Mike Gorman has completed his incredible work of reviewing and categorising all the submissions to the NSW Enquiry.

This is his introduction to the work:

Introduction

These submission tables have been created to make it a little easier for those interested in the 2019/2020 bushfire story to gain a better understanding of what has been publicly said in relation to the published submissions. The tables are a guide only and I would recommend that the submissions are read to gain a better understanding of the issues being raised.

Overview

The submissions are a valuable resource for the following reasons:

  • Most, if not all, interested parties have had a chance to have their say, resulting in a large amount of information being made available on all aspects of bushfire management
  • In NSW, it is rare for the general public to be invited to have a say and describe their own experience. This NSW Inquiry is possibly the first time since the NSW RFS was created in 1997 that volunteers have been offered an opportunity to have a say independent of the RFS itself

While there is significant duplication of submissions between the NSW Inquiry and the Federal Royal Commission, on the whole the quality and range of submissions for the NSW Inquiry is somewhat less than the Royal Commission. This is particularly true for the “big picture” or “strategic thinking” or “step change” thinking.

The community input into the submissions has been limited by the short time frame available to make submissions and the fact that many people from bushfire effected communities are still facing significant trauma and were not in a position to make a documented contribution.

It is inevitable that there will be omissions and minor mistakes in this guide due to the sheer size of the task and the way in which the material has been published.

The submissions have been broken into the following categories:

  • Planning
  • Land management
  • Cultural burning
  • Response
  • Farmers
  • Built environment
  • Community
  • Evacuation
  • Recovery
  • Wildlife

Some submissions will be represented in more than one category.

Comments in relation to bushfire planning

  • The willingness to seriously embrace risk management is questioned by a number of submissions. This is demonstrated by all governments’ inability or unwillingness to shift funding from response & recovery to preparation & prevention
  • A number of submissions question the usefulness of the NSW Bush Fire Risk Management Plans and whether they work for communities
  • Many submissions make reference to the poor bushfire planning and protection of critical infrastructure particularly in relation to telecommunications
  • A large number of submissions question the resolve of all governments to implement the recommendations of previous bushfire inquires, hinting at a serious issue of accountability and transparency with bushfire management
  • A number of submissions highlight the lack of evidence based decision making with questions being raised about major programs and their effectiveness
  • Many submissions highlight the over reliance on volunteers. This is particularly relevant for NSW where Government decisions have reduced the capability of NPWS, FCNSW and WaterNSW to manage fires. A number of foresters have questioned the suitability of the NSW RFS for fighting forest fires
  • A large number of submissions highlight the need for early detection and suppression of remote fires. Based on the submissions the real issue may lie with a lack of resolve to suppress the fires as opposed to early detection
  • There is likely to be significant resistance to change based on the submissions from existing organisations associated with fire management as their submissions rarely identified any problems and often made few, if any, recommendations


Comments on land management

  • Fuel loads, the cause and the best way to address the issue is very contentious. The role of dryness of the fuel is perhaps the key to understanding the complexity of the information
  • While the focus on fuel loads is normally directed at National Parks and Forestry a number of submissions point out that the fuel loads on privately owned land is potentially a bigger issue, particularly given its proximity to assets.
  • A number of submissions have also pointed out that the current processes for managing fuel loads on private land is cumbersome and has resulted in the fuel loads increasing
  • A number of submissions also point out, in relation to fuel loads, that the APZ is the most critical land management zone with respect to the protection of assets

Comments in relation to cultural burning

  • A very large number of submissions like the idea of cultural/indigenous/fire stick burning
  • A few submissions have made references to possible limitations in southern Australia
  • A few submissions make reference to it not being a ‘quick fix’

Comments in relation to the bushfire response

  • The failure to use local knowledge is the most common issue identified, followed by poor communications and slow or inadequate initial response to fires
  • NSW Government cutbacks in staff in NPWS, FCNSW and WaterNSW made a significant difference in the ability of land managers to respond to the fires
  • The NSW RFS decision to restructure and not to fill vacant positions led to a reduced capability in IMTs. This almost certainly led to the decision to run with ‘mega’ IMTs, which in turn reduced local knowledge and impacted on the quality of the response
  • The RFS bushfire, and in particular forest fire, capability has been significantly reduced due to a number of factors. This meant that the RFS could not make up for the loss of capability within the land manager organisations.
  • A combination of the reluctance to use local knowledge and to delegate, along with the loss of bushfire skills within the RFS, has led to significant failures with respect to backburning
  • The poor quality of blacking out was most probably caused by a combination of reduced skills, volunteer fatigue and dryness of the fuel. At times an impossible amount of water was required to blacken out completely
  • The poor working relationship between the RFS & FRNSW persists
  • Poorly managed road blocks are a significant issue for rural property owners


Comments in relation to farmers

  • There are virtually no submissions from farmers saying they were satisfied with the response to the fires
  • The poor working relationship the RFS has with private firefighting resources, as in the farm ute, has not been resolved
  • While the RFS has a program in place to address this issue there has been no information presented that indicates the underlining cause has been addressed and therefore any fix is unlikely to be successful
  • Comments in relation to community
  • A number of communities have made significant efforts pre-fires, during the fires and post fires to organise and take a level of responsibility for improving outcomes for their own community
  • A number of submissions have highlighted the lack of support from agencies and government
  • Comments in relation to evacuation
  • I cannot recall any submission that indicated that the management of evacuations went well, other than when local communities stepped in and organised themselves
  • A number of submissions highlighted that the ‘leave early’ message is somewhat stymied by the late opening of evacuation centres
  • Comments in relation to recovery & wildlife
  • There is a limited number of submissions addressing recovery as this was outside the scope of the inquiry


Mike Gorman
Kangaroo Valley
26th of September 2020

You can check out the submissions on the enquiry website:

Bushfire Inquiry submissions 0 to 200

Bushfire Inquiry submissions 201 to 400

Bushfire Inquiry submissions 401 to 600

Bushfire Inquiry submissions 601 to 800

Bushfire Inquiry submissions 801 to 972

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