Deputy premier blames national parks agency for not doing enough on bushfire prevention, again

By Shannon Jenkins

January 24, 2020

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The New South Wales deputy premier has taken aim at the state’s the National Parks and Wildlife Service for its role in bushfire reduction, again.

John Barilaro took to Sky News on Wednesday to accuse the NPWS of being “ideologically opposed” to hazard reduction burning. He argued the intensity of the recent bushfires had been exacerbated by high fuel loads in the nation’s forests.

Barilaro, who was this month appointed minister for disaster recovery, said the agency hasn’t carried out their bushfire prevention duties because “their sole purpose is conservation”.

“I genuinely do believe that we have agencies within government that, over decades, haven’t actually honoured their commitments for fuel reduction because of ideological positions, especially in national parks. We just lock them up,” he said.

“We have these arbitrary targets. Who’s set them up? Probably our own agencies who are actually ideologically opposed to hazard reduction.

“Therefore if we have a national approach [with] standards across every state, [it] takes it out of the hands of individual agencies let alone states.”

In 2018-19, the NPWS burnt 139,500 hectares through controlled burns — slightly above target.

In November, Barilaro made similar comments criticising the agency’s handling of hazard reduction, despite the NPWS having lost more than a third of its fire-trained workers through staff cuts and restructures.

READ MORE: Parks and Wildlife funding cuts in the spotlight as NSW Nationals play the blame game

There were 289 parks and wildlife rangers in 2011, including 28 senior rangers. By 2018, there were no senior rangers, and only 193 rangers, according to the Public Service Association.

A massive restructure in 2017 also saw a cohort of 50 area managers charged with planning hazard reduction burns cut down to 37, with a total of 778 parks and wildlife jobs altered, downgraded, moved, or deleted.

Last year the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment this year informed the union that there would be further cuts to the Environment, Energy and Science Division — which governs the NPWS — in February 2020.

This week — also on Sky News — Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued that “hazard reduction is as important as emissions reduction”. But NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons downplayed the effectiveness of controlled burns and highlighted the “shrinking window of opportunity” to undertake the burns.

“Hazard reduction is absolutely an important factor when it comes to fire management and managing fire in the landscape but it is not the panacea,” he told ABC News earlier this month.

“When you’re running fires under severe, extreme or worse conditions, hazard reduction has very little effect at all on fire spread.

“It’s only when the conditions back off a bit … that you’ve actually got some prospect of slowing the fire spread.”

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