South West communities will be at a higher risk of bushfire next summer amid revelations this year’s prescribed burning program has suffered due to McGowan Government budget cuts.
Questions by The Nationals WA in State Parliament last week revealed the Royalties for Regions-funded Enhanced Prescribed Burning Program has been cut by $2.1 million in 2018-19.
The reduced funding has led to just over 95,000 hectares of forest being burnt in the nine months since 1 July 2018 – setting up the worst annual result for prescribed burning in Western Australia since 2013/14.
It comes as uncertainty around the future of the program grows, with the Environment Minister Stephen Dawson refusing to say whether the Government will recommit funds when the existing pool runs out on June 30.
Member for Warren Blackwood Terry Redman said the funding cut had clearly impacted the number of hectares burnt this year, and that fuel loads would be dangerously high coming into next summer.
“Ripping more than $2 million out of an essential program that reduces the risk of extreme bushfires to regional communities is an appalling outcome,” Mr Redman said.
“While the McGowan Labor Government has been talking up its support for prescribed burning, these figures show they have their foot on the funding hose and have blatant disregard for the safety of South West communities.”
In an answer provided to Parliament last week, Mr Dawson said the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions would “seek approval from Treasury for a one-off reallocation of internal funding to (the enhanced prescribed burning program) if required”.
Mr Redman said any regional program requiring funding over and above what’s been allocated in the Budget has historically been given short shrift by the current Treasurer.
“I have no faith in the Treasurer parting ways with the extra cash necessary to carry out the required prescribed burns,” Mr Redman said.
“Once again, community safety in the regions is being compromised to retain every available dollar for Labor’s Metronet project.”
The Nationals WA – led by Mr Redman – have started a petition calling on the McGowan Government to ensure the Enhanced Prescribed Burning program continues beyond June 2019.
“We need sensible and responsible solutions to mitigate fire risk,” Mr Redman said.
“Regrettably the McGowan Government is daring to play with fire, a move which could have tragic consequences.”