Cuts to park burnoffs ‘caused bush­fires’

The Australian - - THE NATION - CHAR­LIE PEEL

The “un­prece­dented” bush­fires that burned through Queens­land last week have sparked a po­lit­i­cal storm, with farm­ers and the op­po­si­tion blam­ing re­duced haz­ard-con­trol burns in na­tional parks for fu­elling the fires.

State Op­po­si­tion Leader Deb Freck­ling­ton said a full par­lia­men­tary in­quiry was the ap­pro­pri­ate fo­rum to ex­am­ine the im­pacts that cli­mate change and in­creased fuel loads were hav­ing in na­tional parks.

Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter An­thony Lyn­ham re­fused to com­mit to an in­quiry and said that any sug­ges­tion haz­ardreduc­tion burns in na­tional parks had been re­duced were “not true”. “The fire­breaks are still be­ing main­tained in con­ser­va­tion ar­eas,’’ he said yes­ter­day.

“Last year we had nearly one mil­lion hectares burnt in state gov­ern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas. That is up nearly dou­ble from the yearly av­er­age.’’

But fig­ures re­leased last month showed the num­ber of yearly haz­ard-re­duc­tion burns at­tended by Queens­land Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vices dropped from 3187 in 2015 to 2510 last year and 2241 this year.

Fire Com­mis­sioner Kata­rina Car­roll said on Sun­day that the ear­lier-than-ex­pected fire sea­son caught au­thor­i­ties off-guard and stopped them com­plet­ing sched­uled haz­ard-re­duc­tion burns.

Ms Freck­ling­ton said the Lib­eral Na­tional Party would seek a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry on the is­sue in the new year.

“Con­cerns have been raised about land-man­age­ment prac­tices to man­age fuel loads, how our na­tional parks are man­aged and what land­hold­ers also want to do to pro­tect their prop­erty and live­stock,” she said.

“These bush­fires have been dev­as­tat­ing, but we need to learn les­sons about how we can pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again. Cli­mate change can’t be an ex­cuse to do noth­ing. If any­thing … we should be adapt­ing our re­sponse more.”

Agri­cul­tural lobby group AgForce backed calls for an in­quiry, say­ing the gov­ern­ment’s veg­e­ta­tion-man­age­ment laws had con­fused farm­ers. North­ern Aus­tralia Min­is­ter Matt Cana­van also sup­ports calls for a com­mis­sion of in­quiry.

The LNP wants the in­quiry to con­sider the rec­om­men­da­tions made in a 2014 Queens­land Au­dit Of­fice re­port into bush­fire prepa­ra­tion and pre­pared­ness.

A fol­low-up re­port re­leased in Oc­to­ber found that Queens­land Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vices had only partly adopted the rec­om­men­da­tions and must do more to “en­sure Queens­land com­mu­ni­ties are not ex­posed to higher lev­els of risk than they need to be”.

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