9 January 2023

Call for bushfire resourcing boost in face of climate change threat

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
15
2003 Canberra bushfires 2003

January 2003: 20 years on, new suburbs in the west and north are on the bushfire front line. Photo: File.

Two decades after the 2003 firestorm, the ACT’s firefighting forces are stretched thin along a longer urban-rural fringe and the government needs to do more so the Territory can adapt to the reality of more frequent and intense bushfires due to a changing climate, a new report has found.

The Report on ACT Bushfire Management since 2003 from the ACT Multi Hazard Advisory Council says that while much has been done since the 18 January disaster that killed four people and destroyed 488 homes, the government now needs to take a more strategic, long-term approach to bushfire management, including boosting the numbers of both professional and volunteer firefighters, as well as harnessing community-based responses.

“While the ACT Government has undertaken a strategic climate change risk assessment, it largely focuses on threats to government assets and services, and there appears to have been few practical actions implemented to combat the effects of climate change on bushfire risk, and those that have been implemented have been opportunistic rather than strategic,” the report says.

It calls for the shift to a whole-of-government approach and clearer objectives in the Territory’s bushfire management, including a five-year plan to further develop mitigation strategies and firefighting responses appropriate to the increased bushfire risks predicted for future climate scenarios.

READ ALSO New recycling plant on fast track, but it could still be years away

The report says much can be learned from previous bushfires and the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) and the Emergency Services Agency should jointly commission experts to conduct an independent analysis of fire management programs since 2003, as well as bring together data that is currently poorly structured, spread across multiple systems and in some cases lacking.

This includes a focus on evaluating bushfire management practices to know what works and what doesn’t, such as the effectiveness of fuel reduction and fire suppression in different conditions.

EPSDD should also do more to integrate traditional Indigenous fire knowledge into land and fire management practices and boost the number of cultural burning programs.

READ ALSO Summernats 35 draws record crowds, entrants but marred by poor behaviour of a few

The report says ESA and the Parks and Conservation Service staff numbers may no longer be enough to provide “significant, rapid improvement and innovation” in ways to prevent, fight and limit the impact of bushfires.

“With climate change, we will increase having prolonged, multiple disasters, which require considerable depth in capacity in our emergency services, both in the paid workforces in ESA and EPSDD and the volunteer workforce,” it warns.

Aerial photo of the 2020 Orroral Valley fire

The 2020 Orroral Valley fire destroyed most of Namadgi National Park. Photo: Supplied.

It will require “either a significant change in operational resourcing, and/or strategic change at a policy, not operational, level”.

The report urges agencies to conduct 10-year capability plans to identify what will be required in the medium term for increasingly long concurrent multiple disasters, including campaign bushfires, and for them to be resourced appropriately.

It says the ACT Government should also conduct a forward-looking assessment of the annual resource levels required to implement the next and fifth Strategic Bushfire Management Plan due in 2025 and publish it with the Plan’s release.

READ ALSO Praise be the traffic: South Coast crowds return in a summer like old times

The report recommends that bushfire protection along the rural-urban interface – which has grown with the development of the new Molonglo, Ginninderry and North Gungahlin suburbs – should automatically increase as that urban edge expands.

Community involvement in bushfire management also needs to be overhauled, including Community Fire Units taking on more responsibility at a local level, establishing units in the new suburbs and supporting those struggling to recruit members.

“We need a step change in our approaches to community engagement – moving from government-led one-way communications to a more integrated approach which includes supporting and empowering communities to identify their own resources, capabilities and needs, and to do their own planning for fire preparedness and response,” the report says.

Since the 2003 bushfires, the ACT has established 58 Community Fire Units (CFUs), managed under the ACT Fire and Rescue Service, but a number of new suburbs in the Molonglo Valley and North Gungahlin still lack any.

The report recommends the government broaden the scope of how people can offer their services and develop a five-year plan to build a much bigger volunteer workforce.

READ ALSO ACT population forecast to hit half a million by 2030, and there could be growing pains

Fortunately, the appetite for joining volunteer RFS brigades and ESA units remains strong, with both having waiting lists.

The report says bushfire risk deserves to be given greater priority in planning legislation and decisions, and the report urges that mitigation works be fast-tracked.

The report continues its theme of independent advice by calling for credible experts to prepare bushfire risk assessments in planning processes.

It says the government should take urgent action to mandate that all new and substantially altered buildings within Bushfire Prone Areas comply with the Australian standard.

The report urges the adoption of new technologies and fostering innovation, and recommends EPSDD and ESA each have a research and development manager.

It says the government should establish a strategic investment plan to accelerate innovation and technological developments in fire forecasting, real-time information, bushfire detection and firefighting strategies.

READ ALSO Doubt over AUKUS submarine deal

Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman said the government would respond formally to the report but said some of the 23 recommendations could be worked through immediately.

“There are a number of really important points the council has recommended to us and the way we approach our bushfire management into the future, particularly around the five-yearly reviews,” he said.

“We also need to make sure our bushfire services are funded properly and securely into the future.”

Mr Gentleman said the government looked each year where it could boost resourcing to the ESA.

“Of course, it’s a challenge for government to manage resources in this way, but we’re looking at the report and that will help argue [the case] in cabinet,” he said.

Council chair Dr Sally Troy said greater policy development and capturing that community resource would also make a difference.

“But we crucially say we need to have a plan around what the expectation is, what is the community expectation of government and what is the government’s expectation of community and how do we resource to meet that,” she said.

The ACT Multi Hazard Advisory Council replaced the ACT Bushfire Council in December 2021.

Join the conversation

15
All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Latest
HiddenDragon7:12 pm 10 Jan 23

If anything, the “climate change threat” is making the ACT’s bushfire risks all the worse because it has greatly emboldened and empowered the tree hugging twits who are in complete denial about the fuel load which is building up in the name of “protecting our urban forest” and likewise on public lands surrounding and running through Canberra surburbia.

Capital Retro3:46 pm 10 Jan 23

Good to see more people waking up to the global warming, climate variation, climate change, climate crisis scare industry and calling it out.

Yes, people on Facebook are clearly more relevant to the reality of climate change than actual scientific research or evidence.

I know I get all my news from selectively Googling websites that agree with my pre-determined position. I simply type in the angle I’m after and then only click and share links that agree with me. It’s amazingly informative.

Science Schmience, pfft.

Capital Retro7:28 pm 10 Jan 23

Chewy, have you ever seen “climate change” emulated in a school science laboratory? No, and neither has anyone else. You claim to understand all the mumbo-jumbo the UN and the promoters of renewable energy projects pay for but it’s all a giant scam.

Follow the money trail.

Now you’re just being leftist Chewy14 with all this talk about facts and stuff..

Capital Retro,
Yes, I’ve seen the experiments completed on the “spare” Earth that’s orbiting around the sun. And the results of those experiments show that climate change is definitely real and occurring.

But of course you wouldn’t hear about the real information about the second Earth because the Global Fossil Fuel cabals are burying the truth. I only found out about it because Bazza on Facebook enlightened me with his repetitive posting of obscure websites. When I started selectively googling, I was shocked in what I found.

Wake up, Follow the money trail, the conspiracies are real.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.