Making sense of a brutal summer: ACT committee to review bushfire season

Michael Weaver 28 April 2020 14
Orroral Valley fire. Namadgi National Park Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media

The Gudgenby Valley near Mt Namadgi after the Orroral Valley fire. Photos: Michael Weaver.

An ACT Legislative Assembly committee will try to make sense of summer’s devastating bushfire season, analysing how the emergency played out across the community.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety will conduct a review into responses by the ACT’s emergency services which will also help shape how authorities tackle the 2020-21 bushfire season.

The scope of the review will range from the preparation, education and public communication, to actions by agencies at the height of the bushfires during the summer of 2019-20.

The review will be conducted in addition to the Federal Government’s Bushfire Royal Commission, which is due to report by the end of August, and the NSW Government’s independent expert inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfire season.

The committee will be chaired by the Shadow Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Giulia Jones, with panel members Bec Cody and Deepak-Raj Gupta.

Mrs Jones said the review will allow the Legislative Assembly and the ACT community to have a discussion about the 2019-20 bushfire season.

“Everybody agrees that we did better this time than in 2003 and not just because the fire was coming from a different angle, but because the communication and information were handled much better,” Mrs Jones told Region Media.

“There are still things that people have been critical of, so it’s an opportunity for the community to have its say.”

Tharwa Country Store

Owner of the Tharwa Country Store and Rural Fire Service member, Kevin Jeffery.

Tharwa Community Association president and volunteer firefighter with the ACT Rural Fire Service Kevin Jeffery said a lot of money was wasted painting the forests pink when the real threat from the Orroral Valley fire had already crossed the ACT border and was threatening towns such as Bumbalong and Bredbo in NSW.

“The aerial assets were used totally ineffectively. One of my crews from Tharwa found that when these aerial crews come in and put water or retardant on a fire, your firefighters have to back off.

“The retardant hits the top of the trees and by the time the crews can get back in there, one section of the fire had crossed a road and they’d temporarily lost control of it.”

Mr Jeffery said he would like to make a submission to the review or the Royal Commission but has been busy keeping his business at the Tharwa Country Store afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’d switched off the bushfires a bit, but there’s probably plenty of words that the old man wrote that I could repurpose,” he said.

Mrs Jones said she hopes people haven’t forgotten about the summer’s bushfires and urges people to use the ACT review as an opportunity to offer solutions to the problems they encountered.

“There are strong opinions out there and it’s our role in a democracy, whether there’s another crisis or not, to give those people a chance to have a say in a meaningful way that will effect change,” she said.

With the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) having seen the retirements of the head of the Rural Fire Service, Joe Murphy, and chief officer of ACT Fire and Rescue, Mark Brown, there is also the opportunity for fresh ideas to drive the two agencies.

“Those positions are often held for a very long time and so maybe it’s an opportunity for someone fresh to come in and maybe do things better,” Mrs Jones said.

She said the review won’t work in tandem with the Bushfire Royal Commission but will canvass the results and experience from experts, the government and the community, especially volunteers who contributed during the bushfire season.

A spokesperson for the ACT Emergency Services Agency told Region Media it is already well down the path of reviewing and learning from the 2019-20 bushfire season.

“The ESA welcomes any inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfire season, and any opportunity to reflect on its performance,” the ESA spokesperson said. “While a lot was done well last season, directorates and agencies continuously review their performance and what they can improve on.”

The ESA said this work is being done through several after-action reviews (AARs).

“The ESA’s priority is to consolidate all the comments received through the AARs, identify areas of improvement and put actions in place to address the areas of improvement. This work will assist us in preparing for the 2020-21 bushfire season.”

People wishing to make a submission to the review need to do so before 1 July. The final report is expected in August.

For information about how to make a submission, see the Getting involved page on the ACT Legislative Assembly website.


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14 Responses to Making sense of a brutal summer: ACT committee to review bushfire season
Queanbeyanite Queanbeyanite 4:50 pm 30 Apr 20

We’ll, the current custodians have stuffed it up since about 1970 when broad area fuel reduction burning was banned, how about getting out of the way and letting the original custodians have a go.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 10:05 am 27 Apr 20

Too much focus on the reaction and “things”, and not enough attention to the land management philosophies and practices which exacerbated what is after all a natural phenomenon.
Specifically, the “lock it up and leave it” attitude towards those vast areas of fire accelerants called national parks.

Paul Morrice Paul Morrice 8:56 pm 26 Apr 20

Based on new signage and machinery tracks at Mt Majura/Mt Ainslie reserves, rather than reducing fuel loads they are spending our tax dollars actively trying to increase they amount of dead wood laying around for next bushfire season. Pointless spending thousands on community firefighting equipment and not doing any hazard reduction.

Conrado Pengilley Conrado Pengilley 8:15 pm 26 Apr 20

The ACT Are good at reviewing, not so good when they see a fire approach like in 03.

    Jon Billows Jon Billows 9:32 pm 26 Apr 20

    Conrado Pengilley yeah everyone was so panicked they all went and took photos of it...

    Conrado Pengilley Conrado Pengilley 9:45 pm 26 Apr 20

    Jon, I know crazy hey, and they turned away interstate fire trucks because they had everything under control, that was good call, they still haven't learned anything.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 10:49 pm 26 Apr 20

    Conrado Pengilley so you will be putting your submission forward using your exceptional knowledge of how to respond to an emergency situation

    Conrado Pengilley Conrado Pengilley 10:53 pm 26 Apr 20

    Annie mills, just pointing out facts of the past, any submissions would be pointless.

    Tracey Morton-Fisher Tracey Morton-Fisher 7:18 am 27 Apr 20

    Annie Mills we put a submission in on the exact facts Conrad has stated and yet not much was followed through or adhered to in the following years, as we have just seen.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 8:21 am 27 Apr 20

    Conrado Pengilley what part did you play in the emergency response? How much experience do you have in managing these things?

    Ric Hingee Ric Hingee 11:28 am 07 May 20

    Annie Mills Can you provide me with your own expertise and experience.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 1:08 pm 07 May 20

    Ric Hingee I am not questioning those who were making the decisions at the time unlike a lot of people. So why should you question my expertise?

    Ric Hingee Ric Hingee 1:55 pm 07 May 20

    I am not questioning as such. You might have plenty of experience. I am curious about your own background when you ask others what experience they have (like Conrado Pengilley) in managing things and the part he may have played in the emergency response. If you feel free to ask those kind of questions then surely you haven't a problem answering similar questions of yourself. So I would be just as interested to know of your expertise or experience as you are of Pengilley's.

    Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 4:46 pm 07 May 20

    I can't vouch for Annie Mills knowledge and experience of bushfires in the Canberra region, but I can certainly vouch for Ric Hingee's knowledge and expertise.

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