Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021



7:35 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about something that may seem a little out of place in the middle of a cold Canberra winter. In my home state of Western Australia, we've just had one of the wettest Julys on record. We're seeing good times out in the agricultural sector. But with good rains over the winter comes the good production, particularly in our bushland and grassland, that leads to potentially high fuel loads come next summer. So I rise tonight to talk about bushfires and the bushfire risk. When my dad was managing the large coastal leases to the west of our farm down in Pemberton, land managers would conduct burning in the autumn and think about what that burning in autumn would do for the next spring in terms of the pasture, the growth and the control of the fire risk in that area.

Earlier this year, I rose in this place to discuss the devastating bushfires that had struck communities in Perth's north-east. In particular, I sought to draw attention to the profound loss and suffering occurring for those people and the bravery of the many firefighters and volunteers who stood on the front line of those bushfires. This was an event that will not and should not be forgotten, just as all the major fires we've endured in this country should not be forgotten. In that same light, we owe it to those who have suffered this loss and those who have risked their lives to act with an air of preparedness. So now is the right time to think about the coming summer.

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a former member of this place, a good friend of many in this place, former Senator Chris Back, and with him Roger Underwood, someone who has an extraordinary history and track record of land management and fire management, particularly in Western Australia. We talked through some of the issues that confront Australia. We know that often emphasis can be placed on new equipment and aerial firefighting techniques, and all these are valuable and positive. They're good to add to the repertoire. But nothing in the fire mix can do as much as active land management to prevent bushfires and to minimise the damage from bushfires when they occur.

Australia is a continent that must be actively managed, and this is by no means a new concept. Everyone in this place would know that the continent of Australia was actively managed, using fire, by Aboriginal Australians and then by farmers and graziers who took up the land and moved it to a modern agricultural system. These efforts evolved. They changed over time. They were different. But the motivations remained the same. It was about land management, first and foremost, to protect people and to protect the land.

Many do not understand the severe risks that often accompany a lack of consistent land management. The doubling of fuel loads within our landscape can double the rate of the spread of fire. This same doubling of fuel quadruples the intensity of that fire. Low-intensity fires predominantly burn superficial dead layers of fuel, whereas high-intensity fires destroy everything in their path. That is why, again, we must look to actively manage the landscape of Australia. Of all the variables contributing to the fire's ferocity, temperature wind levels and fuel loads, only one is in our hands at the time of the fire, if we have prepared, and that is, of course, fuel loads. This risk triangle can be altered by land managers who proactively deal with fuel load through things like controlled burning. It must become a much more widely used priority of land managers. State governments are the principal land managers in this country, and they must have an increasing focus on this role.