Federal Politics


We must not forget lessons of the firestorm

AS Canberra prepares to celebrate its centenary, another significant date for our city is also just a few weeks away - the 10th anniversary of the 2003 firestorm.

January 18 that year is a date that will forever be seared into the memories of those who were unfortunate enough to be in the ACT at the time. The blackness that descended on our city and turned day into night brought with it a terrible path of destruction - four lives lost, many more injured and close to 500 homes destroyed.

The 10 years that followed have been marked by much soul-searching in the community, calls for action and sometimes bitter disputes that raged through the courts and beyond.

While those who were affected will remember the terror, we must be mindful of the risk that our collective memory will fade, placing us in danger of a repeat should we fail to take the lessons learned to heart.

Canberra has a significant transient population - workers who move from interstate to take up positions in the federal bureaucracy, Defence or related businesses. Many stay less than 10 years, and the number of those who experienced the bushfires of 2003 is a pool that shrinks every year.

While the ACT government says it has learned the lessons of 2003 and implemented the recommended reforms of the McLeod report and the coronial inquest, a number of people in our rural fire-fighting, farming and land-management communities say we are not taking adequate precautions to prevent a recurrence.


In particular, those living and working in the mountains to our west raise concerns about the fuel loads in the Namadgi National Park - one of the key factors that allowed the 2003 conflagration to become so large.

With years of good rainfall, our city and the national parks that surround it are green and lush, and it is easy to forget how quickly a few weeks of hot, dry conditions can change our landscape into one less benign.

As we prepare to mark the anniversary of one of our worst days, we should take the opportunity to take stock, revisit the recommendations arising out of the disaster and compare them with our current state of readiness. And importantly, those in charge of protecting our safety must listen to the voices of concern that continue within their own ranks.

We have learned our city is vulnerable, and that there is much we need to do to protect our homes from nature's wrath. We owe it not only to those who were affected 10 years ago, but to the generations who will inherit Canberra to ensure that knowledge is passed on, acted on and not allowed to disappear.