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Bushfire Advisory Committee

Robert Pallin (Bushfire Advisory Committee Chair)

Robert was Chairperson of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (2000-2005). He is Chairman of the Paddy Pallin group of companies and member of NPWS South Coast Advisory Committee. Robert is currently the NCC’s Representative on the Illawarra Bush Fire Management Committee, and the Lord Howe Island Bush Fire Management Committee the Bush Fire Co-ordinating Committee. He was a councilor on Ku-ring-gai Council (1991 to 1995) and chaired the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Bush Fire Management Committee.

Prof. Don White, BEng, CEng, FIChemE

Don is the Chairperson of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW. He is a Manager and Engineer by training and profession and is now an Adjunct A/Professor in Engineering at the University of Sydney. Don was a Board member of the Environmental Protection Authority NSW 2008-12. He is also a Volunteer Fire-fighter and Publicity Officer for the Laguna Fire Brigade, Coordinator of Green Shareholders, Member of the Environmental Trust Waste Committee, the Load Based Licencing technical Review Panel of EPA and a member of the Contaminated Lands Auditor accreditation panel of EPA.  Don has been a keen volunteer Bush Regenerator and is the Local Resident Group Coordinator.

Bob Conroy, B.A.(Geography, Biology), GradDip.EnvStudies, MMgt.

Bob Conroy has more than 40 years of experience in protected area management in both operational and executive roles. Bob has a strong interest in fire management strategy, policy and planning and has represented the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for more than 10 years on the Bush Fire Coordinating Committee and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council. Bob is currently a Deputy Captain with Coal and Candle RFB, now represents the Minister for the Environment on the NSW Bush Fire Coordinating Committee and represents NCC on the Rural Fire Service Advisory Council. Bob is also a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas and the IUCN Expert Assessment Group for the Green List. As a Director of ARRDENT Pty Ltd, Bob has recently undertaken a fire policy review for Parks Australia was a member of the AFAC audit team for the 2016 Tasmanian bushfires. Bob is also a recipient of the National Fire Medal, AFAC Special Acknowledgement Award for Contribution to the Industry and is a Churchill Fellow.

Grahame Douglas, PhD Bushfire Weather and Fire Behaviour

Grahame began his interest is bushfire matters in the late 1980’s representing environmental interests on the then Bush Fire Council. In 1993 he was appointed to the Bush Fire Coordinating Committee. In 1996 he was Environment Officer within the then Department of Bush Fire Services and held a number of positions including Manager, Planning and Environment. Grahame has worked with the NSW Rural Fire Service in the area of community safety for more than 15 years and was responsible for developing the legislative provisions and policy relating to bush fire risk management planning, development control for bushfire prone areas, environmental impact of hazard reduction activities and assisted in initial changes to the NSW variations to the BCA. He was the principal author of Planning for Bushfire Protection in 2001 and 2006 and is currently chair of TAC/20 and represents the FPAA in the review of AS3959 Construction in Bushfire Prone Areas. Grahame now lectures at the Western Sydney University in the Post Graduate Bush Fire Protection. He has completed his PhD in NSW bushfire weather and fire behaviour under the influence of climate change.

Greg Mullins AO, AFSM, MMgt, FIFireE

Greg served as Commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW from 2003-2017; the second longest serving Commissioner in the organisation’s history, and the first person to come through the ranks to be both Chief Fire Officer and CEO. He has a long history in bushfire control, as a member of his local volunteer bushfire brigade from 1972 to 1982, as a full-time firefighter from 1978 to 2017, and as a volunteer firefighter with the RFS from 2016 to the present. During his career he worked as Blue Mountains Hazard Reduction Officer, Sydney Region Hazard Reduction Officer, Officer in Charge Bushfire Section, Alternate 41F nominee for Hornsby Kuringai, Director State Operations, member of the NSW Bushfire Coordinating Committee, and he oversaw many major firefighting operations including the 2001/02, 2007, and 2013 bushfires. He was a awarded a Commendation for Courageous Action for a rescue during the 1994 bushfires in Lane Cove, where he was in charge of field operations. Greg as a Masters Degree in Management, is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the US National Fire Academy, completed a Churchill Fellowship on aircraft and bushfire control in 1995, and is a Fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers. Prior to retirement he was President and Board Chair of AFAC, the peak council for fire and emergency services in Australia and NZ, and was Australian Director of the International Fire Chiefs’ Association of Asia. He is currently Chair of the NSW Ambulance Service Advisory Board, and in 2019 formed Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, which has influenced national debate on the links between climate change and major bushfires. He is a keen bush regenerator.

Jane Gye, B. Sc. (Hons) Geology and Geophysics, GradDip. EnvEd.

Jane has been a BFAC member since 2006 and a qualified bush regenerator since 1982. Currently a Bushcare supervisor with Ku-ring-gai Council (20 years) and lately with National Trust (15 years) and Hornsby Council (10 years). Committee member of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators since 2002. Jane was a member and chair of Ku-ring-gai Council's Bushland Management Advisory Committee in the 1990s. 

Judy Lambert, AM, BPharm, BSc(Hons), PhD (Pharmacology), Grad Dip EnvMgt, Grad Dip Business Admin

Judy’s interest in fire management began with early experience growing up in a family deeply involved in volunteer fire services. Living on a farm in north-eastern Victoria she experienced a major fast-moving grass fire at unpleasantly close proximity. Judy’s career spans time as a research scientist, an advocate for a national environmental NGO, a fulltime consultant to a former Federal Minister for the Environment, and a long-time partner in a small consultancy business. Judy and her then business partner the late Dr Jane Elix worked as facilitators for NCC’s pilot Hotspots Program (2007-2010), using their shared consensus-building, conflict resolution and NRM/ecological management skills and learned much about fire management from the diversity of experts/stakeholder participants. Judy is an NCC representative on the Mosman-North Sydney-Willoughby and Northern Beaches BFMCs. She has also been a community leader in collaborative research on the influence of hazard reduction burns in restoring Critically Endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub on North Head at Manly.

Jim Morrison, B.A. (Geography and Planning), Grad.Dip. Ecology

Jim is currently the Northern Regional representative on Nature Conservation Council of NSW Executive committee. He was the NCC's representative on Kyogle BFMC for five years and is currently the alternate representative on the Northern Rivers BFMC. Jim was directly involved in the development and implementation of the 'Cultural Connections' model for Indigenous engagement from 2007 - 2010. He was the NCC representative on Native Vegetation and Water Committees and the Upper North Coast Catchment Management Board. Jim is President of the North Coast Environment Council Inc. and has undertaken postgraduate studies in conflict resolution at UNE Armidale.

Kate McShea, M.App.Sc Wildlife Health & Population Management, B.Sc

Kate is the Coordinator of the Healthy Ecosystems Program and has been working with the Nature Conservation Council of NSW since 2008. With a keen interest and experience in fire ecology, environmental management and both terrestrial and aquatic conservation, Kate coordinates delivery of the Hotspots Fire Project (Hotspots) with the NSW Rural Fire Service as well as the broader and longer term aspirations of the Healthy Ecosystems programs within NCC.

Emeritus Professor Ross Bradstock, BSc (Hons), PhD Biological Sciences

Ross Bradstock is the former Director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University. His research interests include fire ecology, conservation biology, landscape ecology and climate change. Established as one of the world’s leading fire ecologists, his reputation has continued to grow, and his achievements and contributions are recognised internationally.

Dr Simon Heemstra, PhD Uow. BSc (Hons) UNSW. FBAN

Dr Simon Heemstra is the manager of the Bureau of Meteorology's Hazard Preparedness and Response – National section. Under Simon, HPR-Nat currently provides decision support for the commonwealth and our emergency service partners, guides strategic development of Bureau warning products and services, and coordinates Bureau representation at national committees. Simon was employed by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service from 2002 to 2020 and held a range of roles including state research policy and training for areas including Bush Fire Risk Management, Community Planning, Prescribed Burn Planning, Environmental Assessment, Fire Behaviour Analysis and Bush Fire Impact Analysis. Simon has been chair of the AFAC Predictive Services Group, a member of the National Fire Danger Ratings Review working group, chair of the Climate Change Working Group and lead end user for the Bush Fire and Natural Hazards CRC Fire Behaviour Research Stream. Simon has been a volunteer firefighter in the NSW RFS since 1994.

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Bushfire policy must be guided by science and is best left to the experts

Attempts to make Transport NSW slash 40m-wide strips of forest along every state highway in NSW shows why bushfire policy must be guided by science and expert advice, not ministerial decree. [1] 

“The directive to chainsaw 40m-wide strips along all the state highways in NSW would have been devastating for koalas and other wildlife,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“Buffers that big would have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of forest when wildlife were at their most vulnerable after the devastating fires.

“Thankfully, we live in a democracy with checks and balances that set reasonable limits on the powers of ministers.”

Mr Gambian said the directive to Transport NSW was not just possibly unlawful, it was not supported by the Independent NSW Bushfire Inquiry the government established to recommend ways to improve public safety and bushfire preparedness.

“Even before the experts handed down their report, one minister thought he knew better,” Mr Gambian said.

“That was a knee-jerk reaction, which is terrible way to make good policy in this very complex area. 

“We should let the experts, not politicians, decide how we should best prepare for bushfires.

“The directive to clear 40m buffers was not based on science. It would have had very questionable benefits and was not recommended by the Independent NSW Bushfire Inquiry. 

“I acknowledge the Black Summer fires were extremely traumatic for those communities that lived through them. 

“But to get the best results, rational policy responses must be developed by experts who have looked at all the evidence.”

References

[1] Minister's tree-clearing direction prompted legal concerns, SMH, 10-3-21 


Nationals use bushfire response to further weaken land-clearing controls

The NSW Government has used its response to the Black Summer bushfires to sneak through new land-clearing laws that will destroy thousands of hectares of forest and woodland. 

The Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill that passed the Legislative Council last night with the support of the ALP will allow landholders to clear 25m-wide strips of bush all around their property without independent environmental assessment or approval. 

“The 25m land-clearing rule won’t reduce bushfire risk in extreme conditions but it will trash thousands of hectares of prime wildlife habitat,”  Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“This is going to cause a completely unnecessary man-made disaster for wildlife and bushland — it’s about as useful as handing out free water pistols in the face of mega fires.

“If applied across the state, the 25m land-clearing rule could obliterate thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat and kill millions of native animals.

“This measure was not recommended by the Independent Bushfire Inquiry for a very good reason. 

“Experts say it won’t reduce bushfire risk in extreme conditions but it will cause unbelievable environmental harm.

“This is part of the National Party’s radical land-clearing agenda — it is not supported by science or expert opinion.”

 


Bushfire Royal Commission commonsense recommendations welcome

The Commonwealth Bushfire Royal Commission has concluded hazard reduction burning is not a cure-all that will protect communities from catastrophic fire events.

“The commissioners agree with us that hazard reduction is a vital tool in protecting communities and environmental assets,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“But they also agree hazard reduction alone is not a panacea — it is not a silver bullet that will eliminate bushfire risk entirely. It must be combined with a range of other measures. [1]

“We applaud the Commissioners’ recommendation to better integrate the protection of environmental and heritage assets in emergency planning and response. 

“Under the current arrangements in NSW, old sheds and derelict houses receive more protection than environmental or cultural assets in an active fire situation.

“The protection strategy that was developed and deployed for the Wollemi Pine during the fires showed what can be done.

“The Commissioners have also highlighted the need to help communities prepare for bushfires and recover when the fires have passed through. 

“The Nature Conservation Council is proud to have provided these sorts of services over many years and we stand ready to expand them if required.

“The Commissioners acknowledge that past carbon emissions have locked in temperature rises for next 20 to 30 years, but the trajectory beyond that horizon depends very much on the emissions reduction strategies we adopt today. [2]

“We call on all governments to heed this call and commit Australia to zero emissions by 2050 target  in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

REFERENCES 

[1] Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, October 30, 2020. See page 375.

There is strong interest in, and polarising views on, fuel management activity, particularly prescribed burning to manage fuel loads.

We heard many perspectives from public submissions that describe prescribed burning as, in effect, a panacea – a solution to bushfire risk. It is not.

Part of the explanation for the strength of views of fuel load management, and prescribed burning in particular, may be due to a lack of community understanding about its effectiveness and the factors that influence the choice of strategy. 

[2] Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, October 30, 2020. See page 22.

Extreme weather has already become more frequent and intense because of climate change; further global warming over the next 20 to 30 years is inevitable. Globally, temperatures will continue to rise, and Australia will have more hot days and fewer cool days. Sea levels are also projected to continue to rise. Tropical cyclones are projected to decrease in number, but increase in intensity. Floods and bushfires are expected to become more frequent and more intense. Catastrophic fire conditions may render traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective.

 


Listen to experts, not politicians, on bushfire risk management

Weakening the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code will not reduce bushfire risk in extreme conditions but it will push threatened species close to the brink, according to Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian. 

“Cabinet is reportedly considering a proposal today to more than double the area of bushland around homes that can be cleared without expert assessment and approval,” Mr Gambian said.

“If adopted, these changes would massively increase the amount of koala habitat and big old trees that can be cut down without a permit. 

“We have already lost thousands of hectares of bushland and thousands of big old trees under the 10/50 code. These changes would more than double that impact.”

Mr Gambian said the proposed changes were not among the 76 recommendations made by the expert panel established to examine the 2019-2020 bushfires led by former NSW police deputy commission Dave Owens and former chief scientist Mary O’Kane.

“The experts have handed down their report and made extensive recommendations, but now the politicians think they know better,” Mr Gambian said.

“We should let the experts, not politicians, decide how we can best prepare for bushfires.

“Why ask the experts to prepare a report if the politicians are then going to decide they know best.

“This proposal is not based on science and will not protect property, life or our unique wildlife. It’s a lose, lose. lose situation.”

A media report today quotes from what is purportedly a Cabinet-in-confidence memo:

Amendments include … 25m of vegetation clearing along fence lines according to a yet-to-be-approved code covering clearing in endangered and threatened species habitats, riparian corridors and clearing for non-bushfire risk mitigation purposes. [1]

“If the purpose of these changes was really to reduce fire risk, why does the memo mention ‘clearing for non-bushfire risk mitigation purposes’?” Mr Gambian said.

“Unscrupulous developers have already exploited the 10/50 code to improve views while cynically claiming to reduce bushfire risk. They must be licking their lips at the prospect of these changes.”

About the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Scheme

If you live in an area close to the bush, you need to prepare your home. The 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Scheme gives people living near the bush an additional way of preparing for bushfires.

The scheme allows people in a designated area to:

  • Clear trees on their property within 10 metres of a home, without seeking approval; and
  • Clear underlying vegetation such as shrubs (but not trees) on their property within 50 metres of a home, without seeking approval.

Source: 10/50 vegetation clearing

 

REFERENCES 

[1] Permitted NSW fire-prone clearing doubled, The Australian, 6-10-2020 


Bushfire inquiry report hits the mark but misses some key points

The Nature Conservation Council broadly supports the findings and recommendations of the  Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and commends the NSW Government for committing to implementing its 76 recommendations. [1]

“This report is a major contribution to our understanding of the causes and impacts of the Black Summer bushfires and the government deserves credit for wholeheartedly embracing the inquiry’s recommendations,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“We commend the commissioners for their work and the Premier for commissioning a practical report. We urge the government to ensure the next state budget fully funds the swift implementation of all 76 recommendations. 

“However, the inquiry has overlooked the need for bushfire risk management plans to give greater value to the protection of environmental assets, such as threatened species and rainforests, and outline measures to protect these priceless assets.

“These fires demonstrated the need for fire planners to value and protect environmental assets like koala forest habitat in the same way they do houses and other infrastructure.

“Under the current arrangements, old sheds and derelict houses receive more protection than environmental or cultural assets in an active fire situation.

“The protection strategy that was developed and deployed for the Wollemi Pine during the fires showed what can be done.”

Mr Gambian also said the report should have recommended providing special protection for wildlife refuges after major fire events.

“Unburnt patches of forest are critical for wildlife that have fled fires and should be protected at all costs,” he said.

“Under current arrangements they have no special status. That’s why logging in state forests has continued in unburnt forests even in regions where more than 80% of the forest burned.

“We agree with the recommendation that vegetation clearing policies be clear, but any new land clearing rules must meet existing environmental standards in NSW Rural Fire Service Codes.

The inquiry praised the work of the Hotspots program, which is a partnership between the NSW Rural Fire Service and the Nature Conservation Council.

Hotspots is a community engagement program that aims to give landholders the knowledge and skills to develop fire management plans and conduct burns that reduce the risk of bushfire damaging their property, while also enhancing wildlife habitat 

“We are proud of the contribution we have made to bushfire management in NSW over several decades and look forward to continuing to work with the NSW Rural Fire Service to help more landholders minimise their fire risk and to enhance wildlife habitat,” Mr Gambian said.

References

[1] Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, 31 July, 2020