NSW Bushfire Inquiry Update
Friday, 5th March 2021
The devastating 2019-20 bushfire season affected 5.5 million hectares of land in NSW alone, 26 people lost their lives, 2,476 homes were destroyed and 25% of koala habitat was burnt. More than 80% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area and 54% of Gondwana Rainforest of Australian World Heritage Area in NSW burned.
In February 2020, the NSW Government commissioned an independent inquiry into the bushfires looking at contributing factors, preparation and planning, and emergency response. The inquiry received submissions from a wide range of stakeholders and the final report was released on the August 26, 2020. Access the full report here: https://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/assets/dpc-nsw-gov-au/publications/NSW-Bushfire-Inquiry-1630/Final-Report-of-the-NSW-Bushfire-Inquiry.pdf
As part of the submissions, the Hotspots Fire Project was praised as a “good community engagement tool” and the inquiry report noted “the benefits of this program in providing engagement and mitigation opportunities between the community and the NSW RFS and strongly supports the program being delivered in more areas more frequently”(Section 3.9).
The inquiry found community engagement was a powerful tool for prevention and encouraged other community groups such as the Firesticks Alliance to be rolled out further.
When looking at the prevalence of fire permits, the inquiry “noted the success of the Hotspots community engagement program that aims to give landholders the knowledge and skills to develop fire management plans and conduct burns. This type of collaborative community engagement activity, which also has direct bushfire risk management outcomes, should be further invested in as a mechanism for addressing the concern and confusion that is evident to the inquiry about the approval processes for hazard reduction.” (Section 18.104.22.168.4)
In looking for actions that the government could take immediately to better prepare for future bushfire events, the Hotspots Fire Project was recommended again, as a tool for building short-term resilience: “providing land use bushfire planning education in conjunction with community engagement processes outlined in the Hazard Reduction section above and including existing initiatives such as Get Ready Day and the HotSpots program.” (Section 22.214.171.124.)
In June of 2019, the Parliament of NSW commissioned an inquiry into Koala Populations and Habitats in NSW. The NSW Rural Fire Service Director for Planning and Environment Services Jeff Lucas provided evidence to the inquiry and raised Hotspots as a model for educating communities about protecting threatened species as well as the work the program does with Indigenous communities. As a result, the inquiry recommended “That the NSW Government allocate additional funds to the Hotspots Fire Project and the Firesticks Alliance to address resourcing challenges and to allow these projects to undertake more programs with communities across NSW.” (Section 5.90)
A final recommendation from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry was that “Hotspots, along with other community engagement programs, be evaluated with a view to expanding the support provided to private landholders to prepare their properties.” This evaluation process will be taking up part of the delivery load for Hotspots in the next financial year. As part of this we will be looking to hear from program participants about their experience with the program and how their property fire management is going. If you would like to be part of this evaluation process, please get in touch.