The Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT) thanks the State Fire Management Council (SFMC) for the opportunity to make comment on the ‘Draft Tasmanian Bushfire and Fuel Management Policy’ (Draft Policy).
1. Introduction, 2. Context and 4. Purpose of the Policy
The Draft Policy is developed pursuant to Section 15 of the Fire Service Act 1979. It seems that the only reference to the policy in the act is Section 15(1), which states: (1) The Council has the following functions: (a) to develop a State vegetation fire management policy to be used as the basis for all fire management planning; This is a very brief and inadequate description of the policy, especially as it is meant to ‘be used as the basis for all fire management planning’. The SFMC cannot be held responsible for the limitations of the Act. However, the SFMC have made some important decisions in terms of interpreting the wording of the Act. While not necessarily being critical of the SFMC for this, the final policy should include some explanation of these decisions.
The Draft Policy states that ‘The Purpose of the Policy is to provide agreed principles to guide bushfire and fuel management within Tasmania’ (Section 4, page 5). With some amendments, the TCT supports the principles included in Section 5 of the Draft Policy and believes that they, along with the nationally agreed definitions, are a very important component of a policy. But the reason for deciding that the policy’s purpose is limited to or focused on ‘agreed principles’ must be explained in the final policy. If stakeholders and the broader public are to have confidence in the policy and use it as a ‘reference point’ (page 5), there must be transparency in regard to such a fundamental decision. The generally accepted definition of a ‘policy’ is a statement of intended action. This policy does not fit such a definition and we would not want it to drill down to the level of ‘actions’. Perhaps the document should be re-titled a ‘Tasmanian Bushfire and Fuel Management Policy: agreed definitions and principles’.
If the final policy is to ‘be used as the basis for all fire management planning’, as stated in the act, and perhaps as a guide for fire management more broadly, the TCT believes that the TFMC should consider including agreed goals and objectives in the final policy? Such fundamental changes should be subject to further public consultation. The Act states that the policy is ‘to be used as the basis for all fire management planning’ whereas the Draft Policy states ‘This policy provides the principles which are to be applied to bushfire and fuel management in Tasmania’ (Section 2 Context, page 2). The Act seems to limit the policy to being the basis for fire planning whereas the Draft Policy states that it is to be applied to fire management more widely. The TCT agrees that the principles are fundamental and must be used consistently to guide all fire management actions and not just planning. However, the divergence from the act needs to be explained in the final policy. While we support the change of the policy’s title to ‘Tasmanian Bushfire and Fuel Management Policy’, this is not the title included in the act and, as such, there should be an explanation of why the change was made.
The explanation might be as simple as: ‘The act was drafted more than 30 years ago and today there is a greater emphasis on fuel management as well as bushfire suppression that needs to be reflected in the policy’s title’. The Draft Policy states that ‘It is seen as the first step in developing a contemporary framework surrounding bushfire and fuel management in Tasmania’ (Section 1 Introduction, page 2) but it does not outline what the process is for developing that ‘contemporary framework’. It does not even state what the next step in that process will be and whether the same stakeholders who were engage in developing the Draft Policy will be further involved. We want to know the scope of the framework development review. For instance, is it intended that the ‘State Fire Protection Plan’ also be reviewed? The final policy should provide some outline of the key steps in developing a contemporary framework for fire management and how stakeholders will be involved.
3. Authority and Accountability
The Draft Policy states that ‘Roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders are included within relevant legislation and regulations’ (page 3). The statutory ‘roles and responsibilities’ should be succinctly documented and included in the final policy or be acknowledged in the final policy as being an important stage in the development of a new fire management framework. A summary may also include a brief analysis of any gaps or other limitations in regard to roles and responsibilities and reference stakeholder input in section 8.1. Many of the concerns raised at the workshop (which are documented in the appendices of the Draft Policy) related to the need to review roles and responsibilities including the statutory basis for them.
Section 8.1 includes numerous similar concerns raised by forestry and landowner stakeholders, including: ‘regulatory restrictions and litigation risk’, ‘increased political interference’, ‘over-zealous response to fire’, ‘government agencies being too cautious’ and ‘the need for a permit system review’. Section 8.1 also acknowledges local government need for ‘clearer responsibilities’ and fire services concern that ‘Agencies get caught in conflicting values and policy frameworks’. The conservation managers raised related concerns such as ‘political consistency’ and ‘leadership’. The TCT shares many of these concerns and strongly supports the need to at least review current legislation, regulation and processes and how they relate to or inappropriately restrict roles and responsibilities of some sectors. 5. Policy While the TCT supports the principles provided, we do disagree with the assertion in the introduction to Section 5 that they reflect ‘shared understanding and objectives’. Objectives are the outcomes we want and principles underpin or guide how we seek to achieve them.
We suggest the following refinements to some principles:
- Principles 1: should be reworded to reflect scientific knowledge that fire has existed for many thousands of years in much of the Tasmanian landscape, including being used by Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
- Principles 2 & 11: while supported, are probably too brief and will need better expression to ensure they are understood by a wider audience.
- Principle 5: should state more assertively that fire is required as an essential part of the ecological processes of some vegetation communities and species.
- Principle 6: It is not possible to ‘Always preserve human life and health’. This should reworded to ‘Always aim to preserve human life and health’.
- Principle 8: Our preference would be to specifically refer to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. The fears and needs identified in section 8.1 regarding leadership, political consistency and political interference reflect a concern among most stakeholder groups which may justify the addition of a principle related to leadership. Similarly, there may be justification for an additional principle that reflected the importance of resources and the need for stakeholder groups to be involved in decisions related to resourcing.