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Friday analysis: Fire ready and under fire before the season even starts

It probably seems a little incongruous that fire brigades are getting ready in July for the bushfire “season” some five or so months away. It’s a regular exercise. Organisations such as the Forestry Corporation of NSW each year put their firefighters through fitness tests to ensure they are up to scratch before things get hot. Source: Bruce Mitchell

If last summer is any indication of what we can expect to face again – and the experts seem to think we will – being fit is essential not only for the firefighters to handle the fury of a bushfire, but also to save their own lives if worse comes to worst.

The first stage of the annual fire season preparations involves walking 3.22 kilometres in less than 30 minutes wearing an 11.3-kilogram vest.

Sound easy? Try it out this weekend. Then try it out in 45C heat.

Then try it out in a bushfire situation inflamed by poor fuel load management.

The Softwoods Working Group joined a growing chorus of voices telling the Bushfire Royal Commission that fuel loads in public and private forests last summer were at an “unacceptable” level and had been allowed to build up, “making fire prevention almost impossible”.

SWG Chair Peter Crowe in a written submission to the commission said that in his opinion, current bushfire management is “deficient and ‘accepted’ assumptions and practices must now be urgently reviewed’’.

Again, let’s hope the Royal Commission arrives at a similar conclusion.

Part of that forestry management strategy will almost certainly come under the gaze of the two new Regional Forestry Hubs announced this week for south-east New South Wales and Gippsland in Victoria.

The government has committed $9 million for nine Hubs across the country, and the Gippsland and New South Wales Hubs are the final two hubs to be announced.

The funding is a core part of the implementation of the Australian Government’s National Forest Industries Plan.

The nine Regional Forestry Hub sites will provide strategic vision for forest industries in Northern Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Meanwhile in New South Wales’ north a partnership between Forestry Corporation of NSW, Boral and Nambucca Shire Council has seen donated timber enhance community facilities in Nambucca and Macksville through the Community Timber Partnerships program.

The program will see around $50,000 of donated timber used to enhance the public spaces for the community’s benefit.

It was formed by Forestry Corporation, Boral and Planet Ark to salvage around 1000 cubic metres of flooring and decking products impacted by the Murwillumbah floods in 2017, and it doesn’t get anywhere near the state-wide or even national recognition it clearly deserves.

To the south, the Eden-Monaro by-election result was not unexpected.

The new member, Labor’s Kristy McBain, is at least genuinely local and supports the Regional Forest Agreement framework and the industry in general.

It’s worth repeating that the seat has long been held up as a bellwether seat; from the 1972 election until the 2013 election, Eden-Monaro was won by the party that also won the election.

On the flip side, no government has won a seat from an opposition at a by-election in more than 100 years.

And, this time it was fought in the most unusual of circumstances.

As Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian: “Who would have believed that with official unemployment at 7.1%, actual unemployment at 13% and 2.3 million people losing work or hours of work, that Australia would have a ‘business-as-usual’ by-election devoid of emotional rancour or major voting protest?”

Overall, and despite a large field of candidates, the Liberal primary vote rose by 1.29% and the two-party-preferred swing to the Liberals was 0.44%, reversing the normal anti-government swings at by-elections.

Still, the Liberals didn’t get the result they wanted.