News Roundup 7th November

Frequent Bushfires Are Our New Reality, We Need to Learn How to Live With Smoke-Filled Air

Frequent Bushfires Are Our New Reality, We Need to Learn How to Live With Smoke-Filled Air

Gizmodo published in an interesting article this week on learnign to live with bushfire smoke.

As fires ravaged large sections of the Australian bush last summer, cities and towns all along the coast were blanketed in toxic smoke. Air pollutants were measured at unheard of levels across the country.

Hazardous air descended on cities hundreds of kilometres away from the fires themselves. This air was the most dangerous to breathe on the planet.

The bushfire royal commission was tabled on October 30, with some sobering findings about fires and air pollution. Unfortunately, it showed that as a nation we were not prepared to deal with this public health emergency.

These disasters are inevitable under climate change, and while we need to urgently act on climate change to protect future generations, we also need to make changes now to mitigate the risks that already face us.

Australia must get better at communicating how to identify and then stay safe in hazardous air. A national set of air quality categories would go a long way to achieving this.

Over 400 deaths attributed to bushfire smoke

The royal commission heard that air pollution from the summer fires likely caused more than 400 deaths. Thousands of additional hospital admissions put added strain on our hospitals. All up the added burden to our health system was estimated at almost A$2 billion.

Even in the absence of extreme natural disasters, air pollution is one of Australia’s biggest public health concerns. Pollution from all sources causes thousands of deaths per year. This includes emissions from coal-fired power stations, diesel cars and wood-fired heaters.

Better preparing ourselves to deal with bushfire smoke will have flow-on benefits in tackling these problems.

Different state, different health advice

The royal commission found “there is an urgent need for national consistency in the categorisation of air quality”. At the moment, every state has their own system to categorise air quality and communicate it to the public.

But there are major discrepancies with how different states identify the worst air quality.

Air quality is the sum impact of the concentration of various unhealthy chemicals in the air. These include ozone, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, and fine particulate matter. To communicate this to the public, most countries convert these chemical concentrations into an Air Quality Index (AQI).

In the US, there is a standardised AQI categorisation for the whole country.

For example, in NSW the worst air quality category is “Hazardous”, which triggers at an AQI of 200. South Australia, however, only recognises “Very Poor” as the worst class of air quality, with an AQI of 150 and above.

During the summer bushfires, AQI values as high as 5,000 were measured. It’s clear the highest bands of air pollution are no longer appropriate.

We need a national air quality system

We have faced a similar problem before. After Victoria’s Black Saturday fires in 2009, we recognised that our fire danger ratings were inadequate.

The Black Saturday royal commission found we needed a higher category for the most dangerous fire conditions. The “Catastrophic” category (“CODE RED” in Victoria) was added. It carried clear advice about what to do in such dangerous conditions, instructing people to safely leave as early as possible.

Fire danger rating sign in front of a grass fire
The ‘CODE RED’ or ‘Catastrophic’ fire danger rating was added after the Black Saturday fires. Shutterstock

Something similar now needs to happen with air quality ratings.

When facing future extreme bushfires, we need a way to identify when catastrophic conditions have led to air so unhealthy that everyone should take precautions, such as staying indoors and wearing masks. We then need to get clear health advice out to the public.

A national air quality rating system could achieve this, and would also help address other important recommendations of the Royal Commission: That we need improved means of getting reliable information out to the public, along with better community education around what to do when air quality plummets.

There’s work to do

An Australian AQI should be featured on national weather reports and forecasts, providing important health information to the public every day of the year. At the same time it would familiarise Australians with air quality measures and actions that need to be taken to protect ourselves from unhealthy air.

But there is work to do. First, we need to develop a new set of air quality categories that work for the entire country, and reflects both the everyday hazards of industrial pollution and the extreme dangers of bushfires. These categories also need to be matched with sound health advice.

And if we are going to report these measures more widely then we also need to get better at measuring and predicting air quality across the nation — two other important royal commission recommendations.

Achieving all of this won’t be easy. But if we can get it right then we will be much better placed to deal with smoke risk the next time severe bushfires inevitably happen.

RFS volunteer charged with lighting several fires, allegedly then calling 000

Male seated in dry grass with small fire in foreground

THe ABC reported that a teenage volunteer with the Rural Fire Service has been charged with deliberately lighting nine fires in the Tweed region of New South Wales.

Key points:

  • An RFS volunteer is facing nine counts of intentionally causing a fire and being reckless to its spread
  • Police allege the 18-year-old dialled triple-0 to report several of the fires
  • The boy remains in custody after being refused bail

Police allege 18-year-old Brendan Piccini was the first to call triple-zero to report several of the fires, which burnt out small parcels of public and private bushland around the villages of Burringbar, Mooball and Stokers Siding.

Police carried out a search warrant of the man’s home early on Wednesday morning this week, following another blaze on Tuesday evening at Stokers Siding.

They seized a number of items which are being forensically examined. 

Mr Piccini joined the Burringbar RFS as a volunteer six months ago.

He remains in custody after being refused bail in Tweed Heads Local Court.

A sign which reads 'Burringbar Bush Fire Brigade'
The 18-year-old Rural Fire Service volunteer joined the Burringbar brigade six months ago.(ABC: Hannah Ross)

Disaster averted

Tweed Police Inspector Brendan Cullen said favourable weather prevented the fires from getting out of control.

Detective Inspector Cullen said anyone deliberately and illegally lighting a fire was “reckless and extremely stupid”. 

“Given what we have seen and the lives that were put at risk last year,  we will do whatever we need to do to find those who are responsible for lighting fires and bring them before the courts,” he said.

The outside of the Tweed Heads police station, Aboriginal flag flies in the foreground.
Tweed Heads police have charged an 18 year old Burringbar man with 9 charges of intentionally lighting a fire.(ABC: Hannah Ross)

“We are just coming into the fire season now and this should be a clear warning that we will put all resources into tracking you down.” 

Investigations continue

Police are investigating three other blazes in the area during the past month that appear to have been deliberately lit.

“Our investigation is far from complete and we would like anyone who saw anything or knows anything to come forward,” Detective Inspector Cullen said.

He said the charges were no reflection on the RFS as an organisation.

“They have supported us in this investigation and without their assistance we would not be here today.” 

The case will return to court on November 23.

The maximum penalty for intentionally lighting a fire and being reckless to its spread is 21 years in jail.

Bushfire survivors may feel they can’t face the Royal Commission Report but politicans must

Bushfire survivors may feel they can't face the Royal Commission Report but politicans must

Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain wrote this opinion piece in the Eden Magnet following the publication of the Bushfire Royal Commission. As mayor of the Bega Valley at the time Ms McBain was closely involved in dealing with the aftermath of the fires.

The final report from the Bushfire Royal Commission will be another emotional trigger for the fraternity of deeply traumatised bushfire communities across Australia.

The communities I serve in Eden-Monaro stand with country towns right across our wide brown land – many of which still bare the scars of the Black Summer of 2019/20.

Some bushfire survivors won’t want to face this report right now – their headspace and internal coping mechanisms just won’t allow it.

And we need to respect that. For a moment, walk in the shoes of a bushfire survivor. Imagine that the gates of hell have opened on you, your family and your home – nothing is left, and you feel lucky to be alive.

You overcome the uncomfortable need to ask for help and are required to register with different government agencies in order to access assistance – telling your story of horror, loss and grief over and over again.

You wait for an overwhelmed system and public service to respond, all while you work out how to restart your life or business.

Figuring out the intricacies of the rebuilding and planning process, while you live in a caravan with no water or sewerage connection.

Where will your next meal come from and how will you cook it?

New government programs are announced along the way; incentives such as the homebuilder grant. But given the unworkable 31 December deadline and the myriad of building decisions to navigate (not to mention the deep despair you continue to feel) you realise you will miss out.

One morning, you wake to news of another bushfire season, not realising the last one had even ended.

The days are warming up and your anxiety rises with it.

These are difficult shoes to walk in.

So while I understand that many survivors simply can’t face this report at this time, those who can, and those of us with a responsibility to serve, need to bear witness to the experiences of these survivors and commit ourselves to the action that must follow.

The truth is that many in our community didn’t want this royal commission.

It was announced while tree stumps were still smouldering in the ground; and the immediate reaction I had was “not another bushfire inquiry”.

One of my predecessors as member for Eden-Monaro, Gary Nairn, oversaw the House of Representatives report entitled “A Nation Charred”, which focused on the 4m hectares burnt across the six Australian states and territories in the summer of 2003.

Nairn’s report is just one of more than 240 formal analyses completed since 1927, resulting in thousands of findings and recommendations.

Now that we have the findings of yet another bushfire inquiry, it would be more than unforgivable not to act.

My big fear is that the destruction wreaked upon so many communities, and what needs to be done, will be lost and forgotten in the glare of the COVID-19 spotlight.

We’ve already heard this government use the pandemic as an excuse not to address critical work, but more than that is the real-world experience of people at Towamba, Tumbarumba, Bombay and Cobargo.

At a time when these communities, and many like them, wanted and needed to come together in the aftermath of these fires, Covid stopped them.

No hugs, no cups of tea, no community meetings, no formal support services – all sidelined by the need to control the spread of this frightening disease.

Now is our chance to truly turn the spotlight back onto bushfire-affected communities.

More than 1,700 submissions were made to this Royal Commission – those often-heartbreaking experiences can’t be for nothing.

While much has been achieved since those terrifying fires bore down on us, so much more work is needed.

We may have rolled our eyes at the need for this royal commission, but now that this tremendous body of work has been done, it needs to be fully acknowledged and its recommendations realised.

This document is now our document, it belongs to the communities left charred and scarred by bushfire.

Those impacted need to see action because otherwise disaster will strike time and time again to another person, another family, another community.

The Prime Minister was late to show up during the crisis and his government has been too slow to assist ever since.

Action will cost money; it will be hard work – but the experiences of our Black Summer must count for something.

Key Bushfire Airport’s Weak Runway to be Upgraded

Australian Aviation reported that a key airport used during the bushfire crisis is set to receive a multimillion-dollar upgrade after reports its runway was so weak firefighting aircraft couldn’t fill their tanks fully.

Australian Aviation can reveal state and federal governments will now jointly pay for Tumut in NSW to extend and strengthen its runway and upgrade its lighting system so aircraft can take off and land at night or in poor conditions.

Earlier this year, the nearby Dunns Road Fire burnt over 180,000 hectares, destroyed 100 homes and killed one man in Batlow defending his property. In Tumut itself, residents were sent texts telling them to stay indoors.

Deputy mayor John Larter, who has been an advocate for raising the necessary $12.5 million needed, said he was “ecstatic” with the “magnificent” result.

“I think it’s a really good example of what can be done when the government listens to and supports its local councils,” he said. “I hope that these upgrades for Tumut Aerodrome can be a blueprint for other regional airports and other regional councils, to access the funding and support they need too.”

The funds will be utilised to lengthen and strengthen the airport’s runways and taxiways, which will mean it can accommodate the larger and heavier aircraft used by both the Rural Fire Service and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Extending Tumut’s runway from 1,060 metres to around 1,300 metres will also mean that during future bushire seasons, Rural Fire Service water tankers can be filled to full capacity upon take-off.

Further, the airport will be fitted with a Precision Approach Path Indicator, as requested by the RFDS, making landing easier for approaching aircraft, and an additional apron is intended to be built to ease congestion during high-traffic events, such as bushfires.

Other more minor works including upgrades to draining and fencing infrastructure are also included in the funded works.

The Snowy Valleys Council will also be working with the state and federal government to upgrade the necessary infrastructure to increase water access to the aerodrome.Tumut Aiport Bidgee

Cr John Larter has been advocating for necessary upgrades to Tumut Aerodrome (pictured) to assist firefighting and aeromedical services (Bidgee/WikiCommons)

Tumut Aerodrome first made headlines around Australia when it was revealed by Cr Larter that RFS water bombers were taking off from the airport with their tanks just three-quarters full, as the runway was too short and weak to allow them to take off at full capacity.

It was later revealed that the airport also had little access to running water, meaning that locals were required to cart water in from the main parts of town in order to assist water bomber aircraft to fill up, and that the lighting that was installed at Tumut 20 years ago was not to standard and never commissioned.

Tumut Airport, located in the north-western foothills of the Snowy Mountains in regional NSW, around 300 kilometres south-west of Sydney and just 80 kilometres west of Canberra, was in the prime position to fight fires not just in and around the Snowy Mountains, but crucially, also further east in Canberra.

In fact, as Cr Larter told Australian Aviation earlier this year, Tumut Airport played a critical role in the combat of raging fires in the Canberra region when access to the international airport in Canberra was unavailable, making it vital for the upgrades to be completed for future firefighting efforts.

“Imagine how many more houses and properties we could have saved if we had the capability to take off at full load?” Cr Larter said at the time.

In June, Tumut was granted $150,000 under the federal government’s Regional Airports Program to seal its taxiways and upgrade its fencing, however Cr Larter continued to advocate for Tumut’s major critical upgrades.

90% of buildings in bushfire-prone areas aren’t built to survive fires. A national policy can start to fix this

Smart town planning is key to avoiding bushfire risk, but diverse planning policies across local, state and federal governments create confusion and expose communities risk.

Architecture Australia repoted that last week the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (the “bushfire royal commission”) handed down its anticipated final report, with 80 recommendations on managing future emergencies.

Last summer’s horror bushfire season claimed 33 lives, although the real cost in human life might have been greater when smoke-related health issues are taken into account. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed in the 24 million hectares that burned.

It’s clear Australia has a lot to learn about managing risk and adapting to future extreme seasons, and the most effective strategy is better planning where and how we live and build. As the royal commission noted, “planning decisions and exposure to risk are inextricably linked”.

But while the report is extensive, covering many aspects of natural disasters and planning around land use, the royal commission stops short of recommending a national town planning policy.

Recommendations on planning

The commission considered all natural hazards, including drought, storms and floods, as well as bushfires.

It found the Australian community expected national leadership, and it pleaded for action and unity from all levels of government to improve natural disaster arrangements as risk grows under climate change. Ultimately, it writes, the federal government should “enhance and support” state and local government.

The commission also determined where people choose to live affects the extent of damage and harm from a disaster, even if consequences aren’t felt until decades later. Its recommendations around planning and building include:

  • improved communication of risk and hazard information for prospective property buyers
  • guidance from insurers on what risk mitigation strategies will be recognised for existing buildings
  • mandatory consideration of natural disaster risk in land-use planning decisions by state, territory and local government
  • review of the National Construction Code and its standards to understand how effective they are in reducing risk.

Adopting these recommendations is important because, as the Bushfire Building Council estimates in the report:

90% of buildings in bushfire prone areas in Australia have not been built to bushfire planning and construction regulations as they were built prior to regulation being applied.

Inheriting risk

Prospective landowners inherit risk when they purchase property, so effectively communicating this is essential and would encourage better “buy in”. While this is already occurring in some states, requirements vary considerably and communication should move beyond risk awareness.

Purchasers should also be provided with a detailed understanding of measures that can be implemented to reduce risk. This could be, for example, annual reminders for property maintenance, such as pruning trees and cleaning gutters.

Insurance also should also play a larger role. By August 2020, almost 38,500 insurance claims valued at an estimated A$2.33 billion were lodged due to the bushfires.

Insurers need to provide guidance on what changes can be made to buildings to reduce risk, and we should encourage a consistent national insurance policy for these measures. This should be reflected in reduced insurance premiums.

Smarter town planning

Effective building standards are vital, but they should not be the primary mechanism for risk reduction. There must also be a focus on town planning to locate buildings in less hazard-prone areas.

Town planning functions and responsibilities are often managed by local government. However, state and territory governments still remain accountable to ensure local government has sufficient support.

The importance of town planning in managing disaster risk has also been recognised by the United NationsAustralian Institute for Disaster ResiliencePlanning Institute of Australia and NSW Rural Fire Service.

Despite these calls, homes continue to be built in high risk areas. As written in the royal commission’s report:

all states permit homes to be built in bushfire and flood prone areas, and the degree to which planning or building standards act to mitigate risk varies across jurisdictions.

Furthermore, the Insurance Council of Australia stated in the report that there’s “clear evidence of recent planning decisions placing communities at a known and obvious risk of disaster”.

For example, development for the suburb of Idalia in Townsville was only partially completed before it was inundated by a flood in February 2019. More than 3,300 homes were damaged.

Likewise, the town of Wytaliba lost about 25 homes in the recent bushfires, which is more than half of its total number of houses.

Why we need a national policy

The commission has provided recommendations on what needs to be done — now we need the how.

The royal commission recognises the role of state, territory and local government in planning. But having diverse planning policies means there are differences in where we locate buildings. It can also create confusion and expose communities to different levels of risk.

This is why Australia needs a national approach, with a consistent national policy that all levels of government should be responsible for managing.A national approach would avoid development in high-risk areas, while still providing housing, employment, food and water security and environmental protection.

It would allow communities to make decisions within an agreed, evidence-based framework that’s understood by all stakeholders — the community, emergency sector, government and insurance industry. And it would establish boundaries to the level of risk that’s acceptable.

This policy would include a combination of avoidance of high-risk areas, improved building standards and standardised risk assessments. Importantly, it would get support from politicians, government, professionals and the entire community to boost resilience.

It’s of the utmost importance Australia gets this right, as more extreme bushfire seasons are undoubtedly in our future. As the royal commission stated, “support is one thing — action is another”.

David King receives emergency services award for 43 years as an SES volunteer

The Hawkesbury Gazette reported that Kurrajong resident David King has spent over four decades serving the Hawkesbury community and now he has been recognised with a Rotary Emergency Services Award for NSW State Emergency Service.

The 59-year-old has been volunteering with Hawkesbury SES for 43 years, and today holds the position of Deputy Unit Commander.Hawkesbury SES Deputy Unit Commander David King. David won the NSW State Emergency Services Award in the Rotary Emergency Services Awards. Picture: Geoff Jones+3Hawkesbury SES Deputy Unit Commander David King. David won the NSW State Emergency Services Award in the Rotary Emergency Services Awards. Picture: Geoff Jones

He joined when he was 16, after being given the opportunity through Scouts and Venturers to join either the SES or the bushfire brigade.

He chose the SES but later ended up joining the NSW Rural Fire Service as well.

“The rest is history!” he laughed.

A volunteer at heart, Mr King has been with bushfire brigades in the Hawkesbury for 38 years, and is the Deputy Captain for Tennyson Rural Fire Brigade.

“I spent my last 10 years of employment as an employee of the RFS [in remote area firefighting and specialised operations], so I turned my hobby into my career,” said the former food technologist.

Mr King was one of the founding members of Hawkesbury SES when it was developed in 1978 from the merger of Windsor SES and Colo SES, when Hawkebsury Municipal Council and Colo Shire Council merged.

“In 1985 we became the primary rescue organisation for the district. There is a group of us [including Hawkesbury SES Unit Controller Kevin Jones] that’s been doing rescue for the community for 35 years, and doing road crash rescue in the district for 25 years.”

He said every rescue operator has “a cupboard of skeletons” of former grisly rescues.

“We’ve had 35 years of challenges,” he said.

An area he has specialised in over recent years has been large animal rescue.

“It’s my passion. I train rescue squads all over the state in how to rescue horses and cattle. This is something especially needed in the Hawkesbury area, we do a huge number of horse rescues in the area,” Mr King said.

“I’m usually the silly bugger who gets in the dam or climbs in the septic tank or hole to get them out!”

He said his work with SES and RFS went hand-in-hand.

“When we have floods we don’t have fires, and when we have fires we don’t have floods.

“Whether it’s the RFS or the SES, it’s all about giving back to your community. It’s mates helping mates, it’s community helping community.

“Here in the Hawkesbury, RFS and SES, we do it so well, we have that country flavour and we love to get in and help our mates.”

What would be his message to the next generation of volunteers?

“You’re going to learn so many life skills, and learn there’s more to life than just money. When someone can look you in the eye and say thankyou, from the bottom of their heart, that’s reward enough,” Mr King said.

“It’s also pretty adventurous, you get to do some pretty cool stuff, whether it’s fires or rescues, you learn some amazing skills.”

Bushfire royal commission warns of ‘alarming disaster outlook’

Robert Glasser wrote in the Strategist reported that in its final report issued last week, the Royal Commission into Australia’s National Natural Disaster Arrangements warns of an unprecedented, increasing and unavoidable threat to Australia from climate change, requiring a ‘fundamental shift in strategic thinking about national natural disaster risk management’.

In terms similar to those expressed in recent ASPI analysis, the commission notes:

We are likely to see more compounding disasters on a national scale with far-reaching consequences. Compound disasters may be caused by multiple disasters happening simultaneously, or one after another. Some may involve multiple hazards—fires, floods and storms. Some have cascading effects—threatening not only lives and homes, but also the nation’s economy, critical infrastructure and essential services, such as our electricity, telecommunications and water supply, and our roads, railways and airports.

The commission highlights the risk of ‘a catastrophic impact’ across Australia from these events, including at the community level. With cascading disasters, each subsequent hazard increases the scale of the damage caused by the previous hazard.

Last summer’s devastating bushfires may be evidence that we are already entering this new era of disasters. As the commission notes, communities in Queensland had already ‘experienced successive conditions of drought, heatwaves, bushfires, hailstorms and flooding, compounding the destructive impact’. Indeed, in the past three years, 53 of Queensland’s 73 local governments have experienced three or more major disasters.

Most of the recommendations in the final report, while important and practical, don’t fundamentally shift national strategic thinking about disaster risk. They propose many tactical improvements in our emergency preparations and response capability, such as purchasing additional firefighting aircraft, conducting better evacuation planning, harmonising emergency warning systems across the states and territories, strengthening the interoperability of equipment and systems, and creating a national register of emergency services personnel.

It would have been useful if the commissioners had proposed a national communications campaign to help prepare the public for this emerging era of disasters. Instead the report somewhat anaemically recommends that governments ‘continue to deliver, evaluate and improve’ programs ‘aimed at promoting disaster resilience for individuals and communities’.

Some of the recommendations, if implemented effectively, will contribute to the fundamental shift in disaster risk management the commission has called for. The commission’s proposed actions include requiring consideration of climate and disaster risk in land-use planning; establishing a national mechanism to communicate these risks to households (and prospective purchasers); protecting critical infrastructure; and creating the legislative mandate for the federal government to declare a national emergency.

Underpinning each of these recommendations is the need for more accurate information on the climate and disaster risk affecting communities. The commission has recognised this in highlighting the need to invest in improving climate change models and a specific recommendation that governments develop ‘downscaled’ climate projections.

Arguably the single most transformational recommendation in the report is for the federal government to establish a national entity dedicated to championing resilience across the nation:

Its remit should be to think broadly about all of the measures necessary to make the country resilient to natural disasters, and plan and respond accordingly. It should focus on reducing long-term disaster risk and … planning and cooperation across multiple government departments and agencies at all levels of government, including local government, and extensive engagement with the private sector, non-government organisations and Australian communities.

Four elements need to be in place to enable this new entity to achieve its full potential. First, it should be separated bureaucratically from Emergency Management Australia, the agency responsible for coordinating Australia’s national response to disasters. My previous international experience suggests that if resilience is placed with emergency response, the latter will always trump the former.

Second, and related to the above, the new entity should report to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, rather than to a line agency. This will make it somewhat easier to convene the necessary cross-departmental discussions and to overcome bureaucratic resistance to the changes that will be required. There would also be some advantage in the entity having additional reporting obligations to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, given the need for it to be engaged with the broader disaster management community.

Third, the new entity should be allocated a significant budget. Its reporting line to PM&C will give it significant gravitas to convene the key players both within and outside of government, but government funding can be useful to leverage significant private-sector investment in initiatives that are in the public interest.

Fourth, one of its key tasks should be to begin facilitating the development of model legislation, standards, codes and the like that can deliver major improvements in national resilience. The political will at various jurisdictional levels may not yet exist to implement many of the initiatives, but this can change rapidly in the wake of a major disaster. One of the main advantages of the new organisation will be to have thought through the issues, consulted widely and designed sensible solutions that are ready to be progressed when the opportunities arise.

Given the commission’s deep concern about the impact of climate change on Australia, it’s surprising that the final report says nothing about the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally. The terms of reference provided the latitude for it to do so (‘We direct you to make any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you consider appropriate’) and the government has frequently acknowledged that Australia needs to do its part to reduce emissions. This is the most urgent global risk-reduction measure and the most glaring gap in the commission’s otherwise fine report.

Robert Glasser is a visiting fellow at ASPI. His past roles include Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. Image: David Gray/Getty Images.

Ecotourism Partners with WWF Australia to Support Bushfire Affected Tourist Destinations

Ecotourism Australia partners with WWF Australia to support bushfire-affected tourism destinations

Australian Leisure reported that a new partnership between Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia will support six additional bushfire-affected destinations enabling them to revitalise their local economies through nature-based tourism.

The Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Coffs Harbour, and Port Macquarie-Hastings in New South Wales, Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and Scenic Rim in South East Queensland will benefit from the partnership and begin their journey to become certified ECO Destinations.

Each destination will be supported by WWF-Australia with a two-year $30,000 package that covers all costs to progress through Ecotourism Australia’s ECO Destination program.

Ecotourism Australia Chief Executive, Rod Hillman said he was delighted to have the six new destinations join East Gippsland in Victoria and Quandamooka Country in Queensland in the program and advised “we are working hard to support our tourism industry that has been hit hard in 2020 by bushfires and COVID and can see tangible benefits for regional tourism through this funding program.”

WWF-Australia’s Chief Executive, Dermot O’Gorman said the partnership would help to restore the local economies in bushfire-affected destinations and noted “the devasting double blow of the fires and pandemic has left many communities that depend on tourism hurting like never before. This partnership will help Australia’s nature-based tourism sector get back on its feet and support tourism activities that are good for both people and the environment.”

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said he was incredibly proud that the region will be recognised as a world-class ecotourism destination.

Mayor Greenhill adds “this certification will help us effectively promote our region to the increasing proportion of travellers who are hungry for sustainable travel experiences. It’s the stamp of approval that we are who we say we are – an authentic destination for environmentally aware visitors.”

Fiona Barden from Coffs Harbour City Council said “obtaining ECO Destination status for Coffs Coast will enable our destination, the communities, environments and values, to thrive through long-term sustainable tourism management.

“By working together with our key stakeholders, businesses and communities we can unite in the importance of becoming an ECO Destination, and deliver multiple benefits for our people and places.’

Scenic Rim Regional Council endorsed the partnership with Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia with Mayor Greg Christensen commenting the offer represented a tremendous opportunity for the region “by becoming a Certified ECO Destination, the Scenic Rim will join an established global network of like-minded destinations striving for ecotourism excellence.

“ECO Destination Certification has previously been identified as a goal for the Scenic Rim and would enhance our region’s tourism offering and credentials, broadening our appeal to the visitors we wish to attract – those who value sustainability and minimal impacts on the natural environment.”

Central Coast Council Mayor Lisa Matthews said the program will play a key role in the Central Coast’s future as a tourism hub and added “this has been a year of unprecedented challenges and the Central Coast is excited to be working with Ecotourism Australia to ensure nature and ecotourism flourishes in our region and plays an important role in our recovery and our future as a tourist destination.”

With the demand for sustainable travel experiences growing worldwide, Hillman said “the ECO Destination Certification program assures travellers that certified destinations are backed by a strong, well-managed commitment to sustainable practices and provide high-quality nature-based tourism experiences within the region.”

Bushfire recovery funding success for four Wonboyn oyster businesses

The Wonboyn resilience project aims to support oyster farmers in Wonboyn to adapt farming methods in response to changing environmental conditions, enabling sustainability and growth of the industry. Photo: Leah Szanto

Bega District News reported that a successful grant application has brought relief and hope to the oyster farming industry in Wonboyn.

Four separate oysters farming businesses got together and decided to make a joint application for bushfire recovery funds, announced by federal and state government to support industry and boost the economy.

Across Eden-Monaro, 26 industry projects worth a total of over $56million were announced this week, as our communities continue the process of recovery after the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires.

Wonboyn Resilience Project aims to support the oyster farmers of Wonboyn to adapt farming methods in response to changing environmental conditions, enabling sustainability and growth of the industry.

By replacing, upgrading and adapting existing plant and equipment, this project will assist in the repair of infrastructure damaged by the bushfires.

Caroline Henry of K&C Rock Oysters said the funding will help the heavily impacted businesses bring in new ways to mitigate issues surrounding climate change such as rising water levels.

“We are all thrilled,” Ms Henry said.

“One business is getting a new grading machine, one will go in to flip-farming, another will extend their posts to make them above flood height – we can all work into the future with the technologies we now have.

“We were badly impacted by the fires and we are all finding different ways to ensure we remain viable.

“This industry are major employers in the local area and we are all reliant on the lake being looked after and managed correctly,” Ms Henry said.

Also included are Wonboyn Wilderness Oysters, Tim Maher Oysters and Shane Davis Oysters.

Rebecca Hamilton of Sapphire Coast Wilderness Oysters businesses worked together with the four businesses to make the application for funding and said the submission required a lot of detail.

“It’s time consuming, but all the oyster farmers involved in the project were extremely committed to providing all the information required,” she said

“This project will produce significant farming efficiencies, and will see an 25-30 percent increase in production capacity and a sustained increased 30 percent local employment.

“It has been an incredibly difficult year and has pushed many businesses to the threshold. This funding will enable farmers to adapt their practices to ensure the oyster industry of Wonboyn continues to thrive,” Ms Hamilton said.

Transport for NSW supports firefighters with new tank

Trailer Mag repoted that a new 30,000-litre water tank installed just off the Pacific Highway at Clybucca will help frontline crews fight future bushfires by allowing trucks to fill up quicker.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Paul Toole, said Transport for NSW installed the tank, which has capacity to refill up to 10 firefighting trucks, after NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews struggled to access water along a stretch of the highway during last summer’s horror bushfires.

“Following last year’s bushfire season, the RFS identified that the wildlife protection fences installed along a 28-kilometre upgraded section of the Pacific Highway at Clybucca had the unintended effect of preventing crews from accessing any dams or other water sources on properties along the route,” said Toole.

“This new tank is a great solution to that, and will go a long way in helping volunteers continue the amazing efforts they put in to keep local communities safe and keep transport corridors like the Pacific Highway open,” he said.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services, David Elliott, said a post-bushfire review had led to the successful collaboration between Transport for NSW, the RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW).

“The issue was discussed during a post-bushfire review carried out by the Lower North Coast Bushfire Management Committee, which comprises representatives from a number of bodies, including Transport for NSW, and I’m so pleased we were able to deliver a positive outcome for all parties,” said Elliott.

Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, said the new secure water tank had been installed at the highway’s southbound Clybucca rest area, between Stuarts Point and Eungai Rail.

“The exclusive use of this 30,000-litre tank of water is for fighting bushfires and extinguishing vehicle and truck fires along this section of highway,” said Pavey.

“It’s a great outcome for the local community and for the men and women on the frontline fighting bushfires,” she said.

RFS Inspector, Wayne Leader, said firefighting vehicles could carry about 3,000 litres to an incident, which means the new tank could completely refill 10 vehicles before needing to be refilled itself.

“Fire agencies who run out of water at this location have typically sourced water from either Eungai Rail or Frederickton to continue fighting the fire, so providing a water source at Clybucca ensures they can access a reliable source of water much more quickly,” said Leader. “This would result in the Pacific Highway being able to reopen more quickly in most cases.”

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