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Bushfire Politics Part 1 – The Solutions, a discussion paper

Bushfire Politics

January 2020 Discussion Paper.

The causes of the current bushfires are as much about political negligence as they are about human activity (arson and carelessness), extreme weather conditions and mismanagement of excessive fuel-loads

All governments federal, state and territory, are aware of the recommendations from previous bushfire inquiries – yet have chosen to ignore most of them.

Executive Summary:

Aboriginals have, for tens of thousands of years, followed by settlers and farmers, burnt the bush to reduce fuel loads, understanding bushfires are an integral part of the Australian landscape. Over the past few decades, however, governments have been derelict in their ‘duty-of-care’ to manage fires effectively.  As expected, the blame-game is in full swing between governments, fire authorities, communities and property owners.  To help make sense of this current catastrophic fire season, we decided to investigate. This paper looks at four (4) areas that are relevant to the current bush fire outcomes. We,

  • Question why lessons learnt and inquiries in the past have largely been ignored
  • Examine the recommendations from the 2003 and 2009 inquiries
  • Ask why State Governments have increased areas of National Parks, reduced fire services and closed fire trails
  • Look at Local Governments green-tape legislation and planning laws
  • Provide a possible explanation for catastrophic bushfires that appear linked to cost cutting, mismanagement, political negligence and international influence

Section 1:  Presents solutions to ensure a repeat of 2019/20 bushfires cannot happen again.

Section 2:  Investigates the history of Australian bushfires

Section 3: Examines the findings of the 2003 Federal Parliamentary Inquiry and the Vic. 2009 Royal Commission into bushfires

Section 4: Looks at the politics and possible outside influences that have affected bushfire prevention and mitigation

Section 1:  Bushfire solutions

Solutions are urgently needed to ensure this seasons’ bushfires are not repeated.

Therefore, our primary goal is to provide possible solutions for discussion and possible consideration by the relevant authorities. It is understood the Prime Minister may call for a Royal Commission on the Bush Fires with the support of the states and territories. We would support such a move.

Australia has unique climate challenges, requiring unique solutions.

It is apparent that some well identified vital aspects of fire mitigation and prevention has been neglected for decades and this has significantly impacted this season’s catastrophic fires. We are seeing the result of decades of denial.

We suspect ‘international pressure’ has played a significant role in Australian politics and this may have influenced the way we manage our unique environment. We must deal with the effects of a dry continent and longer, warmer summers which, on this occasion, is at least in part due to significant unpredictable weather systems such as El Nino, La Nina, and the Indian Dipole- among others. Applying environmental practices that are best suited to a temperate-northern-hemisphere climate to help offset emission-targets through vegetation carbon-sinks in the driest inhabited nation on the planet, without proper fire prevention is foolhardy at best and fatal at worst.

The recommendations from the 2003 Federal Parliamentary Inquiry and 2009 Victorian Royal Commission presented a blueprint for the future management, minimization, suppression and prevention of catastrophic bushfires. Had the majority of these recommendations been adopted, the impact of the current fires could have been significantly less catastrophic.

It appears that politics has played a role in the mismanagement of bushfires, and bi-partisan solutions are long overdue. We propose a range of solutions recommended in previous landmark inquiries; and offer new initiatives for consideration.

Bushfire politics 

‘Big fires need a lot of fuel. 

If you own the fuel, you own the fire. 

If you haven’t managed the fuel, you will not be able to manage the fire.

If your fire escapes and causes damage, you are responsible’.
Viv Forbes, Saltbush
 

Some important and effective recommendations for FIRE PREVENTION, from the previous inquires of 2003 and 2009 into bushfires included:

  • A thorough and strict regime of cool burning to reduce fuel loads in National Parks, State Forests and heavily wooded areas
  • Timely permits for local Rural Fire Brigade Captains to undertake backburning (some permits take up to 2 years)
  • A relaxation of ‘green tape’ restrictions on private property owners attempting to reduce fuels loads and create fire breaks on their properties
  • An investigation into re-introducing cattle grazing in National Parks and State Forests to reduce fuel loads
  • Giving greater access to (or creating new) water sources close to National Parks, State Forests and heavily wooded areas to help fight fires
  • Restriction of new developments in fire prone areas
  • A state-wide education program through schools and libraries, to teach fire dangers, fire mitigation and prevention
  • To impose a ‘Fire-Levy’ tax on all landowners’ through local council rates – similar to the Earthquake Levy in NZ. (this would replace any current levies on Insurance Policies)
  • Create a NATIONAL RESPONSE to bush fires; in conjunction with the states and territories.
  • Investigate the reintroduction of selective logging in state forests and national parks to reduce fire risks
  • Implement a research program aimed at refining arson prevention and detection strategies

In addition to the above we offer the following solutions for discussion and consideration:

INCREASE BUFFER ZONES in local government planning, between the RURAL and URBAN interface to 120 metres

  1. As recommended in the 2003 inquiry, local and state government planning laws must reflect a new fire reality. It is necessary therefore to review state and local planning legislation to allow for safe buffer zones between the rural and urban interface (RUI)     The Rural – Urban – Interface [RUI] interface is defined as:  the line, area, or zone where structures and other human development adjoin or overlap with undeveloped bushland.
    • The RUI is where the degree of risk to life and property is most pronounced, and historically where the greatest losses have occurred.
    • About 80% of people killed in the last 110 years, died within 30 metres of a forest. (1)

    It is recommended that buffer zones for the RUI be a minimum of 120 metres. 

Link to a submission to the 2009 Vic. Royal Commission: Black Saturday Royal Commission 1 SUBM-002-004-0117

Bushfire hazard

Bushfire strategic management zone 

     

  1. b) MANDATE Residential rainwater tanks and grey water usage (in ALL states and territories) for new developments  

One of the major issues Australia faces is diminishing rural water supply that is mostly controlled by big corporations – many of them International.  State Governments dam-building has all but ceased and many rural and regional areas are either running out of water or are at a tipping point.    If we are serious about solutions and the rebuilding of areas decimated by bushfires there are three simple options that should be mandated by local governments immediately:

  • ALL new homes should be required to include water tanks to capture rainfall.
  • ALL new homes should be required to include ‘grey water tanks’ to capture household wastewater
  • ALL rural properties must have water tanks funded through state government subsidies

What is Greywater?

Greywater can be defined as any domestic wastewater produced, excluding sewage. The main difference between greywater and sewage (or blackwater) is the organic loading. Sewage has a much larger organic loading compared to greywater.  Some people also categorize kitchen wastewater as blackwater because it has quite a high organic loading relative to other sources of wastewater such as bath water.

People are now waking up to the benefits of greywater re-use, and the term “Wastewater” is in many respects a misnomer. Maybe a more appropriate term for this water would be “Used Water”.

Two major benefits of greywater use are:

  • Reducing the need for fresh water. Saving on freshwater use can significantly reduce household water bills, but also has a broader community benefit in reducing demands on public water supply.
  • Reducing the amount of wastewater entering sewers or on-site treatment systems. Again, this can benefit the individual household, but also the broader community. (2) 

The following criteria is already legislated for new homes in South Australia: (3)

  1. Minimum capacity – there is normally a minimum capacity of rainwater that your tank needs to store. Most councils require you to have a minimum 1000 litre water tank.
  2. Auto-switching system – you may need to have an “auto-switcher” installed so that your home water supply automatically switches between your rainwater and mains water supply if the water available in your tank is low or empty.
  3. Water retention for fire-fighting – if your new home is in a bushfire prone area then you need a permanent store of water on your property in case there is a fire. Your tank also needs to be fitted with an outlet that the CFS (Country Fire Service) can connect to. For more information, read ‘Water Retention Tanks for Fighting Bushfires’.
  4. Stormwater detention – in heavy rain some subdivisions often become flooded. In these areas, councils often require you to capture some of the downpour in your tank. This captured water is then slowly released into the stormwater drains. For more information, read ‘Water Tanks for Storm Water Detention’.

 

Create a REGISTER OF ARSONISTS along with reparation requirements

Arsonists

A register of arsonists (irrespective of age of offender) should be created.

Naming and shaming arsonists will help create a disincentive for future fire criminals to copy their actions.

  • People named and charged with acts of arson should undertake compulsory community service as part-reparation for damage caused by their actions.
  • A regime of tree planting in public areas on weekends, supervised-volunteering with local fire services and ‘fire-bug’ counselling for a set minimum period.

 NB/ This supports one of the recommendations coming out of the 2009 Vic. Royal Commission  

Implement MILITARY STRATEGIES to manage Australian bushfires

Current drought and bushfire threat levels could benefit from support under Peace and COIN (counter insurgency) contingency operations. Drought management and bushfire prevention are needed in both stability and defensive activities

  • A major factor in the current bushfires is the level of deliberate acts of arson which has increased the threat to life, property, the economy and the nation.
  • Consistent with Recommendation #35 of the 2009 Victorian Royal Commission, a research program aimed at arson prevention and detection was critical.
  • Using established military tactics by trained veterans would help fulfil this and other COIN roles. (6)

Black Saturday Royal Commission Submission

 

Use MILITARY GRADE EQUIPMENT in firefighting exercises

There are several problems in using standardized, commercial truck cabs and chassis units as a basis for frontline Bushfire vehicles. These shortcomings have been detailed in a paper by Bruce Paix in 1999.

In short:

  • Commercial cabins, windows and door trims use flammable synthetic materials
  • Fuel tanks are often unprotected
  • Airbrake lines are vulnerable to locking-up when drops in air pressure occur
  • Tyres, fuel lines and hoses are often made of flammable materials
  • Mechanical failures often occur when engines are exposed to extreme heat

Due to the extreme conditions that catastrophic fires create; more robust military-grade equipment must be considered to complement existing fire-fighting equipment.   The following military style equipment is suggested:

Black Saturday Royal Commission Submission

Military-grade Thales Fire King

When a fire ignites in one of South Australia’s plantation forests, response crews need a vehicle that is bomb-proof.

  • Built on the chassis of the Australian Army Bushmaster Armored Personnel Carrier, the Thales Fire King has been modified for specific firefighting in plantations. This vehicle carries four crew members and 3,700 litres of water.  (7)
  • The Thales Fire King is currently in service in the South Australia Forestry Department and has proven to be a world-class fire-fighting vehicle. Testing by CSIRO in conditions up to 1000 C has proven it complies with the CSIRO Burn-over Standard. Total heat flux exceeded 120 kW/m2 for a period greater than 33 seconds, replicating a fire Danger Index (FDI) of 50 and a fuel loading of 15 tonnes per hectare.

ADF personnel are already trained to operate the Bushmaster.

Black Saturday Royal Commission SubmissionFire fire equipment

Military-grade KLF Airmatic Marder – German APC variant

This vehicle is a repurposed original Marder A3 German tank with installed collapsible water tanks and three nozzles. The tanks have fireproof plating, a 2,900 psi-pump, onboard air supply, sprinklers and a long-range nozzle that can shoot water more than 260 feet.

  • Both the long-range and fog-pattern nozzles are mounted on a swivel base that can be pointed in any direction, both controlled by a joystick remote controller.
  • A third nozzle at the front ensures fires are extinguished in the direction of travel. The two military personnel required to operate the unit can do so safely.
  • In times of extreme rescue operations, water in tanks can dumped quickly allowing sufficient space on board for additional passengers.

ADF Armoured & Mechanised Corps personnel are already trained in tracked vehicle use

Black Saturday Royal Commission Submission
Military grade fire fighting equipment

 

Military-grade Leopard Tank 1 A4 – Löschpanzer

Utilizing the Leopard Tank’s basic chassis, this AFV (armored fighting vehicle) has been re-designed as an armored fire-fighting vehicle (AFFV)

  • Just as its military variant, it retains the classic benefits of an AFV. Developed by Europe’s largest defense contractor KRAUSS MAFFEI-WEGMANN, it has been designed with extensive off-road and land-clearing capabilities with a 20,000 litres foam delivery system, capable of acting as a front runner, clearing fire trails and suppressing intense burns to allow fire crews to safely operate after it has passed through.
  • The integrated nuclear, biological, and chemical protection system of the Leopard 1 protects the crew against smoke and toxic gases, and, allows this vehicle to operate where no commercial unit can go.

ADF Armoured & Mechanised Corps personnel are already trained in tracked vehicle use.

Black Saturday Royal Commission SubmissionMilitary-grade Leopard Tank 1 A4 - Löschpanzer

 

Coming soon

Section 2 covering; ‘The history of bushfires in Australia’are the current fires unprecedented?

 

References:

  1. http://www.fire.tas.gov.au/userfiles/stuartp/image/FuelBreakCalculator/TFS_Fuelbreaks_Guidlines_v1_201610.pdf
  2. https://www.sustainable.com.au/greywater-treatment
  3. https://www.teampoly.com.au/2018/06/15/council-requirements-for-water-tanks-in-new-homes/
  4. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/national-veteran-suicide-monitoring/contents/summary.
  5. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/5-800-defence-veterans-are-homeless-in-australia
  6. https://www.army.gov.au/sites/default/files/lwd_3-6-1_employment_of_engineers.pdf?acsf_files_redirect
  7. https://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2013/05/08/3754564.htm

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