Use locals' bushfire knowledge: NSW Farmers

NSW Farmers want order, local knowledge on firegrounds

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Some members left disillusioned by NSW Farmers submission.

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IN WHAT some members of NSW Farmers have described as "systemic failure", the association's submission to the NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry was lodged the day before a draft was put to its members seeking comment.

Mitchell Clapham, Hazelbrook, Ilford, said there needed to be some explanation for why the NSW Farmers submission was lodged on July 19, a Sunday, and then put to senior members on July 20, effectively rendering any of their possible feedback redundant.

NSW Farmers said that wasn't the case, suggesting there would likely be opportunity to include extra information in the submission, or edit it, as was often the case.

It is understood the submission was on July 20 sent to the association's rural affairs committee and its conservation management resource committee, of which Mr Clapham is a member.

"We were pretty well affected by fire here, and now everyone is disillusioned. And why didn't NSW Farmers make a submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements?"

Mr Clapham suggested NSW Farmers staff had been pushed to make the inquiry's deadline.

"It's ironic that NSW Farmers, a $100 million business will almost certainly post a surplus this year, but could not put the resources in to assist overworked staff pull together a submission in a timely manner as the chief executive undertook to do in January," he said.

NSW Farmers president James Jackson said it was not unusual for the association to forgo making a submission on a national matter if the National Farmers Federation position was in line with the association's.

Some of NSW Farmers' recommendations to the bushfire inqury included:

  • Cattle grazing be re-introduced as a primary method of bushfire hazard reduction on crown land and within national parks, so long as it is limited to landholders' breeding cows, stock numbers are limited to 100 and they are accompanied.
  • Dams be built in national parks and more internal firebreaks created, combined with more frequent hazard reduction burns across a larger area.
  • Registered fire trails be graded and 4 metres wide, with 2m cleared on either side, allowing fire trucks to pass each other, and turning bays be constructed every 250m to 500m.
  • Legislation be amended to ensure a landholder's water is replenished if drained for fire fighting.
  • Water storages to supply fire trucks be identified in national parks.
  • The status of bushfire management plans be available to fire crews.
  • Hazard reduction burns be carried out in a timeframe agreed by Rural Fire Service group captains, captains and local brigades.
  • Corridors as wide as 60m be cleared along boundary fences for properties bigger than 450 hectares.

In its submission NSW Farmers said it was concerned there was no legislated requirement regarding minimum activity across government agencies of hazard reduction and responsibility was unclear.

The association also said there was no strategy for national parks personnel involvement in managing fire risks, nor any requirement for coordination with local landholders, Rural Fire Service personnel or volunteers.

It said farmers were frustrated with a lack of acknowledgement and use of local knowledge in relation to conditions and vegetation.

Farmers had no authority in fire management on their own land, even in consultation with the RFS, the submission said.

Those two factors resulted in a lack of responsiveness to identify opportunities for proactive fire management strategies and resource deployment at a local level rather than acting on directions from area command, the submission said.

The submission also raised concerns about collective agency behaviour in a fire's initial stages.

It said initial emphasis should be on containment and extinguishment, rather than property protection, because critical windows to control a fire could be lost.

It also said "asset protection" generally prioritised housing, not critical farm infrastructure or livestock.

The submission also said the only reference to farmers in the current NSW Rural Fires Act was their potential liability for not managing a fire on private land.

The NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry's report was lodged with the Department of Premier and Cabinet on Friday.

Asked for a copy of the report, or comment, a NSW government spokesperson said: "We are considering the recommendations and will release the full report and the government's response shortly."

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