I am perplexed when I read about the ever increasing NSW RFS budget and the way that the government uses the good name of the Volunteer fire fighters to justify its grab for cash.
They claim that they need more money for hazard reduction and we learned in the press this week (21st Jan 2016), that they are not meeting those targets. They blame the weather but there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye…
Hazard reduction seemed to be more efficient when it was left up to the locals to deal with. I remember a time in my younger days when it seemed as though every week-end there was a fire burning somewhere.
Now that the RFS has placed so much red tape (or perhaps green tape) upon hazard reduction activities, the process has become way too complicated and expensive.
Independent Hazard Reduction Reduction Audit Panel Report (March 2013)
The Independent Hazard Reduction Reduction Audit Panel – Enhancing Hazard Reduction in NSW Report, dated March 2013 stated:
The targets set in Goal 28 of NSW 2021 have also ensured that agencies remain focused on the NSW Government commitment to put NSW in the best position to deal with major bush fires. The targets are:
- increase the number of properties protected by hazard reduction works across all bush fire prone land tenures by 20,000 per year by 2016
- increase the annual average level of area treated by hazard reduction activities by 45 per cent by 2016.
VFFA Response (March 2013)
That is an excellent start. However even with these increases, there will still be less than 1% of bush fire prone land being treated by hazard reduction.
Research shows that:
- 1% of bush fire prone land treated per annum results in a 5% reduction in risk indicators.
- 5-10% of bush fire prone land treated per annum results in a 25-45% reduction in risk indicators.
The findings of the Victorian Royal Commission concluded that a minimum of 5% per annum of bush fire prone land should to be treated. This minimum figure is supported by many leading bush fire experts.
This 5% target should be employed in areas where it would achieve the greatest outcome.
What do the Fire Experts Say?
It is not until we undertake a 15% pa of bush fire prone land that we might expect no loss of life.
There is informed opinion amongst fire managers that 10 – 12% is the optimum for fire protection.
At 1% it would take 100 years to treat the bush fire prone land in NSW.
It is difficult for the public to properly evaluate the benefits of the hazard reduction statistics because:
- They use clever terminology to make the figures look better than they actually are.
- The experts talk about treating 5 to 15% of bush fire prone land, the RFS reports that they achieved 64.7% of their target but what is their target?
- How effective were the various hazard reduction treatments?
- They report using facts like 116,977 properties were treated. How does that relate to the 20,000,000ha of bush fire prone land in NSW?
Grab for Cash
General Purpose Standing Committee
No. 6 – Friday 4 September 2015
Examination of proposed expenditure for the portfolio areas Corrections, Emergency Services and Veterans Affairs
CHAIR: Let us see if I can get three strikes in a row.
The Federal Government has announced $2.2 million in funding over three years to enhance bushfire mitigation in New South Wales as part of the Commonwealth’s National Bushfire Mitigation Program.
Will the Government match that funding amount and, if so, where and how will the money be spent?
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: I will pass to Commissioner Fitzsimmons on that, but I will make some preliminary opening remarks.
I am very confident in the three level of funding going to our Emergency Services portfolio.
It is a record spend.
In the three or four months that I have been the Minister, I have certainly seen that they are good custodians of our money, particularly since the majority of them—and this is unique to Australia—are volunteers.
They are great custodians of our money.
The NSW Rural Fire Service budget for the next financial year is $361 million, which is an increase of 8.6 per cent—that is a $29 million increase on the previous year’s allocation in real terms.
Of course the allocation has to go towards hazard reduction.
You will have seen in the press this week that, as part of delivering on our election commitments, $9.8 million has gone to the large air tankers and the appropriately named very large air tankers—those are the technical terms, Mr Chair! They will be used for combining fast-moving and dangerous bushfires.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons may want to make some supplementary remarks.
Mr FITZSIMMONS: Thank you, Mr Chair, and thank you, Minister.
We do work closely with the Commonwealth in matching funding and programs to assist with mitigation.
We enjoy still more than $30 million per annum being distributed across New South Wales to priority hazard reduction programs.
They are identified and prioritised at the local level by each of the local bushfire management committees across New South Wales.
So there are local risk profiles and local risk assessments, and local treatment options and priorities.
Through that process—involving more than 60 local committees, typically based on local government areas or a collection of local government areas—they identify the body of work that needs to be done in the mitigation and hazard reduction program.
It can include mechanical works such as trittering, slashing, grading and those sorts of things.
It can also include fire trail maintenance and construction activity.
It can also include the construction of firebreaks.
It can be prescribed burning and other programs such as community engagement and education to facilitate the provision of those priority works right across the different local areas around the State.
We report on that annually.
It is captured through the land management agencies and the fire agencies working together at that level.
What I mean by that is that local government, private activity, State government lands bodies work with the Commonwealth; and obviously the fire services assist in a lot of the prescribed burning activities.
We have seen increasingly in recent years mitigation moneys also being spent on seeing a demonstrable increase in hazard reduction completion rates through the use of specialist resources that otherwise would not be available to them to assist local committees.
That may be not only out-of-area crews, fire trucks and those sorts of things but also aircraft to help look at aerial ignition patterns and control the spread of fires and their intensity.
Huge amounts of money are being spent on hazard reduction actives using inefficient and bureaucratic processes when Volunteers used to achieve better outcome for much less.
When the Hon. Melinda Pavey, MP was the Shadow Minister for Emergency Services (28 Dec 2008 to 28 Mar 2011) she said that she work towards simplifying this process. Unfortunately, she was shuffled sideways before she was able to do so.
We are focusing too much upon the urban interface alone instead of targeting forest fuel generally?