Page 2600 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 11 August 2015

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The devastating impact of the 2003 Canberra fires on almost the entire Cotter River catchment resulted in long-lasting deterioration of water quality. Since 2003, the government has invested many millions of dollars to improve our capabilities to fight bushfire. This has included upgrades and accelerated maintenance works for a network of strategic fire trails that act as firebreaks and provide access to firefighting resources. The report recommends that the fire trail network of the lower Cotter catchment be reviewed to ensure that it provides essential access for this purpose, but also balances the need to minimise sediment run-off, noting that ill-maintained trails can contribute high sediment loads into river systems in times of heavy rainfall.

The Auditor-General has noted that TAMS and the Emergency Services Agency agree that pockets of pine tree wildlings pose a very high fire risk to the lower Cotter catchment. TAMS has produced a draft Blue Range rehabilitation plan, a working document designed to table management options that might be applied over time to address high fuel levels. More recently, TAMS has commissioned an industry consultant’s report to validate management options TAMS considered in the draft Blue Range report with a view to ensuring that all possible operational responses are known to the land manager prior to taking management decisions.

A report has been completed and will soon be considered by the inter-directorate working group. What is clear is that the fuel risk posed by unmanaged pines, some on very steep slopes, needs to be managed and mitigated. The final response is likely to be a suite of actions, possibly including removal by burning, removal by mechanical means and the upgrading of support infrastructure such as access fire trails.

The 2015-16 budget includes $936,000 towards fire fuel management works this financial year in the lower Cotter catchment, including for the Blue Range area immediately adjacent to the lower Cotter catchment. Since late 2014 TAMS has been working with colleagues in the Environment and Planning Directorate on a statutory plan of management for the lower Cotter catchment. Work is expected to be complete on a draft plan ready for public consultation by the beginning of 2016.

I consider this audit report to be an important line in the sand for the management of the lower Cotter catchment. Much has been achieved in stabilising the catchment since the 2003 fires. In a remarkable 10-year partnership between government and the community, Greening Australia has organised nearly 15,000 volunteers to plant out 500 hectares of the lower Cotter catchment with over 300,000 seedlings. I have personally witnessed hill slopes in the catchment, once completely denuded by fire, starting to once again be covered by native trees and shrubs. But this report from the Auditor-General outlines that we must do more to protect this important part of our water catchment, and the government is determined to do just that.

Appropriation Bill 2015-2016

[Cognate bill:

Appropriation (Office of the Legislative Assembly) Bill 2015-2016

Cognate papers:

Estimates 2015-2016—Select Committee report

Estimates 2015-2016—Select Committee—government response]

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