The biggest increase in fuel reduction burning in Victoria’s history is the centrepiece of the Brumby Labor Government’s key reforms to protect our State from the threat of bushfires, the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Gavin Jennings, announced today.
Mr Jennings said the Brumby Labor Government would invest $382.4 million in additional funding to more than double fuel reduction over the next four years, as the State scales up to the new target of 385,000 hectares a year.
He said the increase to planned burning would scale up over the next four years to 275,000 hectares. A review of operations would then be conducted to examine the effectiveness and impacts of the program and how best to proceed to the 385,000 hectare target within the following two years.
The funding will also be used for greater fire preparation work, suppression efforts and to employ 170 additional permanent Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) firefighters, as well as 231 DSE seasonal firefighters.
“The Brumby Labor Government’s strong economic management means that our State Budget has the capacity to fund new measures as we undertake fundamental reforms to make our State as fire-safe and as fire-ready as possible,” Mr Jennings said.
“We have listened to communities, fire experts and key stakeholders before making this decision and we believe committing to the rolling 385,000 hectare target is one of the keys to making Victoria safer from bushfires.”
“All the experts agree it is impossible to simply jump from the current level of planned burning to 385,000 hectares and that a progressive approach needs to be taken that includes careful planning and research.
“This fire season we will move to 200,000 hectares, the following year 225,000, with 250,000 achieved the year after that and in 2014 we will reach 275,000 hectares. This will amount to five per cent of treatable public land.”
Mr Jennings said that while increasing the target was important, the Government would also focus on producing better science and modelling to ensure the burning is the most effective in protecting human life as well as preserving the ecological values of our environment.
“We know we have to burn bigger, but we also know we have to burn better and more effectively by taking a strategic approach,” he said.
“New measures, such as monitoring and assessment programs, will be introduced to show the direct benefit of the burning program in the areas that need the most protection.
“This will include biodiversity monitoring, assessing the effectiveness of the burning program on the bushfire risk to communities and impacts on industry and work that will show how targeted smaller burning in high risk areas can be more beneficial than large-scale burns where there is no direct protection to lives and properties.
“We will also work with the Commonwealth Government to create a new Centre for Fire Excellence that will further our research efforts and scientific monitoring and build on the existing expertise of Victorian higher education institutions in this area.”
Mr Jennings said areas such as the Otways and the forested outer rim around Melbourne, including Macedon and the Dandenong Ranges, would be among the priorities for firefighting agencies for planned burning work and be supported by larger strategic burns in other parts of the state.
He said the community could sign up for an SMS notification trial this year to receive messages when burns were happening in their area.
“We will be working more closely with communities and groups affected by the burns, such as the tourism, wine and apiary industries to ensure there is limited impact to those important industries as possible,” he said.