January 25th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Wildfires: Lessons from the past not yet learnt

EDITORIAL America 'resets' foreign policy on China and Russia

CANBERRA OBSERVED After the fires, we still need an economy and to power it

GENDER POLITICS In trans Newspeak, parental consent is a 'hurdle'

REFLECTION Conjugal honour: Love of husband and wife joined together in pure intimacy

LIFE ISSUES Pro-lifers punished for exposing baby harvesting

LAW AND SOCIETY Cardinal Pell and the Appeal Court judges

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY Botany Bay: Always more than a dumping ground

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Finally getting Brexit done

HUMOUR The MacStuttles probe

MUSIC From retch to wretched

CINEMA Three times the bravura: 1917, The Gentlemen, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon

BOOK REVIEW The contradictions of the dominant ideology

BOOK REVIEW Novel celebrates inventor of literary fairytales



HUMAN RIGHTS A Magnitsky-style law for Australia?

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Wildfires: Lessons from the past not yet learnt

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, January 25, 2020

Not surprisingly, most of the media have blamed the terrible wildfires that have caused massive damage in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales on the Morrison Government’s inaction on climate change.

A simple question tells us whether this claim is true: if the Morrison Government had pursued the totality of the Greens’ agenda – closing down all coal-fired power plants, banning coal exports, and ending the use of all fossil fuels, which include petrol, diesel and aviation fuel – would it have stopped the bushfires? The answer to that question clearly is “No”.

In fact, without fossil-fuel powered cars, emergency vehicles, firefighting services and water-bombing aircraft, thousands of lives would have been lost as fires swept down on holiday resorts along the Victorian and NSW coasts.

The fires are a result of a prolonged drought affecting eastern Australia, and weather events that have pushed hot, dry air that usually stays in central Australia over the eastern states.

These conditions happen periodically: about every decade.

The last time Australia experienced similar conditions was in 2009, when horrific bushfires wiped out entire townships in central Victoria, and over 170 people were burned to death.

Before that, there were terrible wildfires in 2003, when bushfires that had been burning for weeks in the Brindabella National Park in New South Wales, swept over the border of the ACT, burning nearly 500 houses in the Canberra suburb of Duffy, and nearly 70 per cent of the ACT’s pastures, pine plantations, and nature parks. The world-famous Observatory at Mount Stromlo was destroyed in that fire.

In the same year, the Alpine bushfires in Victoria destroyed more bushland than in the current fire season but, because the bushfires affected remote parts of the state and not holiday resorts, they attracted little attention.

Earlier, the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires devastated both Victoria and South Australia, with the loss of 75 lives, the destruction of 500,000 hectares of bush and farmland, and 4,300 homes and other buildings.


Following the 2009 bushfires, the Victorian Labor government established a royal commission to investigate the causes, and recommend what should be done to avert similar tragedies in the future.

It received thousands of submissions, many of which blamed the intensity of the fires on the lack of fuel-reduction (that is, prescribed) burning in state forests and national parks. The commission sought the advice of an expert panel of fire ecologists, from Australia and overseas, on the issues.

Volume 7 of the commission’s report, “Land and Fuel Management”, outlined the royal commission’s conclusions.

It said: “Bushfires occur naturally throughout many Victorian landscapes. The harm they cause to people and the environment has created the need for effective land management for prevention and mitigation of fire.

“One of the primary tools for fire management on public land is prescribed burning. The main purpose of prescribed burning is to make people and communities safer by reducing combustible fuel, and hence the risks associated with fire.

“A secondary purpose is protecting flora and fauna from the consequences of destructive bushfire by preferentially applying prescribed burning in the environment.”

It found that: “The amount of prescribed burning occurring in Victoria has been insufficient to significantly reduce the risk of bushfires and the commission is recommending that the state introduce a long-term, robust prescribed burning program.”

The evidence given by the expert panel, based on detailed study of earlier bushfires, and the impact of fuel-reduction burning, was compelling.

The commission wrote: “Prescribed burning was found to have a measurable effect in assisting suppression for up to 20 years after burning but the benefits started to reduce after about five years. On average, that benefit lasted about 11 years but benefits were conditional on other factors, in particular weather conditions, and the overall fire-fuel hazard levels.”

What this means is that fuel-reduction burning should occur roughly every 11 years.

In fact, neither the Victorian government nor those responsible for bushfire management were willing to do anything more than token burn-offs of around 2 per cent of public land every year, mainly to protect towns and public assets like water catchments.

Until the 2009 commission’s “prescribed burning” recommendation is adopted, wildfires such as those seen in recent weeks will continue.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm