Politics

Junk Explained: Why Are People Trying To Blame The Greens For The Bushfires?

What's the difference between hazard reduction and backburning?

Australian bushfires, climate denial, nsw fires

What do you do when you want to distract from the fact your government — despite years of warnings — has done nothing to mitigate climate change?

You find someone else to blame.

As the bushfires rage on so have the accusations (and conspiracy theories), most sticking the boot into ‘green policies’ they believe have made fire conditions worse.

To properly fact check the claims, first you need to understand what they’re talking about.

What Is A Hazard Reduction Burn?

During a hazard reduction burn, an area is deliberately set on fire to reduce the amount of fuel that could otherwise burn during hotter and drier months.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that having extra fuel to burn makes fires worse. No one is arguing that hazard reduction isn’t effective.

It’s also very different to back burning, which is a last resort that works by setting fires from containment lines to try and manage an existing blaze. Hazard reduction burns take place outside the typical fire season and depend heavily on the right weather conditions, with careful planning to minimise the impacts of the burn.

And also, ya know, so you don’t accidentally start a raging bushfire (which has happened before).

Are Environmental Laws To Blame For The Fires?

According to the experts, it isn’t green policies that are stopping us from doing hazard reduction burns — it’s the fact that climate change is making it too dangerous to conduct these burns when it’s usually safe to.

Not to let that get in the way of another attack on the Greens, this morning Barnaby Joyce popped up on Sunrise to repeat the claims that environmental laws were to blame for blocking these strategic burns in recent months.

“There are too many caveats, let’s call them green caveats, that impede people’s capacity to fight fires,” he said.

But NSW Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons refuted this.

“I’ve got to say, the environmental clearances are not our problem,”‘ he said. “There’s no doubt that we see longer, hotter fire seasons, which correlate with shorter periods where you would typically get your safest period for burning.”

Last year former NSW fire commissioner Greg Mullins also shot the theory down while emphasising the impacts of climate change.

“Extreme drought like this, underpinned by 20 years of reduced rainfall, has meant the window for hazard reduction is very narrow now,” he said.

It’s also worth noting that the NSW RFS did do some hazard reduction burns around the Blue Mountains in May, but were forced to postpone after people complained of the smoke haze that settled over Sydney.

Maybe it’s too soon to acknowledge the irony there.

Do The Greens Hate Reduction Burns?

No.

In fact, their website states they “support hazard reduction burns and back burning to reduce the impact of wildfire when guided by the best scientific, ecological and emergency service expertise”.

Regardless, the Greens are a minor party — while they’ve held the balance of power in some states, the Liberal party has been in federal government for 18 of the last 24 years.


So if you’re looking to point fingers at a political party, maybe start there.

What Environmental Policies Are They Talking About Then?

Land clearing has been very controversial in Australia.

The Greens do support tough vegetation management laws which restrict this, and that has led to clashes with landholders — particularly in Queensland, where Australia’s most restrictive laws exist.

That’s also where an estimated 395,000 hectares of native vegetation were cleared in 2015-16 — about 1500 football fields a day.

That insane number helped WWF International identify us as a global deforestation front.

Environmental groups say vegetation laws are important to protect our remaining bushland and biodiversity, but landholders say it doesn’t allow them to put in good management strategies to maintain healthy landscapes.

“Farmers know that where management of the land is taken away from the people who understand it the most, feral pests and plants thrive, increasing the risks of wildfire, as greater fuel loads cause catastrophic burns which kill everything and set back country for decades,” AgForce General President Georgie Somerset said early last year.

Queensland’s energy minister Dr Anthony Lynham says the laws still allow people to create fire breaks, and perform routine burning.

Regardless, in New South Wales where the majority of fires have been burning, the land clearing laws are actually much more relaxed, and actually rose by 50% after the Berejiklian government announced more lenient laws in 2017.

So, if land clearing laws aren’t to blame, one glaringly obvious factor remains — and it’s the one we’ve been warned about for years.