In November 2019, as the current bushfire crisis began to gather momentum, Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce pointed his finger across the aisle of Parliament House.
“The problems we have got have been created by the Greens,” the former party leader turned backbencher told The Australian.
“We haven’t had the capacity to easily access [hazard] reduction burns because of all of the paperwork that is part of green policy.”
Watch: This is what it’s like inside a NSW RFS truck. Post continues below.
It’s a persistent argument being slung around as the disaster has unfolded; a disaster that, so far, has claimed 25 lives, thousands of homes and close to 10 million hectares of land in the eastern states.
The argument, which has largely been championed by conservative media commentators, suggests that ‘Greenie’ MPs and officials prevented hazard-reduction activity prior to the bushfire season, in an effort to protect native plants and animals. This, the commentators claim, allowed fuel loads (such as leaf litter, grasses, shrubs etc.) to build up and thereby resulted in the current fires being more severe than they would otherwise have been.
But according to experts in the field — including key scientists, former national parks bosses and fire service chiefs — it’s simply not true.
Let’s break down the argument, so you can have an effective conversation with someone who raises it.
‘The Greens got in the way of hazard-reduction burning.’
This isn’t true.
As a minor party at state and federal level, not only are the Greens not in a political position to enforce such policy, they don’t hold it in the first place. As they assert in a statement via their website: “The Australian Greens support hazard reduction burning (before bushfire season) to reduce the impact of bushfire when guided by the best scientific, ecological and emergency service expertise.”
Besides, even if the Greens had the power and inclination to step in, it wouldn’t be that simple. In NSW (the state at the core of the argument), hazard reduction activity is governed by a Bush Fire Coordinating Committee, which is chaired by the Rural Fire Service and includes farming, forestry and conservation bodies as well as representatives from relevant state and local government departments.