Government fire program careers wildly on

The State Government has announced a ‘major milestone’ in its management burning program: ‘more than 200,000 hectares of planned burning already carried out on public land this financial year.’ And there’s more to come: we’re heading for the biggest artificial burning program in Victoria’s history.  

What is most striking about the government’s press release [printed in full below] is the  absence of any detailed notion of what, exactly, has been achieved in this welter of burning: the statistic is everything.

'To reduce the risk of bushfires on our parks and native animals': Ashby Track area, six months after a management burn, 2012.


Readers will remember that FOBIF wrote to the responsible ministers last year asking whether serious consideration had been given to the Royal Commission Implementation Monitor’s recommendation that the five per cent burning target be revised. The Monitor suggested that the rush to burn lots of country might be compromising public safety by encouraging burns in remote areas.

Although the responsible minister, Peter Ryan, had said that the government would ‘consider’ the monitor’s view, all we got from his spokesman (and from the Environment Minister Ryan Smith] was a lot of patronising generalities about fire. At the time we took this to mean: ‘No, we’re not paying any attention to what the Monitor says.’ The latest press release confirms this view.

There are interesting research projects under way on the effects of frequent burning on bushland in various habitats. There’s no evidence that these projects are influencing government policy, though it’s clear that many DSE officers are concerned about the likelihood that these practices will radically alter bush environments for the worse. It’s a bit like deliberately burning down your own house, while carefully researching the effect of fire on residential amenity.

The Government’s press release, dated May 9, reads in full as follows:

Coalition Government’s planned burning program reaches major milestone

The Victorian Coalition Government has hit a milestone with more than 200,000 hectares of planned burning already carried out on public land this financial year and more to come as weather conditions remain stable.

Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith said reaching the 200,000 hectare mark was a significant achievement and reflected the hard work of fire crews from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) and Parks Victoria.

“Despite a prolonged bushfire season followed by significant rain, planned burning has been carried out on almost 220,000 hectares of public land. This is 22,000 hectares more than was accomplished last year,” Mr Smith said.

“Our crews have done an amazing job and have been able to seamlessly switch from fighting some of the largest bushfires in the past several decades to preparing and undertaking the largest planned burning program in the last 20 years.

“We still have a good window of mild, stable weather conditions ahead of us and we’ll take every opportunity to carry out more planned burns to further reduce the risk of bushfires on our parks and native animals, as well as Victorian communities, people and property.”

Mr Smith said this year’s bushfires reinforced the need for an extensive strategic planned burning program.

“This is a reminder of why we need to increase the amount of planned burning we do on public land, and why we need both large burns in areas like East Gippsland, as well as the smaller asset protection burns around areas like Melbourne,” Mr Smith said.

“We’ve also done a lot of other work to reduce fuel loads including slashing, mowing and clearing in high-risk areas such as the Dandenong Ranges.”

The Coalition Government announced in Tuesday’s State Budget it would invest a further $33.7 million to increase its planned burning program over the next two years.

“Scaling up the state’s planned burning program is a big challenge, one that has not been attempted at this magnitude before,” Mr Smith said.

“This additional funding will allow DEPI to make further improvements to expand the planned burning program.

“This stands in stark contrast to the previous Labor Government, which in 2005-2006 only managed to burn 49,000 hectares and repeatedly failed to even reach the 100,000 hectare mark.”

Fire crews from DEPI and Parks Victoria will take advantage of stable weather conditions to carry out planned burns across the state over the coming week.

To find out where and when planned burns are happening visit, call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on1800 240 667, or listen to your local radio station.

The FireReady smartphone application also shows planned burns ignited today, on a map.

Media contact: James Martin 0400 744 913

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