By Mitchell Clarke
The conversation of removing fuel loads continues to remain a heated debate, with the State Government accusing the opposition of using the contentious issue as a political ploy.
Gembrook MP Brad Battin has urged the State Government to release “critical” fuel load maps to best prepare residents living in fire prone areas – but that won’t happen because the maps don’t actually exist.
“It is arrogance from the Labor Government to admit in Parliament critical fuel load maps for this season weren’t produced. This places our community at risk,” Mr Battin said.
“When Labor spends millions of dollars telling residents to be prepared, then hide access to information on the dangers, it simply defies logic.
“Cardinia is one of the highest fire danger places in the world, and residents cannot prepare for the ongoing fire season without access to vital information.”
For victims still reeling from the Bunyip bushfires last year, the prospect of further fire threat is just incomprehensible – but just 11 months on from the disaster, forest is growing back quicker than ever, according to Community Recovery Committee (CRC) chair Tony Fitzgerald.
“This is a really complex issue and you can’t resolve a problem if you hide it,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
“In a democracy, the government should be transparent and they (fuel load maps) should be released.”
But Mr Fitzgerald acknowledges the maps probably wouldn’t provide any relief to the community and that the bigger issue of back burning required scientific analysis.
“If the maps are there, they should be released. People have a right to know but this is being used as a political football and the whole issue needs scientific analysis,” he added.
“Fuel reduction burns require detailed scientific analysis that measure the impact of slowing wild fire, where and if they should occur in terms of property and asset protection and the impact massive fuel reduction burns has on air pollution in the off season.”
In Parliament earlier this month, Gippsland East MP Tim Bull questioned Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio on whether she’d immediately release the maps, given the “critical importance” to the community.
“Fuel load maps are one thing; understanding where risk is and therefore where planned burning will occur is a totally different matter – they are not the same thing,” Ms D’Ambrosio responded.
“Our advice is very clear – during this time it is unwise and not appropriate to produce or release any of these maps.”
The Gazette contacted the State Government who referred our calls through to the Forest Fire Management (FFM).
“In December Forest Fire Management Victoria provided advice to Emergency Management Victoria and Government that fuel load maps shouldn’t be released,” FFM chief fire officer Chris Hardman said.
“The basis for this advice was that these maps should not be released for safety reasons, including the potential for them to be used by arsonists. That advice remains current.”
Meanwhile, figures from Forest Fire Management’s annual report found the funds spent on direct fuel management have declined.
In 2014/15, $50.2 million was spent on direct fuel management but in 2018/19, that figure dropped to just $18.2 million.
“With just 15 per cent of the hazard reduction budget going to protecting communities and 85 percent in reporting and planning, it is no wonder fuel loads across Victoria are at extremely dangerous levels,” Mr Battin said.
“Andrews’ decision to refuse to release fuel load data maps for Victoria is hiding the fact fuel loads are so high due to his cuts in hazard reduction burning.”
Forest Fire Management was contacted for further comment.