State bushfire report knocks fire furphies on head

The release of the findings of the Victorian Bushfire Inquiry on 14 October should have put an end to the unsophisticated, self-interested and blame-apportioning comments that followed the 2002-3 fires. It is refreshing indeed to have the old furphies of fuel reduction, grazing, tracks and Aboriginal burning knocked on the head as ‘solutions’ to fire. In particular, the report says:

“‘It is important to note that prescribed burning will not prevent bushfires;

That, according to available scientific evidence, a decision regarding cattle grazing in the High Country should not be based on the argument that ‘grazing reduces blazing’;

It is easy to say that there should be more or fewer tracks, but not easy to provide an adequate justification for any change;

That we do not know enough about traditional burning in southern Australia to be able to re-create an Aboriginal burning regime’.

The inquiry found that firefighting efforts were laudatory, that some improvements could be made in communication and coordination, but that fires will always be with us. Coincidentally, release of the report corresponds with celebrations to mark 200 years of settlement in Victoria. It seems we are finally making some progress in living in and with our challenging environment, rather than endlessly confronting it, as the first settlers did and as many seem to want to do in the present day.

The report highlights the need for a strategic and thoughtful approach to fire and our environment. Sadly, such an approach seemed to deem the 334-page report almost unnewsworthy in the eyes of the media. This is in stark contrast to the acres of print and hours of ‘news’ devoted to hysterical stories and accusations about the fires over the last ten months.

Michael Fendley VNPA

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