Dr Kevin Tolhurst says the lessons of Black Saturday and the 1939 bushfires are not to allow commercial and tourist development of our 'flammable' national parks. He speaks with ABC Victoria's Nicole Chvastek about the science of his warnings and the potential for increasing the pressure and risk on firefighters to protect major commercial assets.
The Baillieu Government's proposal to open Victoria's national parks to commercial development has been slammed by Australia's pre-eminent academic in bushfire behavior.
Dr Kevin Tolhurst was an expert witness at the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires, and his work over the past 25 years in mapping fire threat, fire behavior and the complexities of prescribed burning have helped evolve Australia's approach to firefighting.
Following the announcement in early August that the Baillieu Government was considering opening up Victoria's national parks to 'small scale' mining, a further announcement that the State Government was considering opening up the parks to commercial tourist development has brought a stinging rebuke from Dr Kevin Tolhurst reminding the State Government of what it had learned from the Black Saturday fires.
"The issue we have with people going to national parks is that these people are often from out of town, from other countries, and they aren't really well prepared for bushfires. And so a lot of onus then goes back onto the park management to protect and defend them… going back to what Judge Stretton said in the Royal Commission after the 1939 fires is that people living in those forest environments are very at risk… by putting facilities and accomodation inside parks which are highly flammable we're making life much more difficult for ourselves and countering the recommendations of the 2009 Royal Commission…" he says.
The Baillieu government plan would include the National Parks at Wilson's Prom, Snowy River, Kinglake, Lower Goulburn, Greater Bendigo, the Grampians and the Otways.