Bushfire Royal Commission: Practice events were planned, then it happened for real

GETTING READY: A cross-border planning event was held in Albury in October, ahead of what would be the Black Summer bushfires. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA
GETTING READY: A cross-border planning event was held in Albury in October, ahead of what would be the Black Summer bushfires. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

The Black Summer bushfires will be a lesson that authorities take with them for years to come.

The NSW government's Disaster Recovery agency was planning a series of mock emergencies to ensure emergency groups were prepared for a "catastrophic" level event.

Then, as Disaster Recovery executive director Marg Prendergast told the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Monday, bushfires actually did strike.

"We now feel like we've had a major practice event, although it was for real," she said.

"We've learnt a lot through this particular season."

She said she was concerned for regional areas that lost tourism firstly after the bushfires, then again when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, and now as some lockdowns have returned.

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"The biggest thing for us is the small businesses. They were already suffering as a result of bushfire, direct and mostly indirect impact," Ms Prendergast said.

Disaster Recovery shared criticisms in its submission to the Royal Commission, calling for federal and state governments to agree on key definitions before, not during, the recovery phase.

"Defining a business as 'affected by bushfires' is an ongoing challenge. Many small businesses were considered ineligible for support due to not being considered 'directly affected'," it stated.

The Royal Commission also published a series of further submission this week.

Australian Brumby Alliance, an organisation fighting to stop Parks Victoria culling brumbies for population control, has argued the animals grazing in the Alpine National Park could reduce the risk of bushfires.

"The more fuel a fire has the hotter it burns, and the more areas linked together with high fuel loads, the faster fires will increase in intensity," the alliance stated.

"One obvious solution to keep undergrowth down, without causing smoke, is grazing.

"The ABA argues that areas with higher wild horse grazing numbers were less affected by fire."

Members were not happy that people they called "Parks Victoria environmentalists" did not agree with their argument.

Their submission contained photographs of brumbies in the the Alpine National Park following the bushfires.

ABA claimed that "Parks Victoria describes photo one as 'horses in waterways on burnt landscape' to use as evidence that wild horses must be immediately removed/shot".

But its members disagreed, instead seeing "two brumbies drinking at the edge of a stream, and standing on green grass that has not been burnt" in the photograph.

"For too long we have heard that 'grazing does not reduce blazing', yet there are studies showing that grazing does reduce fire intensity and damage," the submission stated.

"The ABA advocates for moderate horse densities in sustainable areas to be retained for their positive grazing attributes towards reducing fuel load - keeping the grass short, and stimulating new green pick for birds, insects and native species to forage and benefit from, in addition to maintaining low fuel levels which have saved the taller shrubs from being burnt."

This story Practice bushfire events were planned, then it happened for real first appeared on The Canberra Times.