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Tuesday, 15 April 1969

Senator MULVIHILL asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice:

Y.   Wilh reference to the Minister's recent endorsement of a 'fight fire with fire' policy, will he elaborate further his concept of such a policy?

2.   Would not such a policy if followed in national parks, leave such areas with tree boles forever blackened and shrub understoreys held poor and sparse making a mockery of the aims and ideals of national parks?

3.   Would not such a policy, if followed to the full in water catchment areas, create undue erosion besides consequent siltation of streams and dams?

4.   How does the Minister expect Australia's fauna to survive under this 'fight fire with fire' policy?

5.   What is the Minister's altitude to a more moderate policy of 200-yard, burnt strips every half mile which would permit land usage as refuges for wildlife and as natural ecosystems?

Senator SCOTT - The Minister for National Development has provided the following answer ' to the honourable senator's question:

1.   If fire is not fought wilh fire - that is, the use of controlled burning' as a means of fuel and hazard reduction - the whole of our forest and bushland could, sooner or later, be devastated by an uncontrolled wild fire with the most serious results for both flora and fauna. The whole of the cucalypt forest and woodland in Australia is termed by ecologists a fire climax vegatation type. It only exists ii its present form, or in the form in which the first European settlers found it. because of continued burning over thousands of years. The aboriginal hunters habitually set fire to the bush as soon as it would burn. They played a large part in the evolution of the bush as the first Europeans found it and as we know it today.

If it were possible to abolish bushfires, the bush would change in character as would the fauna for which it provides the environment. Eucalypt forest might bc expected to give way to closed thicket or rain forest, depending on the local climate, which both the existing native fauna and the human population might: find much less to their liking. However, bushfires cannot be abolished. Action must therefore be taken to avoid enormous and disastrous conflagrations and the only factor affecting the size, speed of travel and intensity of the bushfires which it is within human power to change is the fuel on the forest floor. If this is not done fuel will continue to build up until, sooner or later, there is almost certain to be a disastrous fire. This is why I advocate controlled burning! as the only practicable means of fuel reduction.

2.   No. Controlled burning means fires of low intensity with flames only a few feet high. Present attempts to exclude fire altogether from national parks could indeed end in the blackened tree boles and the mockery of the aims of national parks.

3.   No. Controlled burning does not burn all the forest litter- sufficient is left unburnt to prevent erosion and increased run-off. Serious wild flies in areas not subject to a controlled burning regime will certainly lead to undue erosion and run-off with consequent siltation of streambeds and dams.

4.   Arboreal fauna are able easily to get out of the reach of controlled burning fires, with flames a few feet high, as are burrowing animals. Highly mobile species such as kangaroos will mostly be able to get clear, as areas to be control burnt on any one day will not be very extensive. Some casualties will occur, but they will be much less numerous and less serious than is the case with wild fire.

5.   The system of burning 200-yard wide strips every half mile or so would be very expensive, as it would necessitate the making of fire lines to contain the control fires within the strips. There may be more practicable alternatives by which the same result of providing refuges for wildlife could be obtained - possibly by firing selected patches of bush very early - before the area as a whole was dry enough for a general controlled burning operation. These early burnt patches would then escape the later controlled burning fires. Officers of the Forestry and Timber Bureau of my Department are working on schemes of this kind. In advocating controlled burning, I do not suggest that the whole forest area should be burnt every year, or at one time. A rotational burning programme, reducing fuel in each area, say, every 5 years or so could be devised. Areas of regenerating forest with young tree growth would have to be completely protected from fire for considerably longer periods.

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