ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has shot back at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his suggestion of naming and shaming states and territories which have not met their hazard reduction targets.
Appearing on Sky News with Peta Credlin last night (21 January), Mr Morrison said he was thinking along similar lines when asked if the government would “name and shame those states who are not doing what they said they would do”.
When asked about Mr Morrison’s comments at a press conference this morning, Mr Barr said this sort of blame game is useless and unconstructive.
“I do not think that is the best or most cooperative and constructive path to pursue,” he said. “I do not think that the Prime Minister’s intervention on Sky News last night was particularly helpful.
“As we have heard from the NSW Rural Fire Commissioner [Shane Fitzsimmons] and, of course, our own Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan, there are environmental reasons why certain backburns cannot take place in what is a shorter offseason because of fire risk.
“We have had this tedious debate about backburning and the sorts of myths that are perpetuated on Sky News have been thoroughly debunked by the professionals.
“Climate change means that the available time to undertake hazard reduction burning is significantly reduced. They can only be undertaken when safe to do so, and we will need to take a look at other methods of hazard reduction.”
Scott Morrison tried to blame the States before the fires, during the fires and now after the fires. His do nothing, missing in action approach continues to put Australians at risk. https://t.co/qiugqrAR9k
— Senator Murray Watt (@MurrayWatt) January 21, 2020
The suggestion came after reports that the ACT Government had missed its hazard reduction targets by 25 per cent last financial year; however, Mr Barr says he is not concerned “because of the work that was undertaken in the years before”.
“The reason that the target was not met this year was that it was not safe to do so. But other means, including more manual means involving heavy machinery and equipment, have certainly achieved the end that we needed.
“This will be an ongoing problem into the future that we cannot rely on ever-narrowing windows to undertake hazard reduction burns in the offseason.
“This is a problem that every jurisdiction will face, and naming and shaming will not be the answer. It will be practical ways to get in and get the work done in a safe way.”
Mr Barr also rejected the idea of a national body to provide oversight to the states and territories. He instead suggested the army could play a year-long role in helping prepare for bushfires.
“I do not think there needs to be a national body to monitor people’s spreadsheets, I think there needs to be a national effort to actually get the work done,” he said.
“That is where practical help from the Commonwealth, be that a pool of equipment and machinery or the army [is necessary to] assist the states and territories and local government areas to undertake that sort of work.
“What I think would be a constructive way forward is acknowledging the benefit of having the army involved in some of the land clearing and other fuel reduction activities that have been taking place in recent weeks. That would be beneficial in the offseason.
“This will involve more manual fuel reduction and there is a role for the army that could be played year-round. They have certainly demonstrated their value-add here in the ACT in the last month.”
Mr Barr also insisted that the states and the Commonwealth needed to work together to tackle the problem.
“It should not be about naming and shaming, it should be about working together towards practical solutions,” he said.
“Clearly this debate will continue into the leadup to the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting in March, but what we need is a constructive approach from all levels of government.
“Let us just get on with it, and not sit here and argue about who has achieved what target. That is absolutely pointless and will make no difference on the ground in terms of preventing bushfires in the future.”