The Association has called for an open and independent enquiry capable of looking at all aspects of bush fire management.
The Association’s call is supported by other emergency volunteer groups and WA Farmers. Together we have signed off on the following statement presented to the government.
Joint Statement – 14th January 2016
Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades
Emergency Services Volunteer Association
State Emergency Service Volunteer Association
“There must be flaws when we lose a whole town, and they must be found and fixed!”
We unite with all West Australians in expressing our deep appreciation for the efforts of all Emergency Services personnel, both volunteers and career personnel, involved in operational and support roles in the numerous and devastating fires which this state has experienced in recent years.
We are very concerned that despite the best efforts of those fighting the bush fires, and with considerable sums being spent on the state’s overall capacity to defend communities against bush fires, the record will show that our ability to defend communities has gone backwards in recent times.
We therefore welcome the government’s announcement of an independent inquiry to look at ideas to deliver better results in terms of community protection.
Our call on the government is to ensure bush fire prevention, mitigation, response and emergency risk management are all open to a wide ranging, fully independent enquiry.
To deliver tangible results, such an enquiry must be free of restrictions as to what matters it examines and be free to examine any organisation impacting on bush fire management. It cannot be gagged from the start by limitations in its terms of reference.
It should be given the opportunity to make interim reports on particular matters so that improvements can start to be implemented before the next season rather than await for a final report. It should also be given a generous time frame with the option of extension if required.
Major bush fires have always been a fact of life in Western Australia and across the nation. Losing whole towns has not been an accompanying fact of life.
In the more recent major bush fires, we have tragically lost fellow West Australians and witnessed major losses of housing and other built property and infrastructure.
Now we have the devastation of the whole town of Yarloop.
There must be flaws in the emergency system when a whole town is burnt to the ground.
However, this tragedy being the latest in a series of major bush fire incidents in which the emergency response failed to prevent significant damage to communities suggest systemic flaws that must be found and fixed.
We must, for the sake of the community, be open to looking at all matters raised by those in the sector in search for the reasons for our deteriorating record in protecting the community from bush fires.
The last time that major change occurred in terms of reducing losses to homes was after the 1961 Royal Commission, which followed what was a “summer from hell”, including the Dwellingup fires which largely wiped Dwellingup and some smaller mill towns off the map.
Since then, house losses in bush fires in WA were minimal until a few years ago, a situation that has changed dramatically in recent times.
While thankfully fatalities haven’t increased significantly, since the late 2000’s house and other property losses in bush fires have seen an almost exponential rise.
There have been various reforms in the bush fire emergency sector going back more than a decade with the formation of FESA and abolition of the Bush Fires Board. Subsequent enquiries, including that by Mick Keelty have delivered more reform within the government sector with the abolition of FESA and creation of DFES, as well as a range of policy and organisational changes.
During this period of seemingly constant changes, something has gone wrong because we never lost as much to bushfires in the past as we do today.
It took a Royal Commission to bring about substantial improvement in 1961 and something comparable is needed now.
The government should seek to appoint a retired Judge or someone of similar ilk without any vested interest in the matters concerned, including those involved in previous enquiries.
This enquiry should have wide ranging terms of reference, not just limited to recent fires, but to the whole way bush fire risk to the community is managed. Unlike previous enquiries, it should not be controlled to any extent by the organisations which will be the subject of investigation. ie SEMC, DFES, DPaW, Local Government etc.
Only an enquiry of this nature is likely to be able to produce truly meaningful recommendations which if acted upon should improve the safety of the Western Australian community, as happened after the 1961 Royal Commission.
Dale Park John Twaddle Gordon Hall Dave Gossage AFSM
President A/President President A/President
WA Farmers ESVA SESVA AVBFB