Urgency needed in fire debate

Urgency needed in fire debate

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"IT'S time!" could have been the overwhelming catchcry at last week's community-led fire forum in Bairnsdale.

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"IT'S time!" could have been the overwhelming catchcry at last week's community-led fire forum in Bairnsdale, when farmers, forestry workers, volunteer fire fighters and rural dwellers met to discuss bushfire mitigation.

A number of resolutions passed on the day, many of which called for legislated change to enable vegetation clearing, a commitment to prescribed burning ratios supported by science, local control for fire operations and a program allowing rural landholders to participate in burning to reduce fire risk.

The resolutions will be forwarded to politicians for their feedback, according to John Mulligan, president of the East Gippsland Wildfire Taskforce, the lead organisation to convene the forum.

Forum chairman, Philip Davis, summed up the feeling of attendees.

"There needs to be change," he said.

"We keep hearing the same stories after every fire season and something needs to be done."

The issue of risk-adverse policies and procedures was raised by all speakers.

Former CSIRO bushfire scientist and retired fire weather specialist with the Bureau of Meteorology David Packham (pictured) told the forum Australia's fire problem was the most serious in the world.

"The southeast region has the most serious bushfire problem in Australia, and East Gippsland the most serious in the southeast," he said.

Garry Squires, ex-government employee, ex-forester and forum speaker, said because politicians and bureaucrats feared community scrutiny, the "risk-adverse" culture resulted in an attitude of "it's better to do nothing that risk a mistake".

He advocated a system change that enabled outsourcing of local bushfire prevention burning and trust relationships to be built between the bureaucracy and farmers.

"The window of opportunity for preventative burning is too small. Let's talk about trying to burn a certain fuel profile, over a period of time," Mr Squires said.

Speaker and agri-politician, Chris Nixon's farm was burnt in the 2003 Alpine bushfires, destroying sheds, fences, pasture and hundreds of head of cattle.

"Until there is a well thought out and constructive debate there will be no change; and that is the kind of debate we need," Mr Nixon said.

"We've been promised change and that hasn't occurred. Reviews and reports after each severe bushfire protect the status quo and policy doesn't change."

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