Friday, February 13, 2009

Barrie Cassidy blames greens for bushfires

The harrowing tales from survivors and CFA people on the After the Firestorm: An ABC News Special" tonight were compelling viewing.

However, the host Barrie Cassidy then displayed the most appalling and offensive editorialising journalism I have ever seen the ABC broadcast.

Barrie Cassidy said "and people say the greens have too much influence, what do think Peter Attiwell?"

This was a leading question for Attiwell, who is ex Forestry faculty Melbourne Uni and has been employed by the Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) at various times. Attiwell has previously made public statements about "logging being good for forests", "forests need disturbance" and the "importance of fuel reduction burning for forest management" over recent years.

Attiwell's response to this leading question was inaccurate on several counts, and represented a pro-logging anti conservation political position.

Attiwell claimed that
  • there is far too much fuel in the forests and that is why the fires were so bad
  • The 1983 Royal Commission made 23 (?) recommendations and the government has only implemented 6, oops 7 of them
  • There hasn't been nearly enough burning, the cycle is once every 30(?) years, only a very small percentage has been fuel reduction burnt.
  • We need to burn on a cycle of every 7 years to make things safe
  • We don't need another commission, we just need proper burning. Ecological burning.
No contrary opinions to this were aired or raised.

Cassidy also failed to mention that Black Saturday was the hottest day on record in Victoria and in any Australian capital city ever, and that the three days above 43C the previous week made the entire state tinder dry. These type of extreme weather events have been linked by Professor David Karoly and the CSIRO to the effects of climate change.

I know for a fact that a lot of the forest around Marysville has been fuel reduction burnt by DSE on numerous occasions over the last 10 years. This of course made no difference to the ferocity of the fire.

There is no scientific consensus on the claimed ecological benefits of fuel reduction burning. It is actually done to reduce fuel loads, not manage ecology. Scientists have also observed that excessive burning of native forests can actually make them more prone to burning by changing the ecology of the forest from wet sclerophyll to more fire prone dry sclerophyll over time.

Much of the fires burnt on grassland, farmland, plantations and heavily "managed" and logged native forest. Around 50% of the area burnt was privately owned land.

On Cassidy's mention of "the greens", there are no elected Greens in the Murrindindi, Yea or even Nillumbik shires, and there are none in the Victorian State Parliament in these regions either. To claim that greens set policies in these regions is specious and ludicrous. Policies are set state and local governments, and enacted by DSE, the CFA and other government departments.

In addition, fuel reduction burning, conducted without species and habitat loss, is are actually supported by the Greens and organisations such as the Wilderness Society, so Cassidy is dead wrong on this too.

Barry Cassidy's conduct on this matter was biased against the Green political party and local and state conservation groups.

It was also extremely offensive and inaccurate. Opportunistic political comments by those pushing agendas are grossly insensitive to bushfire victims.

As I have stated previously, the only focus at present should be to find the deceased and help the survivors and others deeply affected. I and many of my friends (some of whom are still fighting the fires and are on the ground in affected areas) have been deeply personally affected by these bushfires and the loss of life.

Barrie Cassidy should be subject to disciplinary action and the ABC should also issue a formal retraction of his comments.

You can comment on the ABC TV program website too.


Anonymous said...

What gets me annoyed is people (the media) blaming the trees and "greeny" policy for fueling the fire. That is ridiculous. It was the combination of 100kph+ winds/ hottest day on record/ years of drought that made the fires so severe. They burnt just as badly in places like Bendigo where there were just houses and grassland. How about planting more trees in Victoria and SA to make up for the decades of clearing which has started to affect the climate? This drought started in 1997, it is not a naturally occurring event. More forests attract moisture, moisture helps with rain. The desert is basically expanding into Victoria with no trees to stop it. That's my theory anyway.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how you (Peter) know for a fact that the land around Marysville was burned the previous year (did you see it personally or is this information online somewhere?).

I agree with your sentiments but in order to counter the "not enough burning is done" argument, its important to back up one's facts so they can be verified by any doubters.

I live in an area that is (I believe) over-burned and more fire prone than it would be naturally, and it would be good to have concrete evidence to build up an accurate information base.

Peter Campbell said...

Anon#2, I have friends who live in Marysville who work for DSE who have directly participated in a lot of controlled burning in forests around the town over the last 10 years.

You would have to ask DSE or maybe check their website to find out how much controlled burning they did last year. I would expect the Bushfires Royal Commission to look at this too.