Fire stoushes: do we need them?

Readers of the Midland Express on Tuesday February 17 will have noticed a letter from the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Brad Battin, as follows:

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‘The 2009 Royal Commission into Black Saturday recommended the State Government adopt a five per cent fuel reduction target.

‘Considering the Andrews Government has not publically stated their prescribed burning targets, a question was directed to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water requesting the Government’s target.

‘The response “normally those figures are articulated through budget papers”. (Hansard, February 10, 2015)

‘The response will raise anxiety in the communities affected by fires in the past as we see a government not willing to commit to prescribed burning to protect Victoria.

‘The Andrews Government must come out and explain why they have no target for Victoria; is it they don’t understand the impact, or don’t care?’

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This ‘letter’ is actually a press release, distributed presumably to all regional newspapers, and appearing in more than one. They all reproduce Mr Battin’s misspelling of ‘publicly’, though the Express did clean up his punctuation.

Unfortunately for Mr Battin, a  quick reference to Hansard of February 10 shows Minister Neville’s reply as follows:

‘I thank the member for his question. Normally these figures are articulated through budget papers, but I am happy to indicate to the member that there is no intention to make any changes.’ [Our emphasis].

In other words, Labor is persisting with Coalition policy, for the moment. What all this suggests is that Mr Battin doesn’t listen, or doesn’t read, or he’s deliberately misrepresenting the Minister’s reply. None of these options are great news for those hoping the Coalition might show some ability to rethink burning policies.

They’re not great news for the public, either. What the state needs right now is a sensible bipartisan attitude to public safety and the environment: not cheap point scoring and fear mongering. The Coalition showed last year that it was prepared to look into risk management of the fire problem: it just wasn’t prepared to go a step further and critically examine whether its five per cent target policy really is making us safer.

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