Bushfire expertise gone up in smoke
LESSONS from the past appear to be lost on the bureaucrats scrambling to create a new entity to deal with the forthcoming bushfire season.
Unfortunately, our state’s once internationally acclaimed bushfire prevention entity was decimated by bureaucratic empire-building.
The now-forgotten WA Bushfires Board, led by Superintendent John Robley and field teams under the direction of Dick Philips, devised and implemented a prescribed burning program that kept the state, particularly most of the South-West, relatively free from bushfire disasters.
A major factor in its success was its ability to co-ordinate and integrate its operations with volunteer bushfire brigades who provided local knowledge.
To spread their recipe for success, in 1977 it commissioned a film, North of Nutcracker, covering the planning and logistics of a controlled burn in the Denbarker area.
This production was so successful that copies of the film were purchased by most other bushfire and forest entities throughout Australia to train their own troops.
The film was even requested by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, Fire Protection section.
As its reputation grew, competing local empire-building bureaucrats seeking the kudos of the BFB resulted in Australia’s leading bushfire control entity being broken up and absorbed into a newly created department, CALM.
This overly environmentally sensitive department had conflicting responsibilities which neutered the BFB’s previous effectiveness.
The controlled burning was claimed to be detrimental to the flora and fauna, while grape-growers in the South-West alleged their crops were ruined by smoke.
In the metropolitan area, politicians ducked for cover when some residents complained their washing was spoiled by smoke or respiratory problems.
Our state’s bushfire protection regime became a casualty of political correctness, with loss of human life and property at the bottom of the list of departmental concerns.
I can imagine the feelings of those in the original Bushfires Board when the expertise now has to be imported as our government goes cap in hand begging for external expertise and paying for more expensive reports. Daryl Binning, Winthrop.