December 10, 2013  |  Adjournment

Bushfire Fuel Reduction

Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— I raise a matter for the attention of the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, so I am pleased to see him in the house tonight. It relates to the implementation of controlled fuel reduction burns. I ask the minister to take action to ensure that when the fuel reduction burns take place there are practices put in place to try to protect habitat trees, rather than ensuring their destruction, and practices put in place that will provide greater protection for native fauna in those areas.

I start by saying that of course I support the undertaking of controlled fuel reduction burns. They not only reduce fuel loads in our forests but can prevent bushfires from occurring at all in some cases. But where bushfires get under way, at least the intensity will not be as great and we can try to bring the fires under control before they threaten surrounding housing and so on.

It has come to my attention that a practice has been undertaken recently where Department of Environment and Primary Industries staff have adapted a policy of cutting down trees with hollows ahead of burns. Apparently this is being done for occupational health and safety reasons, but this practice is ensuring that we have fewer habitat trees in those areas. I am also informed that the controlled burns are undertaken where an exterior ring of fire is created and then firebombing takes place within those areas. This ensures that the native fauna in those areas has less opportunity to escape and is more likely to be caught and incinerated in the burns. These policies are therefore threatening both our habitat trees and our native animals. Clearly, in an electorate like mine, with forests such as the Wombat and the Enfield, the Brisbane Ranges National Park areas and forests around Creswick and other areas, it is of concern to many of the residents. People like Barbara Baird, who lives in the Brisbane Ranges near Meredith, have come to share their concerns with me. I have been pleased over recent years to be able to involve people like Kevin Tolhurst from the University of Melbourne, who has significant expertise in this area. It was my understanding that staff of the Department of Sustainability and Environment, now the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, have been working with Kevin Tolhurst to use his research to try to ensure that their burns are more appropriate and to make best use of research. I am concerned that this is not happening, and I want to see the minister take action to review controlled burn practices to ensure that they are better.