.
“We also need to assess how the fires were handled, how we can better plan for our changing climate, which science is telling us will make bushfire conditions worse, and what we can learn to improve our response to wilderness fires in the future.
“I will move a motion urging the Government to hold an independent inquiry into the fires when the Senate resumes on February 22.”
Hodgman defends Tasmanian response
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman maintained the inquiry was unnecessary but said the State Government was planning to undertake a review.
“It is part of good process that the Government and its key agencies will review our operations,” he said.
“There will be internal reviews and there will also be expert analysis done to understand the damage to our environment and also what we’ve managed to protect and that will be undertaken by interstate resources and independent experts.”
He defended his Government’s response to the bushfire season.
“We have invested record amounts in making our state as fire ready as it can be,” he said.
“We have invested close to $30 million in fuel reduction burns and have helped protect our natural asset.”
Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said a review was not good enough.
“We need to move towards and independent, expert-based inquiry,” she said.
“That can call for public submissions, hold hearings and make recommendations to both the State and Federal Government about how we make sure that, in future, when our priceless wilderness assets are threatened by fire, that we have the capacity and the will to deal with them quickly.”
Inquiry issues a matter for Tasmania: Hunt
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said any issues that may warrant an inquiry were a matter for the State Government.
A spokesman for the Minister said the Federal Government had been “closely engaged” and had been supporting Tasmanian authorities since the fires began last month.
The Minister is also liaising about the extent of damage in the World Heritage Area and defended the Government’s action on climate change.
“We are liaising regularly with Tasmania to understand the extent of the areas damaged in the Tasmanian Wilderness,” the statement said.
“We are monitoring closely the impacts of bushfires and working with the Tasmanian Government regarding recovery assistance.
“Ongoing assessment of the bushfires’ impacts on the environment and affected communities will inform a collaborative recovery response.”