Fire: the target’s credibility continues to leak

The Weekly Times has this week released a leaked DEPI discussion paper which recommends increased use of private contractors to help it achieve its burning targets in the coming year.

The leaked document can be found here. It argues that DEPI should take a more proactive and systematic approach to integrating private contractors into its burning program; that its present use of contractors is inconsistent, ad hoc and not transparent; and the pool of suitably qualified people who could be contracted is shrinking because of the steady decline of the timber industry, a traditional source of skilled, locally available workers.

Whatever the merits of its argument, the problem highlighted by the document is pretty clear—and it’s not disputed by anyone except Government politicians and their DEPI senior spokespeople: the Department’s burning target can’t be achieved with present staffing levels. As the discussion paper puts it:

‘There is a general consensus in the Regions where burns targets are increasing dramatically that delivery will not be able to be met by expanding on current methods of delivery.  DEPI resources have limited capacity to expand to deliver a large increase to the program…Without a large increase in DEPI staff and internal plant numbers, such a delivery model will be unable to meet the expected demand…Government has made it clear that large scale staff increases will not occur…’

The paper is interested in mechanical matters only—construction and maintenance of access tracks, mineral earth breaks, and so on. It doesn’t touch on the Department’s capacity to assess and manage the ecological effects of its burning regime, which has been progressively eroded by ministers of both governments over the last 15 years [including staff cuts of 500+ under the present government].

The  Environment Minister has dismissed the discussion paper as having ‘no status.’ Maybe: but the facts on which it’s based look pretty convincing.

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