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This article was written for a Tasmanian audience, however most rural Australians may relate to the sort of red and green tape that is making uncontrolled fires worse than they need to be.

Recent comments by the Premier of Tasmania, The Minister for Emergency Services David O’Byrne, and the Chief Fire Officer Mr Brown, saying it is too late to do hazard reduction burns is nothing short of breathtaking in its stupidity and cruelty to the Tasmanian community.

This Government and the fire service have shown over many years they have little or no understanding, or indeed interest, in reducing fuel loads in our forests or on land it is responsible for by using hazard reduction burning.

During the last 5 or so years there have been serious fires in most of the mainland states, and a series of fires in Tasmania.  Any sensible person would think those in a leadership role would learn from those fires and take steps to help make our communities safer.

Why is it that farmers understand the need for planned hazard reduction burns, but those in a leadership role do not?   Even seeing the devastation that results from wildfires does not convince them of the urgency of the need to have planned hazard or ‘fuel’ reduction burns.

Most of us would excuse the Government and its agencies (including the Fire Services) for not acting on what they may call ‘anecdotal evidence’.

However, there is the mountain of scientific evidence, reports on recent bushfires, and research from respected scientific organisations like the CRC and CSIRO who do advise , amongst other recommendations,  that we have to reduce the fuel loads through hazard reduction burning.

What do the Government and fire service not understand with this simple equation?

This problem is not something that has just popped up since the Southern Tasmanian bushfires from last summer!   The Tasmanian Government announced a strategic fuel reduction program in 2007, to reduce fuel loads and therefore reduce the risk to life and property.  Very few hazard reduction burns were done, and clearly more time was spent on planning than burning.   It seems the Government and its agencies are more interested in process than outcomes.

To prove the Government knows about the importance of controls, in 2009 there was a report done for the Tas Fire Research Fund called ‘Planned Burning in Tasmania’, that included ‘Operational Guidelines’ and a ‘Review of Current Knowledge’.

The report was in parts scathing of the Tasmanian Fire Service’s performance, but also highlighted the need for those reduction burns as a priority.

I also have written about bushfires, and the need for preparedness including the use of hazard reduction burns 3 times since 2007.

In 2009 I wrote “what I find disturbing is the frequency of large fires, and the destruction they have caused.  After each large fire, we hear all the excuses from our leaders and the agencies why the fire season is bad, and why the fires were difficult to control. Then we hear all the promises of fuel reduction burns and management plans that will be implemented the following year.  It is beginning to sound like a cracked record or a large echo”.

Cracked record or large echo – it does not matter. Premier, Minister O’Byrne, and Chief Officer Brown, your lack of action is frustrating many in the rural community and putting property and lives at risk; you must start to act now.

I found the planned burns section on the TFS web site.  They have planned one burn of 3 hectares at Lees Paddocks.  I would think we need many more hectares of strategically planned burns to be effective.  The Government cannot ‘hope’ there will not be a fire season, as the environmental, economic and social scars are costly and long lasting after a major bushfire.

It is also unfair that our well trained and hardworking volunteers are relied on to keep turning up to uncontrolled fires every year, having to forego work, caring for business and family, or even their recreation.

We must start moving away from the precautionary approach of hazard reduction burns. By trying to find the ‘safest possible day’, the window of opportunity to burn gets so small that no burns will happen at all!   Good for those that are against reduction burns, but clearly it is proven we will have devastating fires.

We do need to be strategic, we do need to have planned burns, and the community needs to be involved.  But this should have started years ago.

Perhaps, with such clearly demonstrated long term malaise to fire management from the Government and responsible agencies, it is now appropriate to have an independent review, specifically into the structure, process, and who should really be managing this process.

It is not rocket science to see there are entrenched problems that cannot be fixed internally. We need good leadership to fix the problem.

To do nothing is like standing around whilst Rome burns.

David Byard

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