Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 32 - No 2 Contents 41
POLICY • Vol. 32 No. 2 • Winter 2016
• Give National Parks and similar public
conservation area managers greater flexibility
to undertake reduction of fuel accumulation.
This could involve giving managers more
discretion as to the timing and extent of burns,
obviating the need for repetitive applications
and extensive reporting after the event.
• Severely tighten planning and building
regulations to create and maintain wide fuel
free zones around urban areas. This would
mean not simply declaring certain cities
‘bushfire prone’ but accepting that virtually
all our large urban areas are bushfire prone.
• Discourage planting of flammable native
vegetation within areas of settlement—no
more ‘home among the gum trees’.
It will be difficult to turn this ship around given the
momentum generated by a mainly urban electorate.
And it would be naive to expect any policy to
eliminate bushfires when the meteorological
conditions are extreme. But current approaches are
not working and if indeed climate change is upon us
the need to shift policy course is even more urgent.
The consensus of official reports into major bushfires
almost unanimously favours greater emphasis
on widespread hazard reduction. A coordinated
approach to this form of risk reduction would be
preferable to waiting for disaster to happen again.
1 The fires burned 75% of Kosciusko National Park, most of
Namadgi National Park in the ACT and large areas of the
Gippsland forests. Almost 70% of ACT pastures, forests
and parks were burned. Australian Bureau of Statistics
(ABS), Year Book Australia, 2004 (Canberra: ABS, 2004).
2 Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), ‘Cost of
Bushfires’, Bushfire Arson Bulletin 60 (Canberra: AIC, 8
3 As above.
4 For instance, Climate Change Institute CEO John Connor
said recently that Victoria ‘may suffer a Black Saturday
level bushfire once every three years if the world fails to
curb climate change’. Louie Bacani, ‘Climate Change Fuels
Bushfires Fear’, Insurance Business (11 February 2016).
5 That said, only half a dozen of the 240 plus staff papers
produced by the NSW Office of the Environment and
Heritage deal with fire—way below the number devoted
to climate change.
6 ABC News (3 February 2016).
7 The notion of ’ ‘no-disturbance’ stems in part from a
‘fine-filter’ approach to ecosystems where the focus is on
individual ecosystems and their unique characteristics such
as special habitats needed for a single species. But land
managers cannot apply this approach over large areas as
the interactions within and between ecosystems are not
known. Attempting to preserve them results in huge costs
or paralysis. See Jim Hoggett and Aled Hoggett, When
Will We Ever Learn?, IPA Backgrounder 16:2 (Melbourne:
Institute for Public Affairs, May 2004), p.9.
8 Some academics argue not only that controlled burns
destroy biodiversity but also that prescribed burning has
little or no value in bushfire control. These misconceptions
are debunked in Mark Adams and Peter Attiwill, Burning
Issues: Sustainability and Management of Australia’s
Southern Forests (Canberra: CSIRO Publishing, 2011).
See also Khulan Altangerel and Christian A. Kull, ‘The
Prescribed Burning Debate in Australia: Conflicts and
Compatibilities’, Journal of Environmental Planning and
Management 56:1 (2013), 103-120, where the authors draw
on a survey of a range of opinions including those opposed
to any prescribed burning on the grounds that it is not
scientifically proven and is ecologically damaging. For a
more colourful analysis, see Roger Underwood, ‘Academia’s
Flaming Nincompoops’, Quadrant Online (28 December
9 Commonwealth Department of the Environment,
Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database 2014.
10 Hoggett, When Will We Ever Learn?, p.9, Table 3.
11 As above, p.2.
12 Roger Underwood, ‘Australian Bushfire Management: A
Case Study in Wisdom Versus Folly’ (March 2009).
13 The Climate Institute, True or False?: Facts and Myths about
Bushfires and Climate Change, Fact Sheet (February 2016).
14 The McCleod Report said ‘It is the view of the Inquiry that
controlled burning is the only broad-scale practicable means
of reducing the build-up of fuel loads in the extensive parks
and forests of the ACT. The practice provides no guarantee
that bushfires will be prevented, but when they do they will
not be so fierce and they will be more amenable to early
containment or extinguishment.’ See Ron McLeod AM,
‘Inquiry into the Operational Response to the January
2003 Bushfires in the ACT’ (ACT, Canberra: 1 August
2003), p. vi. The ACT Coroner Maria Doogan’s report
recommended that ‘That there be an ongoing program of
back-burning and fuel-load management across the ACT’.
See ‘The Canberra Firestorm: Inquest and Inquiry into Four
Deaths and Four Fires Between 8 and 18 January 2003’
(Canberra: ACT Coroner’s Court, 2006).
15 NSW Greens, ‘Bushfire Risk Management Policy’ (NSW
Greens, May 2014), http://nsw.greens.org.au/policies/nsw/
16 Mark Poynter, ‘A Tale of Two Fires’, Quadrant Online (6
17 Mark Adams and Peter Attiwill, Burning Issues (see note 8).
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