The independent Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor, Neil Comrie, has released his July 31 report on the progress of implementation of the Commission’s many recommendations.
The Monitor’s report takes aim at the five per cent burning target: it ‘questions the rolling target as the most effective way to increase the level of planned burning across the State as working towards a predetermined target may diminish the State’s ability to focus on risk reduction in high risk areas. The [Implementation Monitor] advocates that the State reconsider the planned burning target of five percent as the primary outcome as part of the planned burning reform program. It is considered that the most important objective of the planned burning program must be to address public safety risks in line with [the Royal Commission’s] intentions.’ [p 8]
Behind this rather bureaucratic language is the clear implication that concentrating on burning thousands of hectares a year is actually distracting the State from its supposed primary objective: to protect human life.
Mr Comrie recommends (p 174 and elsewhere) that ‘the planned burning program be strategically focussed on addressing high bushfire risk areas rather than on meeting the broader hectare burning target”. Given that Mr Comrie’s brief was to monitor how the Commission’s recommendations were being implemented, and not whether they should be implemented, his suggestion that the 5% target should be reviewed is very interesting. One possible explanation is that he’s been repeatedly told by well informed people that the widespread burning of remote areas is pointless from the point of view of human safety, and disastrously damaging to the environment.
In other respects the Comrie report is a mixed bag. On the Royal Commisssion’s recommendation 57 [that fire operations be monitored for their environmental effects] he appears to have accepted without question DSE’s cover story on the matter, without looking for serious evidence that the supposed monitoring program is working [or, maybe more importantly, that it’s influencing the practice of fire managers]. It is of course outside the Monitor’s brief to ask another question: is the burning program turning the state into a desert?
The full report is available at: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/council/tabled-documents/search-tabled-documents/details/3/892
The Age’s coverage of the monitor’s report can be found at: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/bushfire-burnoff-goal-needs-review-20120731-23d0l.html#ixzz22FbduJ00