Fire boss shuts down Barnaby Joyce

The former Nationals leader and one-time deputy PM has been vocal about what he calls “green caveats” — basically red tape he believes inhibited the ability of firefighters to hazard reduction burn prior to this season’s bushfires.

His theory is that fuel was allowed to build up in bushland because environmental groups were making it difficult for firefighters to conduct annual burn-offs.

He told Sunrise this morning: “I believe, and this is my opinion, there are too many caveats that have been placed on people, let’s call them ‘green caveats’, that impede people’s capacities to fight fires.”

NSW RFS boss Shane Fitzsimmons has rejected Barnaby Joyce’s theory about what contributed to the fires.Source:Channel 7

It was an opinion the boss of the NSW Rural Fire Service was quick to shut down.

Shane Fitzsimmons told the program that while hazard reduction burning is part of a “really complex argument”, “environmental clearances are invariably not our problem with hazard reduction burning”.

“Our biggest challenge with hazard reduction is the weather and the windows available to do it safely and effectively,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

“Sure, there’s environmental and other checks to go through but we streamline those. There’s special legislation to give us clearance and to cut through what would otherwise be a very complex environment.”

NSW RFS boss Shane Fitzsimmons says the biggest hindrance to hazard reduction burning is the weather.

NSW RFS boss Shane Fitzsimmons says the biggest hindrance to hazard reduction burning is the weather.Source:Channel 7

Mr Fitzsimmons said longer and hotter summers — contributed to by climate change — mean the window for hazard reduction burning is shorter each year.

He acknowledged that hazard reduction burning was not popular with a large cross-section of society but said it was necessary.

“There’s no doubt that we see longer, hotter fire seasons which then correlates with shorter periods where you typically get your safest periods for burning,” he said.

“With burning, you typically get too cold, too wet … or too hot and too dangerous.

“We’ve only got to go back a couple of months and we were the public enemy for doing hazard reduction burns because we had smoke inundating populated areas.

“As a society, we’re really got to embrace and have a meaningful argument about what it means to hazard reduce.”

On the subject of whether red tape was preventing the burning of fuel, Mr Fitzsimmons told the ABC: “Our priorities are life, property and then environment is third.”

It is not the first time Mr Joyce has linked “greens” with Australia’s bushfire emergency.

In November, he suggested two people who died in bushfires in NSW had “most likely” voted for the Greens.

The comments were denounced by members of both sides of parliament, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“I think these (comments) are very unhelpful,” the Prime Minister said.

“I’m not going to be distracted by debates happening among politicians. The last thing people in real need and urgent crisis need at the moment is hearing politicians shout at each other.”

But the debate is ongoing. Yesterday, the Country Fire Authority’s chief officer Steve Warrington admitted the issue of hazard reduction burning was becoming an emotional one.

“We’ve had fire down the landscape here that has had burns go right through it (during colder months) and it hasn’t slowed it at all,” he said.

“The emotive argument is not supported that fuel reduction burning will fix all our problems.

“Some of the hysteria that this will be the solution to all our problems is really just quite an emotional load of rubbish, to be honest.” | @ro_smith


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