Bushfire inquiry covers up fuel reduction failure

"With the interim report from the Bushfires Royal Commission now out, the most stark revelations are those which are not stated," CEC Leader Craig Isherwood said today.

Back in February, Mr Isherwood said that Victoria doesn't need a Royal Commission, as it has had two Royal Commissions before, by Judge Stretton, into the Victorian bushfire disasters of 1939 and 1944, and the result was crystal clear: the bushfire disasters then, as now, were caused by what the Judge called "ridiculously inadequate" prescribed burning of the forests, and he mandated "fire prevention must be the paramount consideration of the forester".

"Guess what was left out of this interim report?" Mr Isherwood asked.

He restated, "For forty years, fuel reduction burning was practiced as a scientific forestry management measure, until the intervention of, first, radical greenies in the Cain/Kirner Labor Government, and then, radical economic rationalists in the Kennett Government.

"Environmental concerns for 'biodiversity' etc. were increasingly cited to stop fuel reduction burns in the Cain/Kirner years, and then Kennett slashed the Department's budget and staff, and gutted its ability to do prescribed burns.

"In 1992 the Auditor-General found that the Department of Conservation and Environment [now Sustainability and Environment] had cut expenditure on fire prevention by 23 per cent over five years, and in 2003 the Auditor-General found that the amount of prescribed burning had never met the Department's targets." Mr Isherwood continued, "As I stated in February, prescribed burning doesn't stop bushfires, but it dramatically reduces the intensity of the type of wildfires that erupt on extreme fire danger days like Black Saturday."

He pointed out that last December, two months before the Black Saturday bushfire disaster, the Brumby government had already rejected the idea of tripling the area of prescribed burning from 130,000 to 385,000, stating that "the government supports a move away from focusing on hectare-based targets, which may lead to inappropriate planned burning programs."

Mr Isherwood blasted the government: "This is pollie-code, for 'we don't want to spend the money', to fund the personnel, machinery and infrastructure (which was dismantled in the 90s), and have a crash programme to expand our capacity to 'triple' the area we can safely perform controlled burns.

"Well, the reality is, that with the government now issuing warnings that the approaching fire season will be worse than the last, currently only 503 prescribed burns over 113,000 hectares have been completed.

"Given that national parks alone have increased from 276,343 hectares in 1975 to 3,230,741 hectares in 2005, more than a ten-fold increase, even controlled burning targets of 385,000 hectares per year, is a small target for bushfire control."

Mr Isherwood concluded, "The government continues to be criminally negligent, when it comes to bushfire control."