Submission by Dr. W.H. (Bill) Johnston
Terms of Reference for the inquiry were: (https://www.nsw.gov.au/nsw-government/projects-and-initiatives/make-submission-to-bushfire-inquiry/nsw-independent)
The Inquiry is to consider, and report to the Premier on, the following matters.
- The causes of, and factors contributing to, the frequency, intensity, timing and location of, bushfires in NSW in the 2019-20 bushfire season, including consideration of any role of weather, drought, climate change, fuel loads and human activity.
- The preparation and planning by agencies, government, other entities and the community for bushfires in NSW, including current laws, practices and strategies, and building standards and their application and effect.
- Responses to bushfires, particularly measures to control the spread of the fires and to protect life, property and the environment, including:
- immediate management, including the issuing of public warnings
- resourcing, coordination and deployment
- equipment and communication systems.
- Any other matters that the inquiry deems appropriate in relation to bushfires.
Forty-four post-1910 daily rainfall datasets extending from Mallacoota (Vic.) to Yamba Pilot Station were summarised and examined; a select group of 10 from southeastern NSW and the Central Coast were analysed and from them, four or five were used to support the submission.
A monthly water balance was used to identify long-term sequences of dry years. Drought sequences were also identified using stream discharge data for two unregulated streams in the Bega Valley.
When efforts were made in 2013 to get hazard reduction action near our farm at Bemboka, contradictory sections of the NSW Rural Fires Act (1997) proved to be insurmountable. As the landscape continued to dry it was never a question of if but of when calamity would strike.
While the situation deteriorated and despite repeated warnings, the local Regional Advisory Committee and those in charge at Bushfire-HQ sat on their hands; paralysed by inaction. The Tathra fire in March 2018 was a wake-up call but no-body was awake. Local greenies blamed it on the climate, but it was failing electricity infrastructure. The rest is history … look over there; blame the Prime Minister …
From Gippsland to the North Coast of NSW and southern Queensland, irrespective of whether fires were deliberately lit or not, it can be fairly said the calamity of the so-called Black-summer bushfires resulted from a lack of appreciation of the emerging ‘big-picture’ threat; and of government policy and bureaucratic failures, not the climate.