Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council submits bushfire report

INFERNO: ACT RFS volunteers battling the North Black Range bushfire. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
INFERNO: ACT RFS volunteers battling the North Black Range bushfire. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Council has submitted its report to the independent bushfire enquiry commissioned by the NSW government. The enquiry will review the causes of the fire to prepare the state for the next bushfire season.

Council said it hoped its submission will help government planning and preparation to minimise or prevent similar events in the future. The recent bushfires, particularly at North Black Range and Currowan, affected properties and infrastructure in the council area.

Dry conditions, little access to water, overstretched resources, inaccessible fires, the vastness of the fire front, and wind changes contributed to the disaster in the region, the submission argued.

Recommendations included training landowners to prepare; appointing a divisional commander on a paid retainer basis; improving consultation; better welfare support; more centralized data; and reviewing building and dwelling laws and practices.

At Wednesday night's council meeting, Crs Marshall, Winchester, Brown, and Noveska voted against endorsing the submission.

There was no mention of climate change, cuts to National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, or communications infrastructure, Cr Marshall protested - issues he, a volunteer firefighter, had heard mentioned on the fireground.

"It's like the submission has been written to not criticize in any way the activities of the New South Wales government," Cr Marshall said.

The submission was amended on Cr Biscotti's suggestion to review grazing rights and firewood collection in state and national parks to reduce overall grazing loads and help farmers in drought. Both practices are illegal.

Absolutely nobody involved in the firefighting was concerned with those issues, Cr Marshall said.

"It is contemptible to put this in to try to hijack a serious inquiry into very serious bushfires for petty party political individual benefit of farmers who want to get free grazing," Cr Marshall said. "I've yet to meet a sheep or a cow that eats bark or leaf litter or undergrowth; it simply doesn't happen."

Stock grazing in NSW national parks has been forbidden for almost 15 years, except for a trial eight years ago. State National Party members, however, want farmers to graze in national parks. Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall called national park estates a "ticking time bomb" for farmers, and believes leasing sections for grazing would keep the fuel load down and the cattle fat.

The National Parks Association of NSW, however, states there is no evidence cattle grazing reduces fire risk in forests; grazing did not stop fires from spreading in the Victorian High Country or suppress them. Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian argued cows damage the environment and increase fire risk; they trample native plants, increase erosion, collapse river banks, pollute streams, and spread fast-growing, highly flammable weeds.

Removing firewood from national parks is banned, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment states, because it degrades national parks and destroys animal habitats; offenders can be fined up to $30,000. Outside nature reserves, firewood may be collected as a fire management strategy.