Opinion piece published in The Mercury, 24 January 2020.
A BIG contributor to this summer’s bushfire crisis has been the fact that as a nation we have not dedicated enough effort to fuel reduction burns.
Fires need fuel to burn, and the amount of fuel that has built up in a fire-prone area is of enormous importance to the scale and severity of a bushfire. Managing fuel loads is therefore critical to combating the threat of bushfires. In the words of Victoria’s Chief Fire Officer, “By reducing fuel loads, we won’t stop fires from starting, but we can reduce their spread and intensity when they do, making it easier for our forest firefighters to bring them under control quickly”.
Figures on the Green Left have taken faux exception to the valid identification of the role played by environmental activists, often with ties to the Greens Party, in obstructing fuel-reduction burns. They say that because the Greens do not control majorities at any level of government, they cannot bear any responsibility for preventing fire mitigation.
The Greens, who politicised this summer’s fires by blaming the Coalition for what they claim is a lack of seriousness to the so-called “climate emergency”, now complain their party is being criticised.
Let us examine the facts, which prove the truth about fuel loads prejudicing our capacity to minimise bushfires.
To take one example, the Environment East Gippsland group became the centre of attention this month when some members were caught celebrating the destruction of the Eden Woodchip Mill on the NSW South Coast, a business that had provided hundreds of jobs. The group is headed by former Victorian Greens candidates and staffers and organised protests in 2018 and 2019 against burn-offs in Gippsland under the guise of protecting biodiversity. As readers will be aware, Gippsland has been savaged by fires. Had it been possible for local authorities to perform proper controlled burns to manage fuel loads, the fires need not have been so large and uncontrollable.
Consider the dissenting report presented to a House of Representatives Select Committee into Recent Bushfires by Greens MP Michael Organ. Mr Organ quoted approvingly an academic who claimed “broadscale hazard reduction is threatening biodiversity conservation and must therefore be avoided by land managers and resisted at a political level”.
He concluded that “broadscale hazard reduction must be replaced”. Mr Organ’s report opposed prudent measures such as large-scale fuel reduction burns and expanding fire trails.
In Tasmania, the Greens have a similar track record of obstruction, notwithstanding former state minister and now senator Nick McKim saying in 2013 that “the Greens, in all the history of our political party, have never opposed a fuel-reduction burn, ever”. Yet in April 2013, the Tasmanian Greens voted against a motion by the then-opposition Liberals for the state government “to adopt in principle an annual fuel reduction burn target of 5 per cent of suitable public land”, a target that matched the expert recommendations of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission established after Black Saturday.
The previous year a Greens media release said the residents of Maydena “deserved better” than the “burn-offs that they were subjected to this week”, adding that “this practice has simply got to stop” and “we’re all better off when this Neanderthal practice stops and disposing of forest by-products is done far more responsibly”.
How responsible is it to let forest by-products accumulate on the ground to provide fuel for a conflagration.
Paul O’Halloran, when a Greens MP, had declared burn-offs were a threat to health and wellbeing, moaning that “once again Tasmania’s beautiful autumn days are blighted by the dense smoke plumes blocking out the sun and choking our air” and blaming the forestry industry.
In 2016 former Greens federal leader Bob Brown attacked autumn burn-offs, stating “the picturesque autumn scene is filled with manufactured smoke. It’s outrageous. These forest-destroying burns should be banned”.
The Greens claim in their official policy they support burn-offs for the purpose of saving lives and reducing the intensity of fires. In practice, they always find a reason to oppose each proposal. Not once have the Greens publicly endorsed or promoted a fuel reduction burn. Given recent protestations I look forward to their first public support for a fuel reduction burn. Because of the scale of the fires this summer, it is more important than ever the Greens’ track record of contributing to the problem is exposed.