Chapter 1- Introduction
Conduct of the inquiry
On 12 May 2009 the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate
Select Committee on Agricultural and Related Industries for report by 26
The incidence and severity of bushfires across Australia, including:
impact of bushfires on human and animal life, agricultural land, the
environment, public and private assets and local communities;
contributing to the causes and risks of bushfires across Australia, including
natural resource management policies, hazard reduction and agricultural land
extent and effectiveness of bushfire mitigation strategies and practices,
including application of resources for agricultural land, national parks, state
forests, other Crown land, open space areas adjacent to development and private
property and the impact of hazard reduction strategies;
identification of measures that can be undertaken by government, industry and
the community and the effectiveness of these measures in protecting
alternative or developmental bushfire prevention and mitigation approaches
which can be implemented;
appropriateness of planning and building codes with respect to land use in
bushfire prone regions;
adequacy and funding of fire-fighting resources both paid and voluntary and the
usefulness of and impact on on-farm labour; and
(h) the role of volunteers.
The committee subsequently sought and received an extension of the
reporting date to 13 August 2010.
The committee advertised the inquiry in The Australian newspaper
on 20 May 2009. The committee also invited submissions from a range of
organisations and individuals including land management and fire agencies,
government departments, forestry organisations, volunteer fire fighting
organisations, conservation groups and research and technical bodies. The closing
date for submissions was 31 July 2009, though the committee agreed to accept
submissions throughout the inquiry. The committee received 58 submissions, as
well as a range of supporting material. A list of individuals and organisations
that made submissions to the inquiry is at Appendix 1.
The committee held four public hearings, in Canberra (twice), Melbourne
and Perth. A list of witnesses who provided evidence is included at Appendix 2.
Responses to questions taken on notice at these hearings have been published in
A list of material tabled during the inquiry or provided as additional
information is at Appendix 4.
References to the Committee Hansard are to the proof transcript. Page
numbers may vary between the proof and the official transcript.
The committee wishes to acknowledge and thank those who provided written
submissions and gave evidence at public hearings. The committee also wishes to
express its enormous appreciation for the time and effort thousands of people
across Australia, the majority unpaid, devote to protecting Australians from
the sometimes catastrophic effects of bushfires.
Scope and structure of the inquiry
The committee recognises that the Commonwealth has limited
responsibility for bushfire management in Australia. In accordance with the distribution
of powers under the Australian Constitution, the primary responsibility for the
protection of life, property and the environment lies with the states and
The most appropriate role for the Commonwealth in this field is to oversee and support
the states' capacity to manage bushfire risks to limit the destruction
The committee also acknowledges that there have been a number of
previous inquiries into bushfires, which are outlined in further detail in chapter
2. It is not the committee's intention to re-examine the specific bushfire
management failures these inquiries investigated, though the committee does
recognise the frustration of many at the apparent lack of action taken by
relevant state agencies in response to sensible reform proposals aimed at
preventing similar occurrences. However, the committee has sought to avoid
apportioning blame for past events, or directing its proposals for reform
beyond what is achievable through initiatives taken at the Commonwealth level.
Instead, in this report the committee considers the underlying policy
areas in which the Commonwealth can realistically take greater responsibility
for bushfire management, to help responsible agencies and at-risk communities reduce
the incidence and effects of catastrophic bushfires. The focus of this inquiry
has therefore been on assisting with effective mitigation strategies and directing
resources in a way that most effectively meets this objective, rather than seeking
to impose Commonwealth Government involvement in the suppression and recovery measures
implemented during the height of a bushfire crisis. The committee is of the
view that the most effective influence the Commonwealth can have is on bushfire
mitigation and preparedness, and this report broadly reflects this position.
The remainder of this chapter outlines the nature of bushfires in the
Australian landscape; the different state-based organisations responsible for
bushfire management in Australia; the Commonwealth's present bushfire
management role; and the potential for the Commonwealth to pursue greater
national direction of bushfire policy.
Chapter 2 outlines previous inquiries into bushfires, including their
consistent themes and recommendations, with a particular emphasis on
Commonwealth inquiries and the most recent state-based (Victorian) inquiries. This
chapter also explores frustrations with an apparent cycle of disaster followed
by inquiry followed by inaction that appears to characterise this area of
public policy. Government responses to recent major bushfire inquiries are
included in Appendix 5.
Chapter 3 reflects the primary focus of this inquiry, which was bushfire
mitigation. In this chapter the committee briefly discusses the Commonwealth's
role in addressing the preventable causes of fire, before considering the many
complex issues pertaining to mitigating bushfire risks by reducing combustible
fuels in the landscape. Finally, the chapter examines additional risk
management approaches to enable communities to be more resilient to bushfires.
Chapter 4 discusses concerns about the co-ordination of fire suppression
activities during a bushfire emergency, otherwise referred to as incident
control. This includes co-ordinating the roles of multiple agencies during an
emergency, and managing the division of decision-making responsibilities
between local fire fighters and centralised incident control.
Finally, Chapter 5 considers the adequacy and priorities of resources
for bushfire management. The chapter canvasses a number of issues including the
prioritisation of resources for suppression over mitigation; available qualified
personnel and volunteers for bushfire management tasks; the information and
knowledge available to those responsible for bushfire management; and the
adequacy of equipment, access, infrastructure and technology required for
suppression and emergency management.
Fire in the Australian landscape
Fires in the Australian landscape may start from natural causes such as
lightning strikes, or from human activity. Human causes can stem from careless
acts such as poorly extinguishing cooking fires, throwing lit cigarette butts
or children playing with matches; from sparks from equipment or machinery such
as power tools or faulty electricity infrastructure; from fires deliberately
lit with good intention that escape, such as prescribed burns that run out of control;
and from fires deliberately lit with malicious intent.
The incidence of bushfires resulting from some of these human causes,
such as arson and electricity infrastructure faults, may be reduced by
preventative action. These are discussed in Chapter 3 dealing with bushfire
mitigation issues. However, much of the focus of this inquiry is not on
preventing the causes of fires, but on mitigating their intensity and effects
on lives and property.
CSIRO noted that bushfires 'are an inevitable occurrence in Australia'.
Their submission to the committee provided some detail of their incidence and
About 50 million hectares of land are burned across Australia
each year on average and about 80% of fire-affected areas are in northern
savanna regions. Lightning is the cause of almost all naturally occurring
bushfires. Human activities account for most of the rest with accidents
associated with burning off, campfires and machinery being the most common
sources of ignition. While it is difficult to assess the magnitude of
maliciously lit fires, between 25 to 50% of bushfires are thought to be
Bushfires account for about 10 percent of the cost of all
major natural disasters in Australia, and are associated with the greatest loss
They described the different nature of fire regimes across Australia:
Fire regimes across Australia vary because of variation in
the rate of vegetation (and hence fuel) production, the rate at which fuels dry
out, the occurrence of suitable fire weather for the spread of fire across the
landscape, and ignitions ... Regional fire regimes differ because of variation
in one or more of these key drivers. As a consequence, fire regimes in some
areas are constrained primarily by availability of fuel, in others by the
occurrence of periods of suitable weather. For example, the tropical savannas
of the north tend to burn mainly in the winter-spring period and experience
high frequency and relatively low intensity fire regimes ... In contrast, the
tall sclerophyll (eucalypt-dominated) forests of the cool, temperate south tend
to burn in summer and generally have low frequency/high intensity fire
It is the higher intensity and greater potential for harm that has meant
the vast majority of evidence to this inquiry has related to the importance of
mitigating the severity and effects of fires in Australia's southern areas.
The committee also considered the likelihood of some parts of Australia
facing more serious fire conditions in the future. In their submission to the
inquiry CSIRO outlined the potential consequences of climate change for fire
While the impact of climate change is likely to be an
increase in the frequency of ‘Extreme’ fire danger days, the impact of climate
change on the structure of the forest, fuel availability and thus the behaviour
of bushfires is not known. The severity of fire conditions or fire danger is
calculated through combining measures of temperature, wind speed, humidity and
drought into the Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI), which has been used for many
decades. With the likely onset of climate change effects, modifications to
aspects of the FFDI, particularly the assumptions regarding the rate of fuel
drying, should be considered to better reflect the change in drying conditions
in future. Under climate change it is expected that current 'windows' for
hazard reduction burning will change and possibly narrow, meaning less
opportunity to conduct safe and effective hazard reduction burns.
That is, more days will be conducive to catastrophic fires occurring and
there will be fewer days in which to mitigate their effect through prescribed
CSIRO's submission concluded that although fire will be more frequent,
the implications for fire behaviour will be complex, with the effects on the
landscape and fuel loads being uncertain and requiring further research.
Bushfire management in Australia
Bushfire management refers to a variety of activities and measures taken
to limit the destructive effects of uncontrolled bushfires on human and animal
life, agricultural land, the environment, public and private assets and local
communities. It includes bushfire mitigation and preparedness strategies such
as fuel hazard reduction and fire trail maintenance across the landscape, in
addition to fire suppression measures taken during bushfire emergencies. These
land management activities are supported by bushfire-related knowledge,
information-sharing and training.
At the landscape scale, the responsibility for bushfire management in
Australia rests with the relevant land managers and fire agencies, the latter
being state-based organisations whose jurisdiction is dependent on the land
management arrangements in any given location. Australia's disparate land
management responsibilities were described to the committee as a 'matrix of
tenures in the landscape' and include national parks, state forests, other
crown land and privately owned land such as farms.
Bushfire preparedness and suppression tasks are performed by a range of
people including land management agency staff, fire agency staff and volunteers,
and private land owners, the latter group often being volunteer fire fighters.
State and territory government responsibilities
This section outlines the distribution of bushfire management
responsibilities by Australia's state and territory governments.
New South Wales
Department of Environment, Climate
Change and Water
The NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) is
the department with primary responsibility for land management across the
Emergency Management NSW
Emergency Management NSW (EMNSW) was established in May 2009. In
addition to the functions of the former Office for Emergency Services, ENNSW
assumed responsibility for several additional services and provides support to:
the State Emergency Management Committee: the principal committee
for emergency management in NSW which is responsible for emergency planning at
a state level;
- the State Emergency Operations Controller: coordinates support to
combat agencies during emergency response operations and controls the response
for specified events for which there is no designated combat agency;
- the State Emergency Recovery Controller: oversees the planning
for, and management of, emergency recovery in NSW; and
the State Rescue Board: established to ensure the maintenance of
efficient and effective rescue services across the state.
EMNSW co-ordinates the state's input to Commonwealth emergency management
programs and a range of research and awareness programs. It also administers
emergency management grants.
A key responsibility of EMNSW is the provision of high level policy and
executive support to the Minister for Emergency Services. This support includes
policy advice and analysis, information and correspondence coordination and
liaison with agencies, including the New South Wales Fire Brigades, New South
Wales Rural Fire Service and State Emergency Service.
EMNSW provides policy, administrative and operational support to the
State Emergency Management Committee and its various Functional Area
committees, along with the State Rescue Board and its sub-committees. It also
provides operational support to the State Emergency Operations Controller and
State Emergency Recovery Controller during emergency response and recovery
National Parks and Wildlife Service
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which is part of DECCW,
manage more than six million hectares of parks and reserves across the state.
All parks and reserves are covered by fire management strategies, which are
used to set out the fire management objectives for particular parks and
reserves. Local communities, bushfire management committees, the Rural Fire
Service, the Sydney Catchment Authority and other interested parties are
consulted in the preparation of fire management strategies. The strategies are
used to plan fire suppression, hazard reduction burning and other fire-related
In addition, NPWS is also responsible for:
- wildlife conservation;
- maintenance of fire trails;
- statistical analysis of species in protected areas;
- mapping of protected zones; and
- combat of salinity and soil erosion. 
State Forests of New South Wales
State Forests of New South Wales is responsible for protecting state
forests from bushfires and protecting life and property by minimising the
spread of bushfires from state forests. It also has specific statutory
obligations in relation to fire management under both the Forestry Act 1916
and the Rural Fires Act 1997.
Fuel management through hazard reduction burning is carried out according to a
planning process determined in conjunction with District Bush Fire Management
Committees and site-specific hazard reduction plans.
Rural Fire Service
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) was established in September 1997 to
replace the Bush Fire Brigades Organisation. RFS is the lead agency for
providing coordinated bushfire fighting and mitigation services across over 90
per cent of the state's rural land area, which excludes land managed by (NPWS)
and State Forests of NSW. RFS regularly assists with hazard reduction burns on
land in NSW not under the authority of those two agencies.
RFA volunteers are also responsible for structure fires in rural fire
districts, including over 1200 villages. In addition to bushfires, the RFS also
supports other agencies in emergency situations such as transport accidents,
flood, storm and search and rescue situations.
NSW Fire Brigades
New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB) is responsible for preventing and
responding to fire emergencies and providing direct protection to populations
in major cities, metropolitan areas and towns across in New South Wales. The
NSWFB also respond to emergencies beyond their Fire Districts to provide
assistance to the Rural Fire Service at structure fires.
NSWFB supports other government agencies such as the NSW Rural Fire
Service, State Emergency Service, State Forests, NSW Police Force, Ambulance
Service of NSW and the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water
both during and after bushfires and other emergencies.
Bush Fire Coordinating Committee
The Bush Fire Coordinating Committee (BFCC) provides a forum for
government and non-government organisations, with an interest in the
prevention, mitigation and suppression of bushfires, to work together. It plays
a key role co-ordinating the work of District Bush Fire Management Committees
in preparing risk management plans. Under the Rural Fires Act 1997, the
- is responsible for planning in relation to bush fire prevention
and co-ordinated bush fire fighting;
- reviews major bush fire suppression operations to identify
opportunities for improvement; and
- is responsible for advising the Commissioner (and the Minister)
on bush fire prevention, mitigation and coordinated bush fire suppression.
Fire Services Joint Standing
The Fire Services Joint Standing Committee (FSJSC) was established under
the Fire Services Joint Standing Committee Act 1998, and has the
- to develop and submit (to the Minister) strategic plans for the
delivery of rural fire services at the interface of fire district boundaries
and rural fire district boundaries;
- to review periodically the boundaries of fire districts and,
where appropriate, make recommendations (to the Minister) regarding the
- to develop and submit (to the Minister) implementation strategies
to minimise duplication and maximise compatibility between the services of New
South Wales Fire Brigades and the services of the New South Wales Rural Fire
Service, with particular reference to:
- infrastructure planning;
- training activities;
- community education programs; and
- equipment design.
Department of Sustainability and
Environment (including Parks Victoria)
The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) is one of the
primary organisations responsible for bushfire management on public lands across
Victoria. DSE is responsible for:
- the provision of advice on the prevention and suppression of
- the use of planned burns;
- monitoring fire on public land across the state;
- coordinating appropriate incident response;
- developing specialist fire equipment; and
- managing fire-related training and research.
Parks Victoria is a statutory authority responsible under the Parks
Victoria Act 1988 for providing land management services to the DSE.
DSE works with Parks Victoria in undertaking fire suppression,
mitigation and prevention practices on Victoria's public land. The agencies are
jointly responsible for managing bushfire incidents and using prescribed burns
to meet land management goals and objectives.
DSE also works with the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and both agencies
frequently attend the same fires, with either DSE or CFA controlling the fire
as the lead agency.
Emergency Services Commissioner
The position of Emergency Services Commissioner was established under
the Emergency Management Act 1986 'to provide independent advice to the
Minister for Policy and Emergency Services, the Premier, or another Minister as
required, on any issue in relation to emergency management.'
The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner (OESC) provides
leadership in emergency management for Victoria and has specific
responsibilities for delivering efficient, equitable and integrated fire and
emergency services. The Office supports the role of the Commissioner by:
- facilitating cooperation across the emergency services;
- providing independent advice and leadership to government in
relation to emergency management; and
- working with emergency services, government departments and the
community to improve the safety of Victorians.
Country Fire Authority
Under the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 the Country Fire Authority
(CFA) is responsible for '...the prevention and suppression of fires and for
the protection of life and property in case of fire ... so far as relates to
the country area of Victoria'. This includes bushfire suppression, structure
fires, incidents involving hazardous materials and road rescue.
CFA Volunteers provide state-wide fire and related emergency
- community awareness, education and safety programs;
- bushfire suppression;
- structural fire suppression;
- transport-related fire suppression;
- forestry industry brigades;
industrial accident response;
- other emergency activities – including flood assistance;
- fire safety input planning for major community risks;
- fire prevention; and
- land use planning advice at municipal level.
CFA also assists with prescribed burning activities.
Forestry Industry Brigades
There are approximately 24 Forestry Industry Brigades across Victoria with
over 700 registered members. Forestry Industry Brigades responded to 465 fires
in 2008-09 and had significant involvement in most major fires on Black
Saturday and during the following weeks.
The brigades are operated by forestry companies but are under the control of the
The CFA provide bushfire training to new Forest Industry Brigade members, as
well as advanced training courses.
Metropolitan Fire Brigade
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade was established under the Metropolitan
Fire Brigades Act 1958. Over 1500 fire fighters are located in fire
stations and specialist departments across the Melbourne metropolitan area. Both
the CFA and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade report to the Minister for Police and
Fire Protection Plans
Fire Protection Plans are developed for each DSE Fire District. These
strategic plans address fire protection at the regional level to ensure bushfire
prevention and suppression activities on public land in Victoria are conducted
in an operationally safe, environmentally sensitive and cost efficient manner.
Each Fire Protection Plan is prepared with input from DSE, Parks Victoria and
the community, and has four main strategies: bushfire prevention, preparedness,
suppression and recovery.
In addition, three-year forward planning programs (Fire Operations
Plans) are also prepared. These plans contain:
- a schedule and maps showing proposed fuel management and
ecological burning proposals;
- any new prevention and preparedness programs planned for the
immediate three-year budget period;
- details of planned fire prevention related education and
enforcement programs; and
- a detailed schedule of prevention and preparedness programs
planned for the immediate twelve-month budget period.
Department of Primary Industries,
Parks, Water and Environment
The Tasmanian Department Primary Industries, Parks, Water and
Environment (DPIPWE) has primary responsibility for land management across the
Parks and Wildlife Service
As a unit of DPIPWE, Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) is
responsible for the management of a range of reserved lands in Tasmania
including national parks, regional reserves, conservation areas and Crown Land.
This management includes:
- control of unplanned bushfires;
- planned burning to reduce fuel loads and make fire control easier
- planned burning to help maintain biodiversity, promote
regeneration of plants that depend on fire and to maintain suitable habitat for
- maintaining assets that assist with bushfire control, for
example, fire trails, firebreaks and waterholes.
Strategic plans are prepared for each PWS region and fire management
plans are prepared for some individual reserves. These plans include details of
the natural and cultural values of particular areas, details of the assets requiring
protection and any resources within and nearby the reserve that can help in
fire suppression. Plans also identify strategies to protect neighbouring
settlements and towns.
Officers from PWS are involved in fire management area committees
organised by the Tasmania Fire Service. The PWS also has a range of fire
management specialists (including fire management officers) for each region
around the state and a specialist seasonal fire crew is recruited each year to
help staff with fire fighting during the summer months.
Tasmania Fire Service
The Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) – the operational arm of the State Fire
Commission – was created in 1979 through the amalgamation of the State Fire
Authority, the Rural Fires Board and 22 urban fire brigade boards. The TFS has
230 fire brigades across Tasmania staffed by approximately 250 career fire fighters
and 4800 volunteer fire fighters. In addition to responding to structural fires
and bushfires, the TFS is also responsible for:
- responding to hazardous material incidents;
- urban search and rescue;
- emergency call handling and dispatch;
- fire investigation;
- community fire education;
- building safety;
- fire equipment sales and service;
building and maintaining TFS vehicles;
- maintaining a state-wide communications network; and
fire alarm monitoring.
The TFS works with the other emergency services across the state,
including the Tasmanian Police, the State Emergency Service and the Tasmanian
Ambulance Service. The Service also has 'mutual aid' arrangements with Forestry
Tasmania and the Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure major bushfires are
adequately resourced and managed. The TFS also participates in:
- the State Disaster Committee;
- the Australasian Fire Authorities Council; and
- the Bushfire CRC.
Under the Fire Services Act 1979, Forestry Tasmania is
responsible for the management of approximately 1.6 million hectares of state
forest. As part of these responsibilities, Forestry Tasmania has the authority
to control or extinguish fires within three kilometres of the boundary of any
area of state forest.
Fire management on state forest land is undertaken in close co-operation
with the Tasmanian Fire Service, the Parks and Wildlife Service and forest
industry companies. Forestry Tasmania works in cooperation with these fire
management agencies through a program of hazard reduction, training,
communication, education on the use of fire and prosecutions for the illegal or
negligent use of fire.
The committee notes that Tasmania has a formal operating agreement for
bushfire management – the Inter-Agency Fire Management Protocol. This is an
agreement between Forestry Tasmania, the Parks and Wildlife Service and the
Tasmania Fire Service, the three organisations responsible for the management
of bushfires in Tasmania.
Department for Environment and
The Department for Environment and Heritage (DEH) is responsible for
bushfire across South Australia's parks and reserve system and crown land under
their control. DEH is involved in:
- preparing Fire Management Plans;
- fire ecology (applying knowledge about fire and its behaviour);
- fire research; and
- prescribed burning.
Fire management works and activities are delivered through the seven DEH
regions. DEH, as a brigade of the CFS, responds to bushfires on and near state
managed land. In addition to working alongside CFS as firefighters, DEH can
also take on roles in incident management and provide assistance to other
agencies in relation to bushfire response – both interstate and overseas.
Country Fire Service
The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) is a volunteer based,
fire and emergency service organisation. The CFS is a statutory authority which
reports to the Minister for Emergency Services through the Board of the SA Fire
and Emergency Services Commission.
The CFS, which is made up of approximately 15,000 volunteers and 110
staff, is responsible for protecting life, property and environmental assets in
regional and semi metropolitan South Australia. CFS brigades provide assistance
at approximately 7,000 incidents per year. These incidents can include:
- structure and motor vehicle fires;
- road crash rescue;
- hazardous material spills;
- structure and motor vehicle fires;
- support and assistance to the SA Metropolitan Fire Service, State
Emergency Service, SA Police, SA Ambulance, and other agencies;
- support for local governments in relation to fuel removal,
bushfire prevention and community bushfire and fire safety education.
Metropolitan Fire Service
The South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) is the primary
provider of structural firefighting services across the state of South
Australia. The MFS is responsible for protecting the South Australian community
from fire, chemical incidents and other emergencies. Based in the city of
Adelaide the MFS is a fully professional organisation that employs more than
one thousand staff across 36 metropolitan and regional stations.
Fire and Emergency Services
The South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission (SAFECOM)
was established by the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005. SAFECOM came into
operation on 1 October 2005 and replaced the Emergency Services Administrative
The primary objectives of SAFECOM are:
develop and maintain a strategic and policy framework as well as sound
corporate governance across the emergency services sector;
provide adequate support services to the emergency services organisations and
to ensure the effective allocation of resources within the emergency services
ensure relevant statutory compliance by the emergency services organisations;
build a safer community through integrated emergency services organisations;
liaise with the peak body responsible for managing emergencies as well as to
report regularly to the Minister about relevant issues.
SAFECOM is also responsible for the administration of the Community
Emergency Services Fund, which was established by the Emergency Services
Funding Act 1998. The Fund is the main source of funding for all of the
Emergency Sector agencies.
Fire Management Plans
DEH involves local communities, local government, the CFA and other
government agencies, and other key stakeholders in providing information
regarding fire management issues in the planning area. This information is
considered as part of a risk assessment process where strategies and on-ground
works are determined to reduce the risk that fire poses to life, property and
the environment across the planning area.
DEH seeks public feedback on Draft Fire Management Plans and
once this feedback has been considered and incorporated where necessary, Fire
Management Plans are adopted and implemented by DEH.
Forestry South Australia
Under the Guidelines for Plantation Forestry in South Australia, forest
owners are advised that:
- vehicles, machinery and equipment to be used in the forest during
the fire season should be routinely maintained and tested, and carry
appropriate fire suppression equipment;
- all reasonable precautions should be taken to reduce the
likelihood of fire ignition and to actively control fires in the event that
- companies should develop procedures and plans for risk mitigation
and fire management in accordance with Regional Bushfire Prevention Plans;
- information on a company's or individual's forest resources and
fire management plan should be communicated to the CFS and other relevant
- the plantation manager should consider the provision of fire
suppression equipment and resources to reflect the risk of fire to the
plantation and the scale of the business, including the appropriate reaction to
predicted weather conditions;
all employees or contractors with a fire management, detection or
suppression role should be appropriately trained to national fire competency
regional forest industry fire management arrangements may exist
and forest owners and managers should be familiar with these systems.
Department of Environment and
In Western Australia, the Department of Environment and Conservation
(DEC) is the lead agency responsible for the management of lands and waters
including national parks, conservation parks, regional parks, state forests,
timber reserves and nature reserves.
DEC has direct statutory management responsibility for lands under the Conservation
and Land Management Act 1984, for both biodiversity conservation and
community protection. In addition, DEC has 'fire preparedness responsibility'
for a further 89 million hectares of unallocated crown land and unmanaged
reserves across the state.
DEC is supported by officers of the Forest Products Commission and the
bushfire brigades of local government authorities in responding to and
suppressing fires in the south-west forest regions, the Midwest and the South
Coast. DEC has more limited fire management resources in other parts of Western
Australia. DEC also works with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA)
and local governments in fire management. 
DEC has a policy of using prescribed fire as a tool for fuel hazard
reduction, wildfire mitigation and ecosystem management. The Department notes
that planned burns are often undertaken at landscape scales and that in order
to achieve both protection and ecological management objectives the time of
year, fire intensity, and the interval between fires is varied. The Department's
submission states that it '... has an obligation to ensure that the condition of
the public land which it manages does not pose a threat to human life and
property as a consequence of wildfires'.
Fire and Emergency Services
The Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA)
was established in January 1999 in an amalgamation of the Fire and Rescue
Service, the State Emergency Service, the Bush Fire Service, Emergency
Management Services and the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service. FESA provides both
emergency services to the Western Australian community and support for more
than 30,000 volunteers and 900 firefighters across the state. FESA responds to
a wide range of emergencies including fire, cyclones, storms, floods, road
accidents, chemical spills and earthquakes as well as undertaking search and
rescue operations on land and water.
FESA provides advice and support regarding emergency management issues
to key stakeholders at the local state and national level, which includes the
development of strategic fire management plans.
Both DEC and FESA provided excellent submissions to this inquiry and
Western Australia's bushfire management arrangements are discussed in greater
detail throughout this report.
Department of Environment and
In Queensland, agencies such as the Department of Environment and
Resource Management and Forestry Plantations Queensland are responsible for
managing fire on land under their control. These agencies work collaboratively
to achieve a coordinated approach to fire management planning, prescribed
burning and bushfire suppression.
Queensland Fire and Rescue Service
The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) is the lead agency for
managing bushfires and bushfire threat in both urban and rural areas of
Queensland. The QFRS is a division of the Department of Community Safety which
also includes Emergency Management Queensland, the Queensland Ambulance Service
and Queensland Corrective Services.
The QFRS works with other agencies in managing bushfire prevention and
risk reduction through initiatives such as the establishment of the State
Inter-Departmental Committee on Bushfires (SIDC), the introduction of a
Wildfire Mitigation initiative and the establishment of local Fire Management
State Inter-Departmental Committee
In 1994, following recommendations from a Bushfire Audit (which examined
the state's preparedness for major bushfires that occurred in Queensland and
New South Wales that year) the Inter-Departmental Committee on Bushfires was
The committee provides a forum for the coordination of policy and
procedures relating to rural fire management with a view to achieving a
consistent, comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to managing fire across
the state. The committee is chaired by the Assistant Commissioner for Rural
Operations and members include representatives from the Department of
Environment and Resource Management, the Department of Transport and Main
Roads, the Queensland Police Service, Forestry Plantations Queensland, the
Local Government Association of Queensland, Brisbane City Council and the
Bureau of Meteorology.
Fire Management Groups
Fire Management Groups were established with a view to developing a
cooperative relationship between the QFRS land management agencies, the
community and other stakeholders to allow for a cooperative and coordinated
approach to bushfire management at a local level. The groups also work closely
with regional committees to ensure fire management at the local level is
consistent with regional priorities.
Fire Management Groups are generally chaired by a local Rural Operations
Officer, a representative of another government agency, a community group or a
local landholder. The groups undertake a variety of activities including joint
fire management planning, prescribed burning, community education and bushfire
Wildfire Mitigation Initiative
The Wildfire Mitigation Initiative was introduced in 2008 to ensure
bushfire risk mitigation planning is carried out in a consistent manner across
the state. The key objectives of this initiative are to:
minimise the risk to the public and fire fighters by reducing the
potential impact of bushfires and ensure that land owners and land managers
understand their fire management responsibilities and contribute to the
improve the effectiveness of bushfire mitigation through
strategic fuel management and other initiatives; and
- reduce bushfire risk by ensuring that the community is well
informed about protection measures and prepared for bushfire events through
community programs, such as the Bushfire Prepared Communities program.
Department of Natural Resources,
Environment, the Arts and Sport (including Bushfires NT)
The Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport is
responsible for land use planning in the territory. The department is also
responsible, through Bushfires NT, for implementing the Bushfires Act 1980
and supporting landholders with fire mitigation. Departmental staff perform a
number of roles, including:
- policy development;
- maintenance programs;
- education and training;
- administrative support; and
- volunteer brigade support.
Bushfires NT states that its primary role is 'co-ordinating
pre-suppression work to achieve consistent levels of practice most suited to
the differing areas of the Northern Territory'.
The implementation of 'best practice' is dependent on research into the effects
of fire on the environment. Bushfires NT also operates under a series of policy
guidelines, the main ones being:
- protection of life, property and the environment from the effects
of bushfires; and
- maintenance of natural resources, including native ecosystems and
productive lands, by the use of appropriate fire regimes.
The objectives of Bushfires NT are identified as:
- to reduce the total area burnt by bushfire in the Northern
to involve individuals and the community as a whole in the
responsibility for fire management throughout the Northern Territory;
to promote fire management strategies for all parcels of land in
the Northern Territory;
to promote fire research and analyse study data to achieve best
- to develop fire education and training programs for landholders
and managers, school students and Aboriginal communities.
Bushfires Council NT
The role of the Bushfires Council NT is to advise the Minister on
measures to be taken to prevent and control bushfires in the Northern
Territory. Members of the Bushfires Council make recommendations to the
Minister regarding measures for effective fire management on land throughout
the Northern Territory (with the exception of land within the immediate
environs of the main urban centres, which is under the control of the NT Fire
and Rescue Service). The Bushfires Council also considers policy and issues
affecting the operational efficiency and strategic direction of bushfire
management in the Northern Territory.
Northern Territory Fire and Rescue
The Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS) is the other
primary provider of fire and rescue services throughout the Northern Territory.
In addition to attending structural fires, the NTFRS provides other fire and
rescue services, which include:
- rescue – road accident and other types of rescue;
- chemical and hazardous material incident management;
- community awareness and education;
- juvenile fire awareness and intervention;
- fire safety compliance inspection of commercial buildings and
- administering legislation relating to fire and safety in
buildings and on rural property;
- rural land management advice regarding the role and use of fire
as a hazard mitigation tool;
- hazard abatement;
fire cause investigation;
fire alarm monitoring; and
- fire safety advice to the general community.
Local government responsibilities
Local governments are involved to varying degrees in supporting
state-based fire and land management agencies, as well as communities, to
effectively manage bushfire risk. Depending on the jurisdiction and nature of
the bushfire risk, local governments may be responsible for the following:
- contributing funding for local bushfire brigades;
- hazard identification and management on local government land;
- incorporating bushfire risk assessments into local planning
standards and the enforcement of those standards;
- ensuring adequate local disaster response capacity, including
volunteer resources; and
- providing public education and awareness about bushfires.
The committee again notes that Australian state and territory
governments are primarily responsible for the protection of life, property and
the environment. However, the Commonwealth does engage in bushfire management through
a number of different initiatives, mainly relating to providing assistance to
responsible state agencies through emergency management and co-ordination
support, education and training, research and information sharing, scientific
and technical assistance, and public awareness.
The Attorney-General's Department has responsibility for 'whole of
government coordination of emergency management activities and crisis
management on behalf of the Commonwealth'.
The submission from the Attorney-General's Department stated that:
The Constitutional responsibility for the protection of lives
and property of Australian citizens lies predominantly with the States and
Territories. The Australian Government accepts that it has a role in supporting
the States in promoting community resilience, developing emergency management
capabilities and supporting States and Territories when disasters exceed their
capacity to respond. The Attorney-General exercises Commonwealth responsibility
for emergency management matters through the Attorney-General’s Department
The AGD has responsibility for whole of government
coordination of emergency management activities and crisis management on behalf
of the Commonwealth. This includes direct responsibility for the provision of a
range of mitigation, crisis management and recovery activities in support of
the States and Territories in managing bushfires.
The department informed the committee that the government is promoting
'a resilience based approach', which involves the Commonwealth ensuring
governments and communities are better prepared for disasters by 'working
closely with all levels of government, the private sector and the community to
ensure an integrated approach to managing emergencies and disasters'.
The Natural Disaster Resilience Program gives effect to this priority:
The Program will consolidate the existing Bushfire Mitigation
Program (BMP), the Natural Disaster Mitigation Program (NDMP) and the National
Emergency Volunteer Support Fund (NEVSF). This will enable States and
Territories to more effectively prioritise and address the risks of a range of
disasters and streamline the associated administrative processes.
The DRP is a national program aimed at identifying and
addressing disaster risk priorities, including through:
- disaster mitigation works, measures and related activities that
contribute to safer, sustainable communities better able to withstand the
effects of disasters and emergencies, particularly those arising from the
impact of climate change;
- support for volunteers, particularly to address the challenges of
volunteer recruitment, retention and training. Projects may include initiatives
to increase the recruitment and retention of volunteers to emergency services
and other groups that contribute to individual and community resilience. They
may also be directed at improving operational capability;
- support for local government, to assist them to effectively
discharge their emergency management responsibilities; and
- encouraging partnerships with business and community groups to
improve their ability to assist communities and be integrated in response and
recovery activities and arrangements. The private sector owns many of the critical
services that underpin communities, and have capacity to help communities
prepare for disasters.
Within the Attorney-General's Department, Emergency Management Australia
(EMA) is responsible for crisis management, including maintaining situational
awareness and improving coordination during times of crisis. EMA is also
responsible for activating Commonwealth crisis coordination and assistance
arrangements post impact. States and territories can seek assistance from the
Commonwealth (through EMA) when their total resources cannot reasonably cope
with the needs of a specific bushfire disaster.
EMA also administers partial reimbursements to states and territories
for expenditure on natural disaster relief and recovery measures through the
Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA).
- eligible personal hardship and distress (food, clothing,
accommodation, emergency repairs to housing, replacement of essential household
items and personal effects);
- psychological and financial counselling expenditure;
- restoration or replacement of essential public infrastructure
(such as roads and bridges);
- concessional interest rate loans; and
- clean up and recovery grants to small business, primary producers
and voluntary non-profit bodies.
The Attorney-General's Department has also been responsible for
co-ordinating the implementation of a National Emergency Warning System, which
has been designed to enable states and territories to send warning messages to
fixed line and mobile telephones based on their billing address.
The Commonwealth provides funding for fire fighting aircraft through the
National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which procures and co-ordinates aircraft
on behalf of the states and territories.
The Commonwealth also serves an important role in providing funding for bushfire-related
research, and gathering and sharing bushfire-related information. CSIRO, the
Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia all conduct research and collect
data that assists land management and fire agencies across Australia. This
includes information about fire behaviour under different conditions, in
addition to complementary meteorological and spatial data, which assist
bushfire agencies to make informed decisions when determining appropriate mitigation
and suppression strategies.
The Bureau of Meteorology, in particular, provides essential fire
weather services to fire agencies and communities during periods of extreme
risk conditions. The Bureau also provides information and services through:
- remote sensing from radar, satellite, and ground-based lightening
networks which can provide more accurate observations to support fire weather
- early seasonal forecast information, which assists fire and land
management agencies with pre-season strategic planning (for fire hazard
reduction and deployment of fire fighting resources);
- a Numerical Weather Prediction model which provides early
guidance on dry lightening; and
- participation as a research partner with the Bushfire Cooperative
The Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) is also funded by the
Commonwealth to arrange collaborative research projects between universities,
CSIRO and other government or private sector organisations. The Bushfire CRC is
discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5 from paragraph 5.56.
Should the Commonwealth have more
responsibility for bushfire management?
Through the inquiry the committee considered a number of specific areas
of bushfire management in which it was argued that the Commonwealth should have
greater responsibility. These are examined in the chapters that follow. From a
broader perspective, the committee also received evidence about the need for an
overarching national bushfire policy to provide a framework for a well
co-ordinated, best practice approach to bushfire management.
Bushfire CRC emphasised the significance of bushfire to other policy
objectives, suggesting that developing policies on water and biodiversity
conservation, urban planning, carbon sequestration and protecting Indigenous
culture is futile 'without first critically analysing fire management'.
The Queensland Department of Community Safety's submission included
commentary on the lack of national direction on bushfire management:
Australia does not have a national bushfire policy. The
Australasian Fire Authorities Council has a position paper on bushfire
management which is comprehensive and strategic in outlook but does not bind
States or agencies.
As a result, each of the States has a mixture of policies
between various agencies that are responsible for fire management. In some
cases, there are three separate policies within the one state, for example one
for state forests, one for national parks and one belonging to the emergency
There are also separate policies between and within states
that do not connect with one another and/or are contradictory. Many local governments
have varying fire mitigation strategies, which have been developed
independently from organisations with fire management responsibility. Notably,
private plantation companies, which now own most of Australia's plantation resources, are not
represented anywhere in bushfire policy development.
a significant opportunity for State and federal governments to negotiate the
structure and direction of national policy that requires all relevant
stakeholders to adhere to and implement a minimum best practice bushfire
Professor Kanowski reiterated the COAG inquiry's suggestion for better
focus within the Commonwealth for bushfire responsibility. He said:
The Australian Government’s administrative structure does not
lend itself to any department having a clear responsibility for bushfire
strategies in their entirety. It would be better if there were greater clarity
and focus within the national government, mirroring the progress made by states
National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) also considered that a
nationally-guided approach to fire management be taken:
Given the magnitude of future fire risks, and complexities of
multiple jurisdictions and land management responsibilities, fire management
should be developed through a national process such as the Council of
Australian Governments (COAG), in a similar way as to the treatment of water
NAFI recommends that a national government strategy or
blueprint be developed and implemented to assist with the reform of public land
management for effective fire management. Such a process should build on the
initial review commissioned by COAG in 2004 as part of the National Inquiry on
Bushfire Mitigation and Management and start with the development of key
national principles that would underpin policies and practices for reform and
Mr Gary Morgan from the Bushfire CRC also noted the dispersed
responsibility at Commonwealth level:
...there are multiple agencies in the Commonwealth which have
fire responsibilities—there are at least four that I am aware of—and a single
focus would seem appropriate. I will just point out that, while we have three
tiers of government, all have some sort of responsibility, and unity within
that and a common focus would be very worth while with good strong leadership.
He suggested that the UN's fire management voluntary guidelines would be
a good basis for a common approach.
The Bushfire Front Inc advocated the introduction of a national bushfire
policy implemented by a new federal agency:
Australia has no National Bushfire policy and different
States and agencies have different policies, or at least different philosophies
and priorities. This is exacerbated by the situation at local government
authority level, where there is often a different approach to fire management
on private land between one councils and its neighbour. The Federal government
has not shown itself willing or capable of developing a national policy and
State governments are generally not interested in dictating policy to local
This Inquiry should recommend the development of a National
Bushfire Policy for signing off at all levels of government, and arrange for
input from independent experts and scientists. This should be accompanied by
the development of a small Federal agency responsible for implementing policy
and reviewing and reporting on bushfire outcomes in the States and Territories.
Australian Forest Growers expressed a similar view:
Australia has no national bushfire policy, nor do any of the
State or Territory jurisdictions have over-arching policies which will guide
land management, planning and Local Government authorities. As a result there
is a mish-mash of policies developed independently by different agencies or
Councils, with no coordination and no whole of Government ownership.
AFG calls for the development of a national bushfire policy
for Australia, to ensure consistency in land management and planning strategies
across all State agencies.
Australian Forest Growers also proposed that a new body be established
to audit a more co-ordinated national approach:
AFG recommends that a much higher level of coordination and
standardisation at all levels be developed, along with management plans based
upon contiguous fuel type. It may be necessary to review current processes and
make them more appropriate. Such historic concerns as interagency coordination,
communication system compatibility, and skills capacity should be targeted.
AFG recommends that a National Fire Audit Office (NFAO) be
established to provide confidence to the community. The NFAO would report
annually to the Federal Parliament against the following terms of reference:
- Assessment and standardisation of essential equipment,
communication and coordination between agencies (intra- and inter-state);
- Report on the fire readiness of the country prior to each fire
- Oversight of the deployment (by the States) of regional rapid
response units to support fire suppression and filling of human resource gaps
caused by such things as employee rostering and lack of available volunteers.
- Establishment and implementation of guidelines to compel fire
management authorities to recognise and act on important and credible local
advice. (This should apply to all fire suppression operations especially
initial attack on outbreaks).
- Creation and management of a national education program
designed to provide a range of options that residents should consider when
confronted by impending fire. (The major focus is to provide advice on “stay or
go” options when confronted by impending fire and fire preparedness).
The Planning Institute of Australia advocated an 'enhanced role' for EMA:
...their placement within the Attorney-General’s Department
is not necessarily the best placement in terms of their long-term ability to
fulfil such a broader role. I felt they had a fairly comfortable fit with the
Department of Defence because this is something that is a strong threat and
challenge to us nationally. Emergency Management Australia potentially is the
vehicle for an agency that has the key role of coordinating research, working
within the AusDIN framework and promulgating and supporting work such as by the
Development Assessment Forum to provide an integrated town-planning response.
But, if a core part of their function and responsibilities were improving
Australia’s preparedness for natural hazards—which is there but not
sufficiently resourced, in my view—then I think that would be a large part of
putting the mechanism in place that we need.
The Planning Institute of Australia suggested that the Commonwealth's
external affairs power may be used to take 'strong and purposive actions that
we see need to be taken from the top'.
Many of the specific issues referred to above are discussed in greater
detail throughout this report.
Other evidence provided a more cautionary perspective on a more robust
Commonwealth role in this area. The Department of Environment, Water, Heritage
and the Arts told the committee:
...land management is a state and territory responsibility,
so you would have to be careful that you were not just adding an extra layer of
government for no particular benefit.
Departmental officer Mr Gerard Early said:
I am a bit hesitant about us at the Commonwealth level
telling the states what they should and should not do in terms of the land
management and fire regimes that they should be adopting. I think that is
properly their business and they should be much better placed than us to
identify the various issues in various landscapes all around the country.
Speaking of the previous federal parliamentary inquiry, Mr Nairn noted
the limitations of the process:
...the Commonwealth was in a difficult position because a
Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry technically should only be making
recommendations where the Commonwealth can act. It can make all sorts of
comments about things that it would like the states to do, but we tried—and
this was one of the small compromises that I made with the members of the committee—to
couch our recommendations in terms of: ‘How can the Commonwealth have a role?’
In a lot of cases, things that we wanted to see done had to be done by the
states because they had the control in those areas. So that is why we couched
our recommendation in terms of ‘through COAG’, to try to use the COAG process
to have the states do those things. But, effectively, what we were saying was:
‘The states should do this.’
The committee discusses the Nairn report and its recommendations in the
While recognising the limitations on the Commonwealth's authority over
bushfire management in Australia, the committee is of the opinion that the
Commonwealth should provide a more focussed national direction for bushfire
policy. At present, responsibility for bushfire policy at the Commonwealth
level is dispersed across agencies and portfolios, without overall
responsibility being vested in a single agency accountable to a single
government minister or parliamentary secretary. It is the committee's view that
bushfire management is of sufficient importance to warrant a more focussed
policy approach at the Commonwealth level through such an arrangement, given
the potential for more effective bushfire management at various government
levels a single Commonwealth agency would bring.
The committee therefore recommends that the Commonwealth Government
examine potential new arrangements for Commonwealth involvement in the
development and implementation of a national policy for bushfire management.
The committee considers that one option would be for Emergency Management
Australia to have an expanded role that appropriately reflects the importance
of bushfire mitigation and preparedness and the need to monitor and support the
states and territories in this regard. An alternative approach would be for the
Commonwealth to investigate establishing a new national bushfire agency
answerable to a parliamentary secretary within the government. This agency
would co-ordinate the Commonwealth's existing bushfire-related responsibilities
performed by Emergency Management Australia, as well as develop best practice national
policy for bushfire management to assist responsible agencies better manage
their bushfire risk through mitigation and preparedness strategies.
1.126 The Commonwealth Government examine potential new arrangements for
Commonwealth involvement in the development and implementation of a national
policy for bushfire management.
The committee makes a number of recommendations later in this report
that recommend the Commonwealth take particular action. It is the committee's
view that these recommendations would be best implemented through a
Commonwealth agency with broader national responsibilities for bushfire
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