Calls for fuel reduction and community involvement

By Jackson Russell

Tooborac farmer Bill Chisholm has called on the state and federal governments to step up fire prevention and management measures in a submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

Mr Chisholm, a current Mitchell Shire councillor and former mayor, made the submission personally. He has been a CFA member for nearly half a decade and chaired the Mitchell Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee for eight years.

Mr Chisholm said there were three main reasons for the unprecedented fire season experienced in Australia last summer – climate change, fuel loads and a lack of ‘genuine community involvement’.

“From what I understand, fuel loads have been steadily increasing over many years. This applies particularly for government-controlled areas,” he said.

“My direct concerns relate to roadside fuel management and fuel management by government departments and agencies within and around towns.

“Of particular concern is vegetation management on the rural-urban interface of our towns, be they large, medium or small.”

Mr Chisholm said Mitchell Shire Council already carried out fuel reduction works on land that was the responsibility of Regional Roads Victoria and had allocated an additional $55,000 to carry out extra work at two town entrances.

“A private individual can be issued with a $1680 fine for not managing their fire fuel loads while they can have nearly two-metre high grass or other vegetation next door on government-controlled land with no action taken,” he said.

According to Mr Chisholm, there is a lack of community involvement at both an administration and decision-making level of emergency management, and at an operational level.

“To achieve the best results in a firefight, all sectors of communities and government need to be involved and work for the common good,” he said.

“From my experience, it appears that many in the emergency management sector would like to see the formation of organisations that are comprised solely of professional experts and members of various government departments at the exclusion of genuine community voices and possible unpalatable ideas.”

Operationally, Mr Chisholm said Victoria had lost much of the surge capacity it once had in the event of large fires where most of the community was involved.

“Currently, our council graders and water tankers and staff are excluded from the fire ground, lip service is paid to private firefighting units, and there are many other resources that could be encouraged to become involved in a genuine emergency situation,” he said.

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements published its interim observations late last month and a series of draft propositions earlier this month as it enters the final stages of the inquiry.

The 40-page draft propositions document features several measures prepared by counsel assisting in the Royal Commission and may inform the Royal Commission findings and recommendations, including some that address Mr Chisholm’s concerns.

Some of the first propositions suggest greater support for local government from State Government through a greater understanding of local government capability and a review of resource sharing arrangements.

The documents and more information are available at naturaldisaster.royalcommission.gov.au.

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