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Victoria

Sep 16, 2014

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Five years after the Black Saturday bushfires that devastated Victoria, the state government is yet to act on recommendations designed to protect lives in schools, hospitals and aged care facilities.

The important changes — which were due to be implemented in 2012 but have yet to be passed through Victorian Parliament — were left out of bushfire reforms announced by Planning Minister Matthew Guy in May.

The United Firefighters Union, which has been critical of both the royal commission and the implementation program, told Crikey the government’s response had been “disgraceful”. “It’s purely a matter of cost. The government is short-changing Victorians. How can you put a price on ensuring the lessons from the past are not repeated?” secretary Peter Marshall asked.

The Bushfires Royal Commission was established in 2009 to investigate the extreme fires that killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes. The commission was entrusted with the task of investigating the causes of the disaster, as well as producing guidelines to ensure the horror would never be repeated.

The report was critical of those leading the emergency services response and lamented the lack of co-ordination between the departments. Unsurprisingly, some heads rolled: then-police commissioner Christine Nixon stood down after famously leaving the emergency command centre at 6pm to have dinner.

According to the Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor’s (BRCIM) latest report, released in July, 11 of the 67 recommendations handed down by the commission in 2010 have not been implemented, and 21 individual actions are “ongoing”. The report is largely positive in its assessment of the implementation program, but it has serious concerns about the state government’s management of actions related to non-residential structures that were due in March 2012.

The commission recommended the state government apply bushfire construction provisions to “class 9 vulnerable use” buildings, such as schools, childcare centres, hospitals and aged care facilities. The BRCIM’s report says  the commission is satisfied with the progress of other delayed actions, but those relating to these buildings are “well overdue, and the BRCIM has received no evidence of progress of this action during 2013-14”.

“Nothing has happened since then, but the state government insists it is not backing away from its pledge.”

The proposed changes require amendments to Victoria’s Building Regulations Act (2006) to ensure class 9 structures are subject to bushfire performance requirements. A separate but linked action requires the creation of guidelines for retrofitting existing class 9 structures with performance enhancements. Crikey understands the enhancements would include features such as fireproof insulation.

The necessary legislation was drafted in 2012, but it failed to progress further because of the requirement for a regulatory impact statement (RIS). While in 2012 the BRCIM was satisfied that “the state has made every possible effort to expeditiously proceed with the amendment”, it rapidly lost patience.

The RIS was delayed further due to a lack of data, but was finally released for consultation in August 2012. Progress stalled again, and the BRCIM took a dim view of the delays in its 2013 report:

“At the time of writing this report, the action was 15 months overdue. As the proposed amendments have been drafted, the BRCIM urges the State to finalise this action as a matter of priority.”

Earlier this year Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced bushfire regulation reforms that included an amendment to the act enforcing minimum requirements for all new buildings in bushfire-prone areas. But the actions required for class 9 structures were ignored, and the package was announced after the BRCIM received final evidence for its 2014 report. As a result, the BRCIM was not able to properly assess the changes nor comment on their effectiveness.

Nothing has happened since then, but the state government insists it is not backing away from its pledge. “The Napthine Government remains absolutely committed to implementing all 67 recommendations of the Royal Commission, and we have never wavered on this promise,” the government said in a statement in August.

Victoria is tipped to endure another above-average bushfire season, with Emergency Management Victoria claiming it could be worse than last year’s, when more than 460,000 hectares of land were burned.

Matthew Guy and Minister for Bushfire Response Kim Wells were both contacted by Crikey. Neither responded before deadline.

Media

Feb 11, 2014

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What’s the lead on a big news day? In Victoria the decision was easy: the closure of a significant employer and bushfires ravaging the state. But there was still the royal commission into unions and an extraordinary purge of directors at a major retailer. And of course a certain drug smuggler in Bali.

What a news day. And the priorities of news organisations make for an interesting study. The Age splashed with Toyota; the Herald Sun with the fires. The Sydney Morning Herald crammed Schapelle Corby, the royal commission and Toyota onto its front page (though left the Bali saga spill to page 6-7); The Daily Telegraph ignored the lot to try and catch a crook. The Australian had it all, but led above the fold with its own Newspoll result …

In Melbourne, according to data from iSentia, the TV news bulletins hedged their bets. The ABC, the official emergency services broadcaster, dispatched presenter Ian Henderson to Kilmore to report on the threat, with numerous reports ahead of the news from Toyota. Both Nine and Seven ran with Toyota/fires/Schapelle; Ten put Schapelle ahead of the fires (and to be fair, Toyota was only just breaking when Ten’s news went to air at 5pm). In Sydney the choice was clear: Seven, Nine and Ten all led with coverage from Bali; only the ABC put Toyota and the royal commission ahead. Nine even employed the rather trite “FREE AT LAST” to brand its coverage (and wouldn’t Martin Luther King Jr be proud) …

For the commercial networks especially, which have sent big-spending teams of reporters and crew to Bali, having the Schapelle story drowned out will have news editors (and bean-counters) tearing their hair out. For the rest of us, it’s nice to know some publications have higher priorities. — Jason Whittaker 

Bushfires and paywalls. Meanwhile, Fairfax and News Corp have put public service ahead of profits, making all coverage of the Victorian bushfires free. It’s either a gesture of goodwill or an admission that commercial media can’t compete with the ABC on news events like these. The Age‘s website is promoting its unpaywalled content, while the Herald Sun has quietly freed up its bushfires with no fanfare. The Australian‘s coverage is also free, although you will have to sit through a 15-second ad before viewing bushfire-related video content …

Schapelle the ‘marijuana queen’. So what has the media in Schapelle Corby’s adopted home made of the circus? She doesn’t seem to be much of a media sensation, with the websites of most Indonesian newspapers not carrying anything about Corby on their front pages. Of the few that do, several refer to her as the “marijuana queen” or “queen of marijuana”, which appears to be her nickname in the Indonesian press. Mass-circulation daily Kompas profiles a motorcycle taxi driver who is having a pretty good week, being paid vast sums by the Australian media to ferry foreign journalists around. Kompas reports (all quotes are translated from Indonesian by Google Translate):

“Behind the procession of the Queen Marijuana parole Australian, Schapelle Leigh Corby, it turns out there is someone who gets his blessing for approximately 1 this week. He is Cung Riadi. Cung Riadi the day-to-day work as a guide in the Kuta area suddenly turned professional as a motorcycle cameraman foreign media. As is known, since the news that Corby will be released on parole, many foreign journalists are scrambling to hunt down images Corby and her family.”

But Cung Riadi is a rare Corby fan in Indonesia, with the Aussie drug smuggler already a political football. Opposition parties like the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party have slammed the incumbent Democrat Party government for releasing Corby on bail, and Indonesian daily Suara Pembaruan reports several within the Democrat Party are fretting about the effect it will have on their chances in this year’s elections:

“Politician of the Democratic Party (PD), Khatibul Umam Wiranu judge, parole convicted Australian drug smuggling, Schapelle Leigh Corby would affect the party’s electability in the 2014 election. ‘Parole Corby given to the government will have an impact on the party during elections coming,’ said the man who served as Secretary of the Organizational Development Division Democrat Party was in Semarang on Monday.”

And only a day into her parole Corby could already be in hot water, with the Jawa Pos reporting that in going to a luxury spa instead of directly to her brother-in-law guarantor’s house, Corby may have breached her parole conditions. — Cassidy Knowlton

Tips and rumours

Aug 21, 2013

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

So you think you can dance, Rupert. Well, this tip has everything. Ever wanted to see Rupert Murdoch perform a dance to the song Do Da Heisman  (sample lyric: “shortie fine, breath stank, do da Heisman on dat ho” with a robot? Of course you have.

“Fun afternoon in New York. How many bosses play along when a robot asks them to try the Heisman?” was the caption on the photo gallery on Murdoch’s official Tumblr, Murdochhere (a Tips favourite). How many bosses, indeed? Here’s Rupert intently studying the robot’s moves …

If you’d like to learn the Heisman dance, it’s on YouTube. Tips tried to entice Crikey’s editor to perform an office dance, but all we got was a half-hearted Nutbush. which sadly ended in the dancer hitting the carpet.

ABC poachathon. The ABC has raided media rivals to brush up on its newsbreaking cred. A crack squad of journos will be announced this afternoon, to include Sydney Morning Herald investigative reporter Linton Besser and The Age‘s crime editor Dan Oakes (both will be big losses to Fairfax). We’ll bring you the news the moment the embargo is lifted — check out our website this afternoon. It’s good news for Aunty — but a blow for some struggling newspapers who’ve lost talent. Watch this space …

WikiLeaks preferences. WikiLeaks created a storm when it preferenced right-wing parties ahead of the Greens, a move that may cost Greens Senator (and the 43rd Parliament’s staunchest defender of Julian Assange) Scott Ludlam his seat. This tip comes from an anonymous source, so make of it what you will:

“There were two sides inside the party arguing for two different strategies on preferences. One wanted to order parties purely according to principle, which would have seen the Greens high up, and the other was working with an assortment of micro-right and Left parties each aiding each other in different states. This involved putting parties like the Greens and Labor behind parties like the Nationals, Shooters and Fishers, Australia First etc. Ultimately the latter side, who lodged the Group Voting Tickets, was successful.

However — there was majority support for doing a deal with the Greens up until about a week ago when senior Greens across in the country, but most noticeably a high-profile Greens media adviser in NSW, decided that they would launch a public assault on the party and pre-empt any decisions of WikiLeaks by publicly throwing around accusations of a deal with One Nation. Whatever chance there was of a deal died then, with many in WikiLeaks convinced the Greens were too aggressive and disingenuous in their negotiations by taking them public. Those same people are now lambasting WikiLeaks for the decision that was made as a result of their actions in the first place!”

Sure, great decision. If you want to elect a Nat instead of a Green because you care about privacy of information and the public’s right to know, vote WikiLeaks.

Fire levy query. Victoria has changed the way people pay for bushfire protection in the wake of the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. Formerly, people with insurance paid a levy (take-home message: don’t take out insurance, others will pay for the fire brigade). As of July 1, everyone pays via council rates (or through a separate notice if you don’t pay rates). One reader detected a possible rort:

“My house and contents insurance ran from Feb 2013 to Feb 2014 and included a FSL [Fire Services Property Levy] fee of $366 under the old system. However my local council rates have just arrived for the period 01/07/13 — 30/06/14 and include a $259 FSL fee. So I ring my insurer GIO to enquire about getting a pro-rata rebate for the FSL charged on my house and content policy, otherwise I’m paying twice from 01/07/13. After speaking with several GIO staff, I was informed that they were unable to refund any FSL. In effect this means I’m paying FSL twice from 01/07/13 until this home insurance policy concludes or is renewed in Feb 2014. Where has all the extra FSL money gone? Is the State Government simply pocketing this FSL double payment windfall? Why can’t the insurers refund any FSL, pro-rata?”

We’ve looked into it, and the Victorian government says if you’ve renewed your insurance before June 30 this year, you’ll pay the levy on that insurance, because it’s retroactive — you’re paying for the year just gone. The new system is a “pay it forward” deal where you pay for the year to come. The government says no one should pay a levy on their insurance from July 1.

A possible problem with this system is that depending on when your insurance falls due, you might pay more than others. Or will our reader cop another insurance levy when he renews in February 2014 (the levy to cover February 2013 — June 30, 2013)? Jump in the comment stream on our website if you know more about this issue.

Fail, fail, fail. One of our WA moles was not impressed to receive a glossy pamphlet from the Liberal candidate for O’Connor, Rick Wilson.

“At the end after the ‘Delivering stronger borders’ rant and the compulsory shot at Labor, ‘50,000 refugees costing $10 Billion,’ is a curious addition in bold type. The WA National’s candidate from Geraldton don’t support the Liberals’ plan to stop the boats.

Apart from showing a disturbing lack of support for the rules of grammar, it shows who they consider to be the real enemy. Geraldton, of course is not in the electorate of O’Connor, but anyone seeking out the scoundrel(s) could track down biographical data on birth sites of National candidates or waterboard the state member for Geraldton, oops he’s a Liberal.”

Ms Tips is well aware that nothing — nothing — annoys Crikey readers more than poor spelling and grammar, so we award Wilson a fail on all fronts.

Letters about Sophie. Crikey has taken an interest in the re-election chances of Liberal frontbencher Sophie “light globe” Mirabella (although a poll in The Age, not online, over the weekend seemed to indicate she would hold her seat). A tipster pointed us towards this rather fun Facebook page in which “supporters” of Mirabella pen letters to aid her campaign. Here’s a sample:

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Environment

Sep 5, 2011

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Last Monday The Climate Institute’s released its latest report on the real costs of inaction of climate change “Climate of Suffering”.  It has evoked some disappointing but predictable responses. “Wallowing in Doom and Gloom” ran The Australian’s editorial comment (August 31). Even Bjorn Lomborg, the internationally renowned “sceptical environmentalist” has chipped in, clearly without reading the report, suggesting that it is an “extreme reaction” to draw a link between cutting carbon emissions and mental health objectives.

Far from wallowing in gloom and doom, this report has been scrupulously reviewed and researched and was launched by Professor Ian Hickie, of the Brain & Mind Research Institute, with support from the Australian Psychological Society’s Dr Susie Burke, and other leading mental and public health advocates.

The report is intended to provide a reminder about the real costs of inaction on climate change. These costs are human costs. They are social costs. They are economic costs.

The report, and The Climate Institute, is careful about attributing recent extreme events to climate change. But there can be no denying that we have experienced events such as the unprecedented fire weather conditions in Victoria and unusually powerful cyclones. The point is that CSIRO and other scientists predict an increase in extreme weather events in coming years if serious action is not taken to tackle accelerating climate change.  Carbon pollution from human activity being the main cause of recent accelerated climate change.

The resilience of Australians in the face of extreme weather events is indeed, as The Australian points out, a great resource. Australians have on many occasions magnificently drawn from the well of that resource. This report highlights, however, that this is not an inexhaustible resource to be recklessly managed.

The report carefully brings this to light with case studies of survivors experience from the Kinglake bushfires, cyclones in Queensland and from the drought in western NSW and Victoria.

One of these includes the story of Daryl Taylor, from the Kinglake bushfires, who said “our local community volunteers of community organisation were incredible in the aftermath of the disaster tackling massive challenges head on. I have never before witnessed so many enduring selfless acts of profound leadership. But it is now apparent that many groups have lost momentum and are losing key leaders, as passionate people finally turn their hands and minds to the mammoth task of rebuilding, or withdraw completely from social commitments because of absolute exhaustion. Too often now, there is no one around to fill the void leaving greater burden on those who persevere.”

Daryl goes on to note “it would be negligent of us, as a society not to learn from this and other events and prepare and plan accordingly. We have a duty to do this even if there is some short term ‘hip pocket pain’.”

Another of the case studies Dr Allan Dale, from Innisfail, notes, as does the report, that while there may be fewer cyclones making land under climate change  they are likely to be stronger. He speaks of the fear that communities experienced during cyclone Yasi itself but says that for communities such as his, what comes after “is perhaps more traumatic”.

“Living for years in a slowly recovering and devastated built and natural environment brings its own downers. Slowly, post-disaster trauma gathered its community toll. Once proud businesses called it a day.” Dr Dale goes on to say that it is vital we learn from what has happened and use this to help address a major gap in the current public debate about climate change and how we should respond to it.

It’s all well and good to bask in the glow of Australians great capacity for resilience. It is, however, insulting for those who are on the front line and surviving extreme weather events, to pretend that this resilience is all that’s required and she’ll be right mate. It needs far greater thought, respect and dignity than we have seen to date in Australia.

This goes both to the support and space provided for those communities, and the services that are needed for them, but also to the urgency in taking action here, and with other nations globally, to help prevent the worst impacts of unmitigated climate change by reducing our economy’s dependence on pollution.

The Climate Institute is proud of this research and the focus it puts on the risks of further delay and inaction.  Our vision is for a resilient Australia prospering in a low carbon global economy, participating fully and fairly in international climate-change solutions.  It is an inherently optimistic vision but we must all face up to the actions necessary to achieve it.

Environment

Aug 3, 2010

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The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommendations were released over the weekend to a predicable media reception. Using the fear of fire many politicians, journalists and others seek to make themselves popular by backing the clearing of bush — yet going by the findings of the Commission there is not a scintilla of evidence justifying it.

But there is potential value in the report, especially in the responses and submissions to it.

In the end ‘the bush’ is blamed and its sentence is to be burned and logged — with no regard or objective evaluation of the ecological and economic costs and consequences to water supplies, fishing, tourism, public health, etc. Or even the effectiveness of burning to reduce fire risk.

The media has made the task of objective assessment impossible by promoting views of people burned out by the fires and demanding their wishes are acted on. Those with other perspectives on fire and critical of past fuel reduction burning have been all but silenced by the media — as would any politician who had ‘doubts’ about fuel reduction burning.

The Royal Commission itself was adversarial rather than inquisitorial. Witnesses who were critical of government response on the day of the fires were cross examined as if they were in a court.

In stark contrast Chris Taylor’s Report The Victorian February FiresA Report on Driving Influences and Land Tenures Affected for the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society is seminal. It’s devoid of opinion but gives the most comprehensive tracking of each of all the major fires, with systematic analysis of causes and timing with comprehensive maps dealing with each (it’s referenced with page numbers in this article).

With single legal representation for all fire fighting bodies and no capacity to protect those giving evidence, the Commission was nobbled — but finding guilty parties is really of little consequence compared to addressing the massive practical problems. By starting from the towns burned in the fires — rather than the sources of ignition — the entire ‘report’ reflected an age-old urban fear of the bush and this skewed its findings.

That day — February 7, 2009 — was the third of three of some of the hottest days on record in a month. But unlike the other two it was also predicted to be windy. In the heat power lines sagged and with the wind they clashed and sparked against trees and fences.

Five of 13 major fires were started by power lines, including the most deadly at Kilmore (Taylor: pages 13, 15-25). The state-owned SEC, sued over burning Mount Macedon on Ash Wednesday, had responded with a comprehensive power line maintenance schedule that was apparently all but lost in the complexities of regulation following privatisation of electricity supply, infrastructure and maintenance.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations 27 -35 address this issue but overstate the need for immediate under-grounding of power lines when basic maintenance was the issue. The fires did not start in forest or bushland, bar two as a result of bushfire-induced lightening. Most started in dry introduced grass species common across Victorian farmland, especially along cleared road reserves often used for power lines.

The Kilmore fire, that killed so many in Kinglake, was one of these.

The preceding 10 years of extended fuel reduction burns merged into opportunistic back burns, during the 2003 and 2006-07 fires in particular. It was around these fires — that killed no-one directly — the deadly ‘stay or go’ policy was developed, putting responsibility back on property owners to make their properties and homes ‘fire safe’. A deadly clash of academic theory and cruel practicalities of fire.

Over successive summers people were told the safest place when the fire came through was in their house — the advice was wrong, and it missed a crucial element. Where do you go when the house catches fire? I and good friends were burned out on Ash Wednesday.

Some stayed in their houses too on that night — there was similarly no warning — but they all got out onto the ‘lee side’ (the already burned side) when the house caught fire and survived remarkably unscathed under blankets on burned lawns, in dams, etc. No such additional advice was available in the ‘stay or go policy’ despite written records and evidence to other inquiries.

Big fires do not happen often so the public who listen for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) siren were not consulted or considered when it was decided to replace sirens with pagers for CFA members. The lack of sirens on that day added to confusion and for some proved deadly. Again this is covered in the Commission’s comments, but the sirens are now recommended as a community responsibility rather than associated with the CFA  — what most people in the bush expect.

Lack of warning from a confused command structure also proved deadly on the day. Planes with infrared capacity could be found for locating a minister lost bushwalking but not used on Black Saturday to track the fire.

The Commission’s recommendation 27 in regard to co-ordination with the Defense Force could be used to address this issue. The communication system, developed during the earlier ‘managed fires’, clearly and predictably fell apart on Black Saturday.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment and its officers and associated departments they directed were buried in a mess of bureaucracy like so much wreckage after the fires and seemed to almost hide from the Commission. Prior to that day DSE was the ‘master’ of fires and often treated the CFA like the spare guest at the wedding — crews often spending frustrating hours on standby waiting for instructions.

Telstra was not informed that it needed full staff for that day for triple zero calls — but neither did it use its initiative. The idea of mobile phone warnings for all was also a failure on succeeding hot days and ‘cried wolf’ dangerously when the day of the text warning came to nothing.

Targeting towns that were burned out for special building regulations is an academic and common-senseless approach that expands bureaucracies, punishes those burned out and leaves people in caravans, hopelessly exposed more than 18 months after the fires.

Evacuation works if people know where the fires are going and — as recommended — can be backed up with fire shelters, community and property-based. Householders should not pay for all these profiteering, supposedly fireproof trimmings to save the insurance industry one cent. No house is safe on every day and it perpetuates the myth it might be safe to stay inside.

Buying out people in supposed high-risk areas is also senseless. Who do we buy out when we have our next deadly fire across farmland like the Streatham or Lara fires of the past? The Commission’s recommendation 4 addresses this issue, but insurance liability was ignored. Continue reading “Tracking the Black Saturday bushfires — at the source of ignition”

Environment

Mar 11, 2010

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The recent rain and storms have doused dozens of deliberately lit fires in Victoria that are supposedly designed to make the state safer post-Black Saturday. The ramping up or even the continuation of an accelerated program of deliberately lit fires has happened almost in contempt of the Royal Commission, which was established to look at all aspects of fire management.

The Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission has heard from many academics and forest industry advocates in support of burning the bush deliberately and more frequently — even a US-based scientist advocating the same based on experience in Florida!

Wildfires, ecological burns (i.e. in national parks and reserves), asset protection burns, regeneration burns after logging, etc — they’re all not being considered as fuel reducing. It’s important the Royal Commission discovers why not — it is counter intuitive.

Increasingly, wild fires are not fought but “dragged around”. A small lightning-strike fire was relit with “back burns” enough to take the Wilson’s Promontory fire through 360 degrees back to where it started over weeks — burning most of the national Park. This was instead of being put out the day after Black Saturday when it was the size of a suburban block.

This was an “opportunistic ecological burn” that destroyed infrastructure, saw the bulldozing of bush to create fire breaks and is still having a major impact on tourism locally. Ecologically these fires may have increased plant diversity, but what of the impact on mammals, birds and reptiles, especially given the loss of hundreds of tree hollows many need to breed?

Botanists in Australia are keener on fires than most for plant biodiversity — but they often have little interest and no qualifications to estimate their impact on animals, water, etc — let alone tourism.

Even the commonly used term “fuel reduction burning” is misleading. Fires can kill trees leaving standing dead timber and increase fuel loads and increase the heat of future fires.

The Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre would appear way “too partisan” to independently inform the Royal Commission. Its board includes known public advocates for increased burning and key fire managers from the Department of Sustainability and Environment — a body that should be the subject of the Royal Commission’s investigations.

The negative impact of burning forests on water supplies is well documented yet it does not seem to be considered. Only the advice of “roving academics” with “chairs” in universities has been heard public — often contradicting decades of research on the impact of fire on the Melbourne Water supply catchment, for instance.

The bush is still rife with stories of “overtime burns” lit on Fridays, fires being prolonged and relit for financial gain, timber being stolen in creating fire breaks, etc. But no one is game to speak up.

Before the Royal Commission concludes, witnesses must be given the opportunity to present their evidence “in camera”, confident it will remain confidential — people who work in the bush reliant on DSE and Parks Victoria for current or future full-time and contract employment but also have critical first-hand information. They have effectively been silenced by the Royal Commission process to date.

If there is an adversarial argument regarding the use of fire to prevent fire, the full impact of radically increasing that amount of deliberately lit fire as opposed to rapidly putting fires out and not burning surely must be considered. A Royal Commission should not only be informed by popularist sentiment but also factual information from “non partisan” sources.

Environment

Feb 19, 2010

5 comments

I wondered how long it would take Andrew Bolt to use the tragedy of Black Saturday to try and bash his perceived political enemies, and only a few weeks after the one-year anniversary of February 7th, he thinks he can get away with it with his typing in today’s Hun.

Now, we know many words are being written about the success and failures on that terrible day, with most of those commenting at least having the decency to get their facts right, understanding that many people are still deeply traumatised by what we went through.

Without going too far into the psychology of those of us trying to recover, it is extremely important to us that a truthful understanding of what happened is reported by the mainstream media, as the details of the firestorm are examined by the scientists and fire experts at the Royal Commission and in other forums.

Bolt’s article today contains many factual errors in his attempt to smear his usual political opponents. His attempt to spin this to his advantage is both selfish and hurtful to those of us who lost so much. It doesn’t help anybody to have him muddying the waters with his offensive opinion typing.

First, this:

Yes, that movement includes merely naive tree-changers from the city complaining about the smoke from fuel-reduction burns, without understanding that picture-postcard forests can actually kill if not tamed.

I have lived at the base of the Kinglake ranges for more than 20 years, I am yet to meet anyone from our area, new resident or old, who was not aware of the extreme danger of bushfire for those living near a large area of forest such as the Kinglake National Park. His insults aimed at those of us who choose to live in a rural or semi-rural area, make it quite obvious he has not spoken to anyone from the burnt area or done any research before making this assertion. How can you be part of a movement that is “anti-forestry” when we don’t have forestry in the national park at Kinglake. As for an “anti-fire management movement” he needs to come and talk to the CFA volunteers and residents in our area to hear how accurate that description is.

Yes, we have people who question the timing and location of some of the burns — this is because they can get out of control and damage private farming land or burn sensitive areas of bush that locals, through landcare, have spent much time and effort working on, to prevent things such as erosion and weed infestation. Burning needs to be carefully managed.

Secondly:

… Nillumbik Shire, which contains the now burned-out Kinglake …

Kinglake is not in Nillumbik shire, it’s in Murrindindi. You would think a quality typist such as Bolt would have at least looked at a map. How Nillumbik council issued the fines for “clearing trees from their homes or for removing dead wood” in Kinglake, in another shire, is something I would like him to explain.

In fact, I live in Strathewen, below Kinglake, which is in Nilllumbik shire and it doesn’t contain the vast bulk of the national park. Fuel reduction burning has been going on for as long as I have lived in the area. This is done by the locals as most of the land is privately owned, but I am aware of many CFA burn-offs occurring in Nillumbik shire around towns such as nearby St Andrews.

Read the full response here.

News

Dec 8, 2009

5 comments

Environment

Oct 21, 2009

5 comments

Tips and rumours

Aug 26, 2009

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Fairfax Media has recently been conducting its annual performance reviews. Despite appallingly bad results, led by a massive decline in profits at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, journos are standing by for performance “bonuses” for SMH CEO Lloyd Whish-Wilson and Age CEO Don Churchill. Fairfax CEO Bryan McCarthy says wages are frozen. Nothing about bonuses not being awarded to senior executives.

Thought you might find the attached agenda of the Queensland Public Sector Union (QPSU) Council meeting for September 1 interesting. Look at the last recommendation for agenda item four. The union is proposing for rule changes to be drafted to remove the requirement to have annual general meetings. Members of the QPSU are incredibly unhappy about this proposal. The reason given for removal of the AGM i.e. that regional members are unable to participate in the annual general meeting is seen as an excuse by the Senior Executive, particularly given a previous undertaking by the General Secretary, Alex Scott, to investigate video conferencing.

Big troubles with Qantas flights to and from London. QF 2 didn’t go last Thursday and finally left 24 hours later, Friday’s QF 9 from Melbourne left Saturday and Saturday’s QF 9 left on Sunday. That’s more than 1000 disgruntled travellers stuck in the wrong city (and they’re only the flights I know of). Apparently the Qantas booking system is “lit up like a Christmas tree” trying to get everyone to and from London. Great if you own an airport hotel.

The Victorian Government’s recent press release “A State of Preparation — Actions to be taken to be ready for 2009/10 fire season”, identifies highest risk areas for this fire season and refers to “enhanced township protection plans” but does not give further details on the nature and legislative power of those plans. One town is Cockatoo, all of which is covered by a Wildfire Management Overlay (WMO), which outlines fire mitigation objectives, recommended building materials etc. CFA has special input and is the referral authority for any planning applications in WMOs. Other towns named as highest risk areas include Blairgowrie and Rye St Andrews Beach on the southern Mornington Peninsula. Why then is Blairgowrie and Rye St Andrews Beach not covered by a WMO? Nor indeed any area in Mornington Peninsula Shire or Frankston City? The Victorian Government is so far behind the action on this issue it is terrifying.

Qantas staff have long been wary of their IT systems. Living with its shortcomings and failures has demoralised many. Not for nothing have they tagged it as “yesterday’s technology … tomorrow!”

As an ex-Australia Post employee of many years I can tell you that the “Great White Chief”, aka Graeme John, hates publicity of this kind. He’ll have some very choice words to say! John’s actually been a good leader for Post. His lieutenants on the other hand, are an eclectic bunch of odds and sods. I wouldn’t give you a bag of used stamps for some of them.

Funny you should bring up Joanna Gash. Our long-term local member conducts community consultations for electors in the local bus stops. This keeps the electoral allowance deeply in her own pocket despite being funded for all the trappings. So a visit to our member is completely public, fully exposed to the elements and lacking the trappings of modern life — like internet, reference materials, contacts. All she has is a pen and pad. There are plenty of halls in the Shoalhaven, but she’d have to pay.

From the Crikey Sightings desk:

Should have known something was brewing in Bradfield. There we were on Sunday enjoying all the delights Wahroonga Park has to offer on such a superb Sydney day — the sun was shining, the fresh burst of blossoming flowers heralding the arrival of spring were in full display and the good folk of the leafy upper north shore were mingling about as only they can.

But wait, what was the commotion spoiling this idyllic setting? Well there was a man and woman (he decked out in the bog standard conservative pollie in-waiting uniform of bone chinos and blue shirt, she in a suitably conservative frock) wandering around the park with camera crew in tow, joyfully holding hands as they wandered in and out of the rotunda, smiling cheesily at each other (and the cameras) as they stopped to smell the lavender, striking various poses as they sauntered through a stand of trees, laughing insouciantly at the birds chirping away above. All being recorded for the cameras.

Just another home video perhaps? I think not. It was none other than Bradfield aspirant Julian Leeser and Mrs Leeser no doubt preparing some sort of montage for the pre-selectors of Bradfield’s singing, dancing and voting pleasure.