Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Wednesday, 28 November 2018) . . Page.. 4984 ..
kilometres from the nearest suburbs in Weston Creek and Tuggeranong, and was burning out of control.
The out of control fire grew in size to over 200 hectares and it took firefighting crews multiple days to get the blaze under control. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the firefighters, paramedics, volunteers and all of our first responders who worked tirelessly and bravely to keep our community safe. It was a nerve-wracking time for residents in Duffy, Chapman and Kambah in particular, in my electorate. When an emergency strikes, these brave men and women run towards the emergency to save lives and property. I thank them.
My concern is that, under the government and this minister, we are making it harder than it has to be, potentially, for our firefighters and first responders, and indeed more risky for the community each bushfire season.
Why is it that we back-burn? Back-burning is one of a number of tools that we are committed to deploying here in the ACT in the lead-up to bushfire season. It is not a panacea, but there are reasons that we deploy it. There are also reasons why it is in the bushfire operational plan and why we are committed to at least trying to get through the majority of the areas determined as being worth burning ahead of the fire season.
I brought this up earlier in the year when I realised through questions that we had only achieved seven per cent of the burns recommended in the year before. I believe that that was certainly not in line with community expectations. John Fisher, of New South Wales State Forests, told the New South Wales Joint Select Committee on Bushfires how the fuel reduction burns carried out in autumn produce a favourable result. He stated:
The … aim with fuel reduction burning is to burn a proportion of the landscape during autumn when fuel moisture levels are sufficiently high, and sensitive environments, particularly rainforest gullies, stream sides, buffers et cetera that are sensitive to fire, are not impacted by fuel reduction burning. That allows us to constrain fuel reduction burning in that period of time to the areas that are short-term fire-dependent ecosystems blackbutt ridges, et cetera. That breaks up the fuels in the landscape and allows an effective suppression effort. Our research demonstrates that this has been quite effective.
According to the latest Justice and Community Safety Directorate annual report, just 2,004 of the 8,259 hectares identified and scheduled for prescribed burns actually underwent burning in 2017-18. That is only 24.3 per cent of the back-burning being completed—less than a quarter of it—meaning that over 75 per cent of land which was in the plan to undergo burning has not been able to be burned and is left untouched.
While I note the report states that the incomplete burns will be, hopefully, carried out over the next implementation next year, as happens every year, it comes after the year before, as I mentioned, when only seven per cent of back-burning was completed. Clearly, we are having issues with meeting these targets, and it is a legitimate concern.