The Daily Telegraph reported that with the state on the cusp of the 2020 bushfire season, senior minister Andrew Constance has warned his own government has not done enough to protect NSW from another devastating firestorm.
Declaring he wants to see “change not blame”, Mr Constance says the state is at risk of being tied in bureaucratic knots over the reforms needed to clear land and reduce fire fuel loads.
Mr Constance said landowners must be given new power to clear fire fuel off their own properties instead of facing massive fines.
“The community will not be interested in arguments between green and brown on this, they just want survival,” Mr Constance told The Daily Telegraph in an interview.
Mr Constance stopped short of naming his Ministerial colleagues for failing to act, but his comments are a clear broadside at his own government.
“As these inquiries wrap up, country people are not going to be taken for fools. There are practicalities that need to be drawn out,” Mr Constance said.
“Crown land and council reserves which abut these villages and coastal communities have no firefighting capability.
“None of the four land management agencies in the state have a chief objective of protecting life and property when disaster happens.
“Every single person I’ve spoken to in the last eight months says we’ve got to have change.”
Asked why he believed insufficient action had been taken by the government, Mr Constance said he believed there had been “a sense we should try and wait for the royal commission”.
The NSW bushfire inquiry was handed its report to Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday, while the Royal Commission into bushfires has had its deadline extended to October 28.
“We have a community which is right having experienced one of the worst natural disasters in history to expect some real change and not just a bunch of reports,” Mr Constance said.
“Country people have had a gutful of centralised bureaucracy telling us what to do.”
He specifically singled out the 10-50 land clearing law – which means people can only clear trees within 10M of their home and shrubs within 50m without seeking approval – as a regulation needing urgent reform to empower landholders to protect their own property.
“The 10-50 law – that should have been well and truly changed by now. We have examples now where environmental constraints are restricting people’s ability to rebuild,” he said.
“These are the practical changes. If we can clear from around our homes in the bush without the threat of a $3000 fine for cutting a tree down that’s what people want to be able to do.”
He said the 10-50 law should be changed to 50-50, so that residents could clear land within 50 metres of their homes.
Mr Constance said bush residents were more than happy to do the work to clear land in their towns but needed the permission to do that, including on crown land.
“Everything seems to be tied up in bureaucratic red tape. We’ve got to find a way out of this incredible disaster to find some practical outcomes not treat the community for fools of the bush anymore.”
Mr Constance said despite recent rain, he was fearful of another severe fire season.
He noted that there were many communities which still hadn’t had fire “burn to their doorstep” and so still had significant fuel loads.
He said there was not a simplistic approach but that the community, including indigenous communities who wanted to do cultural burning, wanted to get involved and should be trusted.
“We have to stop treating people like criminals and let them manage their own places,” he said.
“There has to be a complete philosophical overhaul here – we can’t just let the bushland grow back over the next 10 years or we’ll be staring down the same problem.”