Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Wednesday, 28 November 2018) . . Page.. 4985 ..
Back-burning is a key tool in the prevention and mitigation of bushfires. The community have a high expectation that we will keep them as safe as we possibly can. In areas where back-burning has been carried out, potential fires will not produce as much heat or intensity, and even if a fire is declared out of control, as soon as the weather improves and the wind drops et cetera, the reduced fuel load of back-burned areas means that they can greatly assist in regaining control of a fire.
Back-burning fuel loads also assists in reducing potential flame heights and the production and size of embers. This again makes bushfires easier and safer to fight, but, more importantly, it can make them slower to spread and less dangerous to the public. Embers were a huge problem, as we all know, in 2003. The devastating speed at which that fire spread was a major factor in why that was such a destructive disaster.
Back-burning is a responsibility that comes with being the bush capital. In a city like ours, with its unique corridors of bushland separating our town centres, we need to be constantly vigilant. Our hotter and drier than usual conditions in the lead-up to the current bushfire season led to the commencement of the bushfire season a month earlier than usual. This meant that we may have had even less time to get through the burning program, potentially.
With this shorter than usual time frame and unsuitable weather conditions, we got through just 24.3 per cent of the area identified for burns. Of course, on days when the weather is unsuitable, there is little that can be done. The safety of our community, however, is paramount, and back-burning in unfavourable conditions is a risk that we obviously cannot take. In the not-too-distant past we have seen fires here and abroad that began as controlled back-burns getting out of control, so I am not suggesting for a minute that we do it on days when it is unsafe.
When the conditions are suitable, however, we should be doing whatever we can to achieve the goals and targets. The minister has often stated that because the weather conditions were unsuitable, the back-burning targets were not met. In annual reports hearings the minister stated that it will only be more challenging “as we see global warming occurring”. If that is the case, consequently there will be fewer suitable days to achieve our goals. Therefore, what are we going to do about it? Hopefully, we will not just throw our arms up in despair.
I do not claim that the minister can simply click his fingers and complete all the burns; far from it. This is a complex issue. However, meeting seven per cent of a government target, or only 24 per cent of the area identified, to me, says that we must do more, and that is what I am calling on the government to do. I am asking the government to investigate how we can increase our burning capacity during the limited periods with suitable weather conditions so that we can do more to protect ourselves on the days when the weather is appropriate.
Are we able to make better use of the different agencies across ACT government to carry out burns? Could we make better use of volunteers, trained casual workers, or even recently retired firefighters who would be happy to assist? If we have a few good days in a row, are we able to increase our burning loads at short notice to achieve more of our targets? These are all important questions that I hope we can work on