Recent catastrophic fires in regional Western Australia have prompted renewed calls for reform to fire mitigation protocols and structures, with WAFarmers leading the charge as part of their State Election Policy Platform.
Speaking on one of the six WAFarmers Policy Priorities for the State Election, WAFarmers President Tony York said climatic conditions in the South West lead to increased fuel loads and, combined with the forestry and native vegetation in the region, this had created a real need for regular fire mitigation procedures to be implemented.
“The Department of Parks and Wildlife’s inability to meet its prescribed burn target of 200,000 hectares of forest and bushland each financial year and its focus on metropolitan-based burns creates a dangerous environment for future prescribed burning to occur, and presents high fuel loads that could lead to catastrophic fire conditions,” he said.
“As owner and manager of Crown Land Reserves in WA, the State Government has both a moral and legal responsibility to minimise the risk of harm to its neighbours from fire originating within its property, however a drastic change is required before it can be said the Crown is fulfilling its obligations.”
Mr York said WAFarmers would like to see the following actioned: establishment of a new ring fence fire mitigation trust fund; prioritisation and coordination of hazard reduction burning to be devolved away from government departments; certification processes for Service Providers to become accredited to undertake hazard reduction burns and other mitigation works in Crown Land; and, enactment of clear long term guidelines allowing and facilitating mitigation works to be conducted.
“A ring fenced fire mitigation trust fund would be jointly funded from Royalties for Regions and the Federal Government, with the charter of generating indefinite funding for ongoing fire mitigation works in the areas of Crown Land immediately surrounding and within a buffer width of five kilometres or suitable distance from private property,” he said.
“The 2014 Australian Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Natural Disaster Funding recommended that the states shoulder a greater share of natural disaster recovery costs to enhance incentives to manage, mitigate and insure against these risks, which would give State and Local Governments autonomy in how they pursue disaster recovery and mitigation.
“Management would be assumed by local fire brigades, in coordination with Local Government and overseen by a dedicated state-wide Fire Mitigation Board, which importantly must be allowed to be independent of the Departments of Emergency Services and Parks and Wildlife.
“WAFarmers believes devolving fire mitigation to the regions and installing in-perpetuity environmental and heritage approvals reduces the potential ongoing direct risk to government from managing fire mitigation, both economically and politically. Further, competitive privatisation and decentralisation of mitigation activities would result in a lowest cost, efficient, and most importantly, effective outcome.
“It is imperative fire mitigation is completed properly and, for it to remain effective, prescribed burning will have to be undertaken more regularly and much more extensively than the current status quo.”
Mr York reaffirmed WAFarmers’ support of the Ferguson Inquiry’s recommendation to form a rural fire service, and welcomed the newly released information on where the service would be located in the South West.