This submission does not encompass anything
more than the mere essence of the relevant conclusions that I have reached
during the last forty-five years of professional bushfire research. I was
employed by CSIRO, The Department of Defence, Monash University and
The Bureau of Meteorology during this time. My last position was as Supervising
Meteorologist for Rural Fires at the Bureau of Meteorology. My bushfire
research was recognized with an Order of Australia Medal.
My research has encompassed fire chemistry,
fire physics, prescribed burning development, smoke, human and building
survival, fire behaviour, disaster management, fire policy, and fire weather.
The result of this experience has forced
upon me certain conclusions about the role of fire in the total Australian
environment. The conclusions are mostly at odds with the prevailing policies
currently in place in Victoria. These policies have failed in the past, are failing now and will
fail in the future. Surely over a million hectares of burnt and damaged forests
proves my assertion.
The current policy of fire exclusion (1.05%
of prescribed burning is still fire exclusion), fire
control through technology and the decrease in capacity for initial attack and
the exploitation of volunteers is totally unsound.
Current policies do not actually recognise
the facts of fire behaviour, fire meteorology, the scale of disaster fires, the
community nature of volunteers and the essential requirement of burning for a
healthy natural environment.
The bushfire “problem” is multifunctional
and requires an understanding at the scientific, environmental, social,
economic and political levels. Developing appropriate policies is not
achievable by “Yes Minister” type inquiries such as this one. Only the most
robust, honest and open debate can achieve a unified state and national
approach to living with fire.
Government and bureaucratic response to the
recent fires has been divisive, callous and dismissive. Pre-emptive statements
from the Premier and Ministers and some Departments have destroyed any
atmosphere for a unified fire policy development.
The 2003 fires are a result of the failure
of Victorian Governments and Bureaucracies to ensure the safety and health of
the land under their control and custody. The failure of the Government to
acknowledge this fact in the fear of litigation will preclude a positive
outcome to this major environmental and social threat.
Possibly the most dangerous factor in the
Victorian fire threat is the determination of the Victorian Government,
Departments and Agencies to ensure that dissenting voices be not heard.
I do not imagine that this inquiry will
achieve anything more than a politically acceptable conclusion and as a result
the threat next year and thereafter will essentially remain the same. I however
always live in hope.
The Fire Threat in Victoria
- In Australia, in the last 100 years, 600 fire deaths have occurred, 400 in Victoria.
because of the Southwest cold front has the world’s worst fire climate.
- The fire exclusion policy has resulted in the highest and most
dangerous fuel loads for 47,000 years.
- A running
disaster fire intensity exceeds the maximum capability for fire fighting
by between 4 and 80 times.
- The environmental, industrial and social costs will increase as
the extreme fuels closer to Melbourne experience the inevitable mid summer disaster wildfire.
- The ecological threat is extreme.
- The threat to Melbourne’s and the States water supplies is certain to be realised in
the next few decades – the water harvest will be decreased to half for
30-50 years within the next 50 years.
- The hardwood timber industry will be obliterated.
- The rural/urban interface will experience a major civil
disaster greater than but similar to Hobart in
- We remain very vulnerable to arson from disgruntled citizens
and external forces.
- The fires in Gippsland and the NE were predictable and have
- If an objective, unfetted and
independent analysis of the East
Gippsland and NE fire disaster were
made I would expect to find that the fire fighting ($2m per day) made
little if any difference to the outcome. The predicted daily spread was
- The dramatic demonstration of the predicted potential
destruction of the Bass Link project by wildfire has been totally ignored,
putting the State at considerable financial risk.
- The fires in W.A. during cyclone Alby demonstrated beyond doubt
the efficacy of prescribed burning.
- Reducing the dry sclerophyll fuels to an average of one quarter
will reduce the fire intensity (and the damage) to one sixteenth.
- Reducing the fuels to one quarter will reduce the areas burnt
to between one quarter and one sixteenth.
- The application of frequent mild fire as was practiced by the indigenous
people is essential for a healthy Australian environment.
- It will take two decades of effort to achieve healthy fuel
levels. There is however no alternative except major fire disasters at the
rate of one or two per hundred years.
- An honest public education effort without propaganda and spin
will be needed to achieve support for fuel management.
- Sufficient and supported fire research to develop and refine
burning techniques for Victorian fuels, topography and climate is needed.
The dubious and constrained proposed CRC will not suffice.
- There is a demonstrated capacity of fire fighters and
individuals to protect buildings as in 1983.
- The lessons of 1926, 1939, 1944, 1965, 1983 and now 2003 do not
appear to have been learnt.
- Skill levels in the agencies have been seriously reduced by
economic irrationally driven staff reductions. (see
Cheney ANU Fire Forum).
- Legal processes, spin and personal attacks
are used to obscure and hide facts and protect departments – note for
example the use of massive legal forces by DSE and CFA to prevent the
issues in my report to the Linton Inquest from being aired.
- The bureaucracy has subverted the Westminster
process by setting fire and fuel policy and then snowing the political arm
of government. The agencies should instead provide honest alternative
advice to the Government who acting in the State interest, will set the
policy for the Agencies to carry out. An old fashioned view perhaps but
better than the alternative.
Despite my better judgement I am prepared
to support the above assertions, facts and opinions in person and no doubt yet
again withstand the slings and arrows of official outrage. In the meantime if
this inquiry is really interested in understanding the nature of the problem it
should consider and take into account the Stretton Royal Commission, The Cheney
ANU paper and my report to the Coroner in the Linton Deaths (how you get it is
your problem as CFA and DSE continue to ensure that it is legally suppressed)
I do not have confidence in this Inquiry as
it is clearly not open and independent. The lack of judicial powers to compel
evidence and have it on oath will ensure that the unpalatable truths remain