Campaign launched to increase planned burning on public land

Campaign launched to increase planned burning on public land

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Eastern Victorian MP Melina Bath, BUGU member David Bentley, and Nationals leader and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh, at the launch of the 'Fuel Reduction Saves Lives' campaign.

Eastern Victorian MP Melina Bath, BUGU member David Bentley, and Nationals leader and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh, at the launch of the 'Fuel Reduction Saves Lives' campaign.

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A passionate group is calling on the Victorian government to increase fuel reduction burns on public land.

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A passionate group is calling on the Victorian government to increase fuel reduction burns on public land.

The group, Bush User Groups United (BUGU), has joined forces with Nationals leader and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh and Eastern Victorian MP Melina Bath, to launch the 'Fuel Reduction Saves Lives' campaign.

Mr Walsh said the government needed to abide by the recommendation made in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission final report to fund a long-term program of prescribed burning, with an annual rolling target of a minimum of 5 per cent of public land each year.

He said ignoring this recommendation put regional communities at risk.

"Victorians deserve to be safe and more planned burns will increase community safety," he said.

Ms Bath said the government had actually reduced its spend on fuel reduction burning.

"In 2014/15, $50 million was spent on direct fire management activities," she said.

"Last year, [Premier] Daniel Andrews spent only $18 million on direct fire management activities in contrast, representing a 64 per cent cut.

"Shockingly, of this $18 million, 15pc was spent on fuel reduction activities and 85pc was spent on planning and reporting.

"The government needs to own up to the fact that when it comes to planned burns, it has dropped the ball."

READ MORE:Alpine grazing should be considered at bushfire commission say cattlemen

David Barton is a member of BUGU and has had first-hand experience with bushfires and fuel reduction burning.

In 2009, Dr Barton lost his Marysville property and business in the Black Saturday bushfires, and has since written a PhD thesis on bushfire recovery.

He also used to own a property in the high country at Matlock for about 25 years and fuel reduction burns played an important role in reducing the local risk of bushfires.

But government intervention made it impossible to continue.

"We used to do our own fuel reduction burns in Matlock in the '80s and '90s but by the mid '90s, the then Labor government changed the rules so people couldn't do fuel reduction on or around their properties," he said.

"We persisted for a little while, but then had a visit from some government authorities who basically said if we continued, we would end up in jail, so we were quite threatened, and the fuel reduction burning ceased.

"The areas that we used to keep clear in the '80s and '90s around the township are now well and truly overgrown; the only way that we were permitted [to clear] was using mechanical means, which is just ridiculous."

He said at the same time, the CFA, who were involved in burning around local towns, lost that role, and instead the task was taken over by the now Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

"That was just another area where fuel reduction burning was prevented," he said.

Dr Barton said the biggest issues at the moment were that there were too many parks and not enough decent management of those parks.

"The crazy thing in the last 20 years has been this terrible business of VEAC (Victorian Environmental Assessment Council) creating more and more national parks," he said.

"What's happened with so many of the tracks that we used to use and keep open, because they became MVO (management vehicle only) tracks, which are closed to the public, many of those tracks have been left to become overgrown, so for vehicles to get quick access to a fire is getting much more difficult.

"The current government policy is if there is a fire and the access track has become overgrown, to send a bulldozer down and clear the whole track, but that's quite damaging and time-wasting."

He said another issue was the banning of firewood collection.

"It's really quite remarkable that you've got forests where firewood collection is banned because it's supposed to be habitat for wildlife, but then you get bushfires that absolutely eradicate the habitats anyway," he said.

He added that the issue with fuel reduction burning was that it had to be done regularly.

"We used to do it every year but it really needs to be done a minimum of every two to three years and certainly at least every five years," he said.

"And a lot of what's passed as fuel reduction by the government is just ineffective and laughable."

Dr Barton said the whole issue has become a "wicked problem" - a problem that had no easy solution.

"The factors that are involved are so complex and so interrelated that there's no simple or easy solution," he said.

"But we've got city-based people with no experience in the bush making these decisions and at the same time excluding the local people from any involvement in the decision-making process."

The government defended its spending, saying the funding allocated last financial year had actually increased by 25pc on 2017/18, where $14.5 million was spent.

Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said the Coalition's claims were hypocritical.

"This is sheer hypocrisy from a party that didn't reach the 5pc target when in government," Ms D'Ambrosio said.

"Planned burning is not a silver bullet, it's part of an integrated strategy to protect life and property.

"We will be guided by the experts and will ensure that planned burning only occurs when it is safe to do so."

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