Bushfire preparedness – Question without Notice

Services. During the devastating 2019–20 bushfires in East Gippsland, experienced CFA volunteers were extremely frustrated by government bureaucracy which impeded their ability to undertake backburns on Crown land and hence reduce the spread of fire. As well as fire behaviour analysis and incident control, plans for back-burns must be addressed by:

… Biodiversity and Cultural Heritage experts who ensure that sensitive areas are protected.

That is a quote from the government’s fact sheet on the topic. Minister, what action will you take to streamline this process so back-burns can be used to better protect forests and communities from mega bushfires?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:10): Thank you, Ms Bath, for your question. It might be appropriate for you and me to have an offline
discussion in relation to the specific issues that you are concerned about. There are a range of experts – there are working bodies, we have a joint fuel management program – that advise me on where backburning is appropriate and where it is safe to do. It is a very vexed issue. So to ask me what I am going to do, I would confirm that I continually have briefings and meetings with my colleagues that have an interest in this. We have a committee of cabinet that is regularly briefed by the agencies in relation to back-burning and the like. So I guess my answer to your question is that I will continue to rely on the experts and I will continue to go out and talk to local communities about their concerns. But it is an issue that I get a little bit concerned about when people say, ‘Why aren’t you back-burning?’ and when I go and ask about a particular area, the advice comes back saying, ‘We don’t need to, because that’s not a danger area.’ You need to make sure

Melina Bath: On a point of order, President, the minister is being relevant, but she is conflating or confusing back-burning with preparatory burns. I am speaking about back-burning, Minister.

The PRESIDENT: The minister was being relevant to the question. Minister, have you finished?

Jaclyn SYMES: Yes.

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:12): Thank you, Minister. In January 2020 Bemm River CFA second lieutenant David Sturgess made repeated formal requests for permission to strategically
back-burn on Crown land and thwart the advancement of a megafire from the east heading to the Bemm River township. Only at the last minute did government agencies relent and give CFA
permission, in effect placing volunteers at unnecessary heightened risk. Minister, with the new bushfire season fast approaching and fuel loads at a three-year high, what will you do to guarantee that experienced volunteers are listened to and respected?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:13): Ms Bath, I appreciate your interest in this matter, and I absolutely applaud your advocacy for the
hardworking volunteers that you come into contact with that have views and expertise in this space. Their views are valued. There is a range of information that goes into these considerations – the Office of Bushfire Risk Management and within FFMVic. Many government agencies are involved in this, and they draw on advice from local volunteers. They are valued; they are a voice. I do not make these decisions, but I do ensure that all of those decisions that are made are made in collaboration with interested parties.