Bushfire Season Risk Management

29 October 2015

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [6.14 p.m.]: We all know that Australia is famous for its natural beauty. However, with that comes the savagery that the elements sometimes rain upon us. The electorate of Ku-ring-gai is a classic example of that. Ringed by bushland, it provides wonderful opportunities for enjoyment, but the flip side of that bushland backdrop is the danger that the annual bushfire season presents. The experts tell us that we may be facing a brutal bushfire season, with the Bureau of Meteorology advising of a strong El Nino climate pattern. This may result in a significant shift to drier conditions, and we now face the threat of increased bushfires throughout the summer.

Sydney has seen some devastating fire seasons in the past: throughout the 1950s; frequently in the 1980s; the devastating 1994 fires that made international headlines; the three weeks of blazes that flared on a hellishly hot Christmas Day in 2001; and most recently the 2012-13 summer fires that claimed hundreds of homes, most notably in the Blue Mountains, where more than 200 homes were lost. It was those 2012-13 fires that saw the introduction of what would come to be known as the "10/50 code". The 10/50 protections were designed to allow property owners to remove dangerous trees and vegetation near buildings.

Like all good legislation it was reviewed, and particularly because it became apparent that people were taking advantage of it; property owners were not utilising the provisions in the spirit in which they had been introduced. They were clearing trees and vegetation to maximise views and in some cases property values. In fact, an article published by the North Shore Times in March this year suggested that North Shore councils, including Ku-ring-gai Council, were reporting an unacceptable number of trees being felled by property owners since the introduction of the code last October. It was obvious that not all of the clearing was being done to ensure protection from bushfires.

Something needed to be done and has been done by this Government. Sensibly, the regulation was revisited by the NSW Rural Fire Service, the Department of Planning and Environment, and the Office of Environment and Heritage. The review resulted in 30 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Baird Government. In short, the 10/50 provisions maintain the reduced entitlement to remove trees and vegetation within 100 metres of high-risk buildings or areas categorised by the Rural Fire Service as containing category 1 vegetation. That encompasses 85 per cent of properties historically destroyed in a bushfire.

I have seen a map of the fire front of the 1994 summer bushfires, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the electorate of Ku-ring-gai was ringed by fires. Endangered plant and fauna species are identified on a regular basis as our technology and knowledge of our surroundings develops. Therefore it is only right and fitting that our systems offer layers of protection not only for property owners but also for our environment. Residents can check their eligibility to use the 10/50 scheme and view a copy of the report at www.rfs.nsw.qov.au/1050. They can even enter their home address to find out whether their property is covered by the 10/50 scheme.

Ku-ring-gai environmental groups should be pleased that the Baird Government has listened and responded to concerns raised about trees being removed for selfish rather than practical or safety reasons. Ku-ring-gai is home to a precious few blue gum high forest remnants found in Sydney's north and some parts of the Sydney Basin as far west as Parramatta. In fact, the Office of Environment and Heritage estimates that what remains of this critically endangered tree species is to be found across less than 200 hectares, and in its largest patch less than 20 hectares. There has been an estimated 95 per cent depletion since European settlement. All of these remaining blue gum high forest stands, some of which are found in the electorate of Ku-ring-gai, are now surrounded by urban development. Therefore it is vital that all efforts are made to retain them, and the 10/50 scheme protections will help to achieve that.

To balance the dangers that sometimes exist in our bushland surroundings, I urge everyone to do all they can to prepare their homes for this potentially volatile bushfire season. Those measures include: clean gutters of leaves and twigs or install gutter guards, and repair damaged or missing tiles on the roof; install fine metal mesh screens on windows and doors; attach a fire sprinkler system to gutters; keep lawns short and gardens well maintained; cut back trees and shrubs overhanging buildings; and clean up fallen leaves, twigs and debris around the house. It is important to have hoses long enough to reach around the house. We all know that we are fortunate to live in this beautiful State, even with the unique quirks of its elements. I urge everyone to do what they can to keep themselves and their families safe this bushfire season.