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National bushfire summit urgently needed

Pressure is being brought to bear on the Federal Government to hold a national bushfire summit “as a matter of national security”.

The National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) chief executive officer Allan Hansard said a summit was urgently needed to build a framework for bushfire prevention and management in order to minimize the devastating effects of bushfires on rural communities, industries and economies.

“It’s time the Australian Government led a nationwide landscape bushfire prevention and risk management system, to provide coordination and consistency to bushfire prevention. This is surely an issue of national security and should be treated as such,” he said.

“I’m urging the Prime Minister to hold a national bushfire summit – bringing together forest and bushfire experts to have a fresh look at our nation’s approach to bushfire management. There are a number of State-based initiatives under way, such as the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, looking at this issue but no process to coordinate these initiatives at a national level.

“A national landscape bushfire risk management system would ensure fuel loads around bush communities and exit roads are reduced and maintained at a low level through using an appropriate fuel reduction approach; in some areas this could be prescribed burns and mechanical removal of fuel, in other areas grazing may be the best approach. While NAFI applauds the new approaches States are taking to early warning and evacuation systems, the evacuation routes must also be safe to use. The tragic experience of Black Saturday showed fires can travel incredibly fast and, where fuel has been allowed to build up can quickly block exit roads and trap people who may be evacuating,” Allan said.

“Every year thousands of people who live in bushfire-prone areas face the fear and uncertainty associated with the potential impact of bushfires on their families, homes, communities and livelihoods. In the worst of circumstances, bushfires cause a loss of life and property. But even comparatively less severe fires have a devastating effect on flora and fauna, and release tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. This is in addition to the economic impacts that result from the loss of livelihoods and the cost of fire fighting and cleanup efforts.

“The Seasonal Bushfire Outlook released by the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre predicts a worse than usual bushfire season for most of Australia. Bushfire management needs to be dealt with now; we cannot continue to put it off,” he said.

“The mechanism is already in place, through COAG, for the Australian Government to implement a national bushfire policy – and with bushfires already devastating parts of New South Wales, the question is whether Government can afford to wait another summer.”