March 21st 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Murray River full; reservoirs low; farms for sale ...

ILLICIT DRUGS Cannabis marketed to children in Colorado

CANBERRA OBSERVED Budget surplus a goner but low interest rates a treasurer's dream

NATIONAL AFFAIRS 'Black Summer' bushfire inquiries: What must be done

GENDER POLITICS Young people deserve better than being rushed into transitioning

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Myth-busting China's 'soft power'

CLIMATE CHANGE Where's the evidence for man-made global warming?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal heard in the High Court

ON CAMPUS Young Liberals politics heats up after death of Wilson Gavin

OBITUARY Farewell to the indomitable John Barich

POLITICS AND SOCIETY Beyond the Great Divide

ASIA China's waterways bring prosperity ... and sorrow

LIFE ISSUES Age does not dim the memory of such loss

HUMOUR Men and women and others of Australia ...

MUSIC Evaluations of good, better, best can collapse into musical chairs

CINEMA Motherless Brooklyn: Gazing into the heart of the city

BOOK REVIEW How language is being degraded for political purposes

BOOK REVIEW Not very fresh options for a capitalism in which capital is worthless



NEW ZEALAND: Victorian Road Map smooths way of NZ anti-life clique to abortion 'reform'

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'Black Summer' bushfire inquiries: What must be done

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 21, 2020

On February 20, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a royal commission into last summer’s disastrous bushfires, with a focus on establishing national coordination in response to natural disasters across all levels of government; improving Australia’s preparedness for such events; and examining the legal framework for the Commonwealth’s involvement in responding to national emergencies.

The commissioners have also been asked to recommend ways in which Australia could harmonise aspects of land management, like hazard-reduction burns, wildlife management and land-use planning in all states and territories, through common national standards or rules.

Former head of the Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin will head the royal commission. He will be joined by Dr Annabelle Bennett, a former Federal Court judge.

Also on the commission will be Professor Andrew Macintosh from ANU’s Climate Change Institute, which has highlighted the danger of climate change, supported the IPCC and called for an end to fossil-fuel use in Australia.

The royal commission, which will seek public submissions, will be held over the next six months, and has been asked to report back by August 31, 2020.



The federal inquiry is limited by the fact that, overwhelmingly, responsibility for responding to bushfires falls on the states, rather than the Commonwealth.

Mr Morrison said: “The overwhelming majority of the actions to protect Australians from bushfires are undertaken at a state level. Everything from resourcing our fire services and hazard reduction, to land clearing and planning laws.

“Even the declaration of emergencies, the areas that are designated to receive payments and in most cases the assessment and delivery of those payments, even when they are funded by the Federal Government, are all undertaken by the states.”

However, he added: “I believe Australians are wanting us to look at ways we can work together to give Australians greater assurances at a national level that these important tasks are getting done.”

It remains to be seen whether anything will come out of this royal commission, when previous inquiries, including one after Victoria’s 2009 bushfires in which 172 people died, led to no change in land-management practices, which contributed to the severity of the recent bushfires.

Separately, the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian governments are conducting inquiries into the bushfires in their states.

If Australia is to learn from the recent destructive bushfires, it will need to adopt a holistic approach which includes:

  • A pivotal role for the forestry industry to reduce fuel loads in both state forests and national parks, through an expansion in logging of mature forest timber, while maintaining unique fauna and flora habitats.
  • Remove restrictions on the collection of firewood from dead trees, stumps and branches in state forests, national parks and along rural roads, to allow people to help stop the build-up of combustible fuel.
  • Remove restrictions on tree and vegetation removal on private land to create fire breaks or reduce fuel-loads on these properties.
  • Maintain firebreaks of appropriate width (at least 10 metres) around state forests and national parks to separate bushland from farmland, and maintain fire tracks through public land to give access to emergency vehicles, particularly in hilly and mountainous terrain.
  • Substantially increase the number of park rangers in both state forests and national parks, to monitor the build-up of combustible material, maintain firebreaks, and oversee public access.
  • Encourage the planting of less flammable trees, including selected varieties of acacia, prunus and other trees and shrubs, in place of eucalypts, pine and cypress species, in gardens and near houses in fire-prone areas.
  • Require the forestry industry to plant bands of less flammable trees in forest coupes, to reduce bushfire intensity and encourage biodiversity.
  • Set realistic targets for fuel-reduction burning in cooler times of the year, as recommended by earlier royal commissions but routinely ignored by state governments and their agencies.
  • Use members of volunteer fire-
    fighting agencies, such as Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, with
    extensive local knowledge, to plan and implement local
    fuel-reduction strategies, and ensure they are appropriately paid for their services.
  • Publish annual reports showing where prescribed burning has been undertaken, where targets have been achieved or not met, and what steps are being undertaken to redress deficiencies in fuel-reduction.

What is needed is a complete overhaul of policy, utilising the forestry industry, volunteers and the public, to prevent a recurrence of recent disastrous events.

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