Friday, July 1, 2022

Budget boost for NSW bushfire inquiry action: NSW Gov’t

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Black summer aftermath

Australian Rural & Regional News asked the Ministers a few questions and received a response from a NSW RFS spokesperson, set out below the release.

The Hon Dominic Perrottet, Premier of New South Wales, The Hon Matthew Kean, Treasurer (NSW), The Hon Stephanie Cooke, Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery (NSW), Joint Media Release, 12 June 2022

The NSW Government is making a major investment to better prepare communities and respond to bush fires, by committing $315.2 million over the next four years to complete the recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry in the 2022-23 NSW Budget.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said $191 million has been allocated to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) to help keep NSW communities safe through vital hazard reduction works, maintenance of strategic fire trails and the procurement of new fleet.

“The devastating Black Summer of 2019-20 had a lasting impact on communities right across our State, which is why the NSW Government is committed to finalising the Government’s response to the Bushfire Inquiry,” Mr Perrottet said.

“This investment will go a long way to ensuring the more than 1.3 million properties on bush fire prone land in our State are better prepared for future fire seasons.

“We are committed to investing in frontline services to strengthen communities across NSW.”

Treasurer Matt Kean said the NSW Government is delivering a Budget that has the future of local communities at its heart.

“By beefing up our emergency services, like the RFS, we are ensuring people across our State are better prepared for the challenges we face from natural disasters,” Mr Kean said.

“The NSW Government has previously committed $516.4 million to addressing recommendations from the Bushfire Inquiry, and this investment takes our spend to over $830 million in bush fire proofing our State.”

Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery Steph Cooke said this important funding will also help protect firefighters when they respond to future emergency events.

“We will continue to act on the learnings of the 2019-20 Black Summer fire season. The safety of our firefighters who put themselves on the line to protect families, homes, businesses and the environment is paramount,” Ms Cooke said.

“The funding for the RFS includes $105.6 million to deliver new trucks and retrofit old trucks, $75.4 million to significantly boost the number of mitigation crews and $10 million to enhance strategic fire trails.”

RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said the funding would provide RFS members with the best firefighting resources, as well as improving the preparedness of bush fire prone communities.

“I applaud the outstanding work of our members. Being prepared and having the right resources is so important and this investment from the NSW Government will strengthen our crews in the lead up to the next and future fire seasons,” Commissioner Rogers said.

“Previous funding to address the NSW Bushfire Inquiry has enabled the RFS to purchase and refurbish hundreds of trucks, with the 400th truck due to roll off the production line within weeks.”

The NSW Bushfire Inquiry was commissioned by former Premier Gladys Berejiklian to examine the causes, preparation and response to the devastating 2019-20 Black Summer bush fires. The NSW Government accepted the 76 recommendations and all recommendations are now complete or in progress.

Questions for the Ministers

Australian Rural & Regional News asked the Ministers the following questions and received the response below from a NSW RFS spokesperson.

  • Could the Minister/s expand upon what ‘vital hazard reduction works’ will be undertaken, including before the next bushfire season?
  • Will this include ongoing action to significantly increase the amount of low intensity burning conducted each year across the state, to 7-8% of the area to be protected to be burnt each year, so as to achieve a target of at least 40 to 50 % of the area with fuels that are less than 6 years old?
  • What is being done to co-ordinate hazard reduction works and other fire management across the NSW agencies involved – NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW), the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Forestry NSW?

Response from NSW RFS spokesperson

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) mitigation crews play a key role in ensuring Rural Fire Brigades are ready to make the most of every opportunity to carry out hazard reduction burns when the weather is favourable.

The mitigation crews conduct preparation work for hazard reduction burns, such as clearing control lines around a planned burn area and ensuring access fire trails to the site are clear. 

They also carry out asset protection zone work around towns and villages, along with clearing around critical infrastructure like communications towers.

Mitigation crews also assist with the Service’s AIDER (Assist Infirm, Disabled and Elderly Residents) program to help our most vulnerable community members reduce the bush fire risk on their properties.

Prior to the 2019/20 Black Summer fire season, the RFS had 176 mitigation crew workers, which included eight Indigenous crew members. The NSW Government’s 2022-23 Budget commitment will provide for more than 300 mitigation crew members, including more than 40 Indigenous personnel. These positions directly contribute to the delivery of our hazard reduction targets in partnership with Rural Fire Brigades.

Managing risk is a shared responsibility and the RFS continues to work with partner agencies and landholders to complete hazard reduction operations to protect communities across NSW.

Related story: Opportunities to further optimise fire management and funding in NSW: John O’Donnell

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