Esperance farmers blame bushfires on red tape

Shire of Esperance president Victoria Brown and Senator Chris Back at the fourth community meeting.

Shire of Esperance president Victoria Brown and Senator Chris Back at the fourth community meeting.

SEVERAL local farmers have attacked the ‘red tape’and bureaucracy behind extinguishing fires on crown land, citing it as a contributing factor to the bushfire damage.

The group said they were now seeking answers after raising serious concerns over unclear regulation of what farmers could and could not do when a fire burnt in crown reserves.

The concerns were raised during the fourth community meeting at the Esperance Civic Centre on Friday, November 20, when a number of local farmers said they were disappointed, frustrated and angry over a fire they believed could have been avoided.

The farmers, who didn’t want to be identified, said the bushfires that caused four deaths and property loss could have been prevented if they had been given the all clear to enter crown land and put the fires out.

Liberal Senator for Western Australia Chris Back, who was present at the meeting, said the community had every right to voice such concerns.

He said he would be raising the issues with the Minister for Environment, Albert Jacobs, and Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt.

“The questions have been asked ‘are people able to go into reserves be they federal or state to put out a bushfire?’,” he said.

“As a senator and as a person who was chief executive of the bushfires board in the 1990s – you bet your life I’ll be going back and asking questions.

“We need to have very clear guidelines as to what farmers can or can’t do.”

Senator Back said the government needed the expertise and good will of farmers to put fires out on crown land.

He said the government didn’t have the expertise or the resources and simply just didn’t have the “local knowledge that a Tom Brown’s got or any others who have farmed in Esperance”.

“A very good example of this, going back 11 years, is the Canberra fires which nearly decimated the Mount Stromlo Observatory,” he said.

“I spoke to farmers back then and they said six or seven days in advance of that fire they actually could have put the fires out when they were still relatively small but they weren’t allowed to.

“As a person who was the CEO of the bushfires board I continually say to people in all levels ‘for heaven’s sake don’t ever think that farmers are inexperienced when it comes to knowing how best to protect their assets.

“These are the people [farmers] that have the expertise; they clear land, they know all about fire and all about its use.”

Shire of Esperance president Victoria Brown said she agreed with Senator Back.

She said the concerns of the community were extremely important and would be presented to those “who are leading our country”.

“‘Where has common sense gone’ – this is what the community is saying about bureaucracy and red tape,” she said.

“I’m also hearing about telecommunications – a lack of communication.

“As Senator Back said these are the things we need to look at.”