With bushfires already blazing around Australia, there are calls for a more uniform national approach to help states and territories fight each other’s fires.
Investigating a national remote area fire-fighting crew is a recommendation from a Senate inquiry into the devastating 2016 Tasmanian bushfires which scorched about 20,000 hectares of world heritage-listed land.
Renowned nature photographer Rob Blakers documented the unprecedented blaze.
“I equate the burning of these pines with the bleaching of the barrier reef and the killing of mangroves up in the Gulf of Carpentaria,” he said.
“These 1,000-year-old trees are gone — and gone forever.”
A Senate inquiry was established by the Greens in the aftermath of the fire to examine what could have been done better.
It handed down recommendations late last year, including long-term funding for more fire modelling specific to the area, and investigating a national remote-area firefighting team to help state fire services when needed.
The Federal Government has now responded to the inquiry, and while it supports some recommendations it does not believe looking at a national remote team is necessary, arguing there are already structures in place.
“[It is] a nationally agreed framework for the provision of assistance between state and territory emergency management agencies,” the response stated.
“Bushfire response is a matter for each state and territory.”
Calls for remote fire team
The chairman of the inquiry, Greens senator Nick McKim, said a remote team was essential.
“[A team] that can rapidly deploy from a central area, perhaps based around Canberra, to those parts of Australia where remote area fires start,” he said.
“Because the evidence to the committee was absolutely clear, and that was that you need to hit remote-area fires hard and you need to hit them as early as possible.”
Peter Marshall from the United Firefighters’ union does not support the idea of a national remote crew, but he said there was an urgent need to increase uniformity between states and territories.
“For example, if firefighters were deployed from Victoria to Tasmania, which they have been, they may get there and it may look good in the media but the reality is they can’t operate the equipment and the equipment is different, the standard operating procedures are different,” he said.
The problem was illustrated during the Tasmanian bushfires.
Sixteen experienced New South Wales firefighters were sent home amid safety concerns because the two states used different equipment.
Mr Marshall wants more training so all firefighters work the same way.
“[We want] fires and other emergencies to know artificial geographical boundaries and to ensure the protection of the community you need to have interoperability,” he said.
BY POLITICAL REPORTER RICHARD BAINES