THE state government should be utilising more Indigenous knowledge of land management to overcome “dramatic failings” in its planned burning program, according to Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien.
The Victorian Auditor-General recently issued a scathing audit of the state government’s planned burning program, which showed just 43 per cent of planned priority burns and 30 per cent of normal burns had been achieved last year, Mr O’Brien said.
The local MP said treatment of fuel loads to minimise bush fire risk had been a failure of the government now for years.
“When the government introduced its new model removing the requirement for 5 per cent of the state’s forest to be burnt every year in line with the 2009 Bushfire Royal Commission recommendation, it assured the community that there would be no change to the area of forest that is treated,” Mr O’Brien said.
“That has clearly proven not to be the case, and it’s regional Victorians who are put at risk as a result.
“In response to the Auditor-General’s findings about the government’s poor performance, it has argued that climate change means a longer bushfire season and therefore less opportunity to conduct planned burns.
“If that is the case, then the government should be looking to utilise more traditional Indigenous burning techniques that can be adapted to almost any climatic situation.”
Mr O’Brien said The Nationals had been pushing for an expansion of Indigenous burning practices because they showed promise in delivering better protection for communities and were more in tune with the natural systems and processes of the Australian landscape.
“We have seen what can be achieved in other parts of the country, particularly North Queensland, utilising Indigenous knowledge and groups of Indigenous practitioners are now trialling these methods in Victoria.
“Utilising cool Indigenous burns can ensure the window that the government is so worried about can be expanded and our bush and communities [are] better protected.
“The Andrews’ Labor Government continues to ignore the warnings and needs to change its ways and adapt some of these techniques to better look after our community and our environment.”
The Nationals and Liberals took an expansion of the Indigenous burning program to the last state election, Mr O’Brien said.
The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath said the government’s prescribed burn targets were “alarmingly low and simply negligent”.
“Failing to meet 50 per cent of the prescribed burning target shows Labor is knowingly placing regional communities at risk.
“The independent Auditor General’s report… showed nowhere near enough fuel reduction burning was occurring in Victoria and contributed to last summer’s bushfires that left the East Gippsland community devastated.”
Ms Bath said the government had set itself a target of reducing the fire risk to 70 per cent of what the risk would normally be if left untreated, and stated that to achieve this it must treat between 200,000ha and 270,000ha annually.
The report showed the government had only been treating an average of 86,744 ha over the past four years, Ms Bath said.
The MP said the government also handed itself a ‘get out of jail card’ with the Auditor General pointing out that when fuel reduction targets were not met, the government added the area burnt by bushfire to make up for the planned burns it did not complete.