Bushfire Preparedness

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:00): (265) My question is to the Minister for Environment. Under your government’s so-called Safer Together policy of a statewide average target of 70 per cent residual risk, entire regions face a summer bushfire season of unacceptably high community danger, property danger and life danger. This year Forest Fire Management Victoria’s Latrobe district has an alarming residual risk of almost 85 per cent. Why are you putting the lives and property of people in Latrobe district in a serious state of jeopardy?

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep, Minister for Environment) (12:01):I thank Ms Bath for her question. It is an important issue and something I know that our dedicated teams right across the state within FFMVic and also our other fire agencies are absolutely focused on, because we know that the climate is getting hotter. We know that the outlook for the upcoming bushfire season is very serious. And of course, as you would expect, they are fully focused on making sure that they are taking a risk-based approach to minimising the risks across the community. Ms Bath, you would be aware that not all of the risk is even across the state. It depends on a number of different factors in different regions. The good news, though, is that the overall residual risk for the state is well below the 70 per cent target that has been set. We take a risk-based approach now to reducing risk in the highest risk areas, and that is a direct result of implementing IGEM’s recommendations after the devastating bushfires in 2019 and 2020. We will continue to be absolutely focused. Our agencies are hard at work, working cooperatively between the CFA, FFMVic and of course public land managers and private landowners, because everybody needs to play their part in terms of reducing risk. I can indicate that overall the current risk rating is 62 per cent across the state, which is well below the 70 per cent target that has been set. There are a range of ways in which we can reduce the risk, and
they include of course planned burns. There have been over 200 planned burns undertaken by our teams across FFMVic. There are also mechanical treatments and of course the important work that the CFA do together with FFMVic about making sure communities have their bushfire plans in place. We know that climate change means that these challenges are just going to increase year on year, and our government is absolutely focused on making sure that our FFMVic teams right across Victoria have the support they need and have the equipment they need to be able to address community safety right across the public land estate. I know that the CFA are very focused on that in respect of how they support landowners across private land.

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:04): Minister, I thank you for your response, but in no way did you go anywhere close to discussing the Latrobe district, which is at an almost 85 per cent residual risk, so I ask: the Victorian bushfires royal commission recommended a 5 per cent annual rolling target of fuel reduction across the public forest estate. However, since Labor introduced the ‘Safer Together’ policy, less than 1.5 per cent has been achieved across the state. Minister, before the window of opportunity for planned burns closes, will you guarantee that the residual risk target for Latrobe district will be met to better protect the lives of these regional Victorians?

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep, Minister for Environment) (12:04): I think that Ms Bath is conflating a few different issues here. As I have
explained, the residual risk targets that are set are in direct response to recommendations made by IGEM as a result of the bushfires royal commission and the devastating impacts that those events had on communities. What Ms Bath fails to want to hear is that there is already a risk-based process in place. There is no point reaching targets that do not actually target the areas of highest risk, and that is exactly what our hardworking agencies and FFMVic are working on in the lead-up to the next fire season and beyond.