NSW inquiry clears way for more bushfire hazard reduction

NSW landowners will have to conduct more prescribed burns after the State Government this week agreed to all 76 recommendations of a statewide bushfire inquiry.

The independent inquiry, led by former NSW Police deputy commissioner Dave Owens and NSW chief scientist Mary O’Kane, also said local councils and partner agencies should be supported by the state government “to implement more comprehensive hazard reduction at a local level around towns [and] cities, communities and local infrastructure assets, and provide incentives for communities to organise themselves to prioritise and implement local hazard reduction initiatives”.

Mr Owens and Ms O’Kane were tasked in January with reviewing the causes of, preparation for, and response to the 2019-20 bushfires and to make recommendations on preparation and planning for future threats and risks, including:

  • land use planning and management and building standards;
  • appropriate action to adapt to future bushfire risks to communities and ecosystems;
  • coordination and collaborations across all levels of government; and
  • public communication and advice systems and strategies.

Beyond more comprehensive hazard reduction strategies at the local government level, the inquiry report says the state government should set a priority for prescribed burning “in parts of the landscape where fuel treatment may help reduce (the) probability of fires escalating quickly and where terrain and potential atmospheric interactions are likely to escalate fires into fire-generated thunderstorms.”

To strengthen the capability of local councils in future emergency event, the report recommends that Resilience NSW, in consultation with local government, develop specific training that focuses  on the role, responsibilities and expected functions of the Local Emergency Management Officer (LEMO) and that councils support their staff to take part in LEMO training on an ongoing basis.

The report also recommends the government commission research “to understand better the cost-versus-benefit and effectiveness of different [burning] practices in various circumstances, including grazing”.

Other recommendations include “more emphasis on getting fires out early; improved backburning protocols, training and information around heavy plant use; the right mix of aerial fire-fighting assets; and increased aerial night fire-fighting”.

 Local Government NSW (LGNSW) says it is looking at the recommendations in detail to see how councils can support their implementation.

LGNSW president Linda Scott said: “While these measures are strongly supported, they present major budgetary challenges that cannot be met equitably or sustainably under the existing NSW emergency services funding arrangements.

“We look forward to further discussions with the NSW Government, including how we can continue to work together to plan, fund, and resource the work of councils to not only manage their communities’ capacity to recover and rebuild from disasters but also build future resilience.”