Permits will be issued

March 08, 2017

Ablaze: A controlled agricultural burnoff in stubble at a property near Koonoomoo recently.

The issue of burn-off permits has once again surfaced at Moira Shire Council.

But this time, council is planning to move forward and allow permits to be issued.

Last year in a controversial decision, council resolved not to issue permits for burn-offs on private property in the Fire Danger Period, saying it did not want to be liable in any emergency.

Cr Peter Lawless raised the issue in general business at the February meeting, which was unanimously agreed on.

The motion reads in full: ‘‘That having considered the history of permits to burn under the CFA Act and the indemnity the act provides for council and the municipal fire prevention officer, Moira Shire Council’s position be that it is willing to accept the risks associated with grass and stubble burning as generally applies throughout Victoria and acknowledges the CFA’s expertise in providing advice as to when permits can be safely issued’’.

Cr Lawless said council had a good 12 months to think about the issue and look at some legal advice.

‘‘The fact that there are no other councils in Victoria that have looked at the issue but that haven’t taken the tack that we have ... there was a lot of emphasis in that legal advice of acting in good faith.’’

He said the legal documents might not seem all that detailed ‘‘but the legal requirements behind that piece of paper are fairly stringent and I think there has been a bit of comment made about we don’t want to put ourselves at risk on some of those extreme days by issuing permits, but the permits clearly do not put you in that time frame’’.

Cr Lawless said council needed to ‘‘be in the space’’ in regards to the issue.

‘‘The way we’ve been the last 12 months, we’ve had little input into the fire burning issue and I think we need to be in that space as a council so that we can put our special restrictions on those permits,’’ he said.

‘‘If you’re burning around a sensitive crop, certainly around the west of the shire where there’s grape vines, that we can actually put that on permits that they cannot burn if there’s a likelihood of smoke or anything entering those areas.

‘‘We don’t want to put this vital tool at risk.’’

Cr Lawless said the motion was also in part to repair relationships with the CFA and people affected by the issue.

‘‘We’re going to be asking rural people to accept some pretty tough decisions with rate capping and we need every person on side that we can,’’ he said.

‘‘We want to be seen as a council that is positive and progressive and I think this is the crux of the motion: let’s just get it out of the way and get on with life.”

Cr Kevin Bourke seconded the motion, saying crop burning was a vital tool for farmers.

‘‘The onus comes very much back on the landholder, or whoever has the match in hand,’’ he said.

‘‘In good faith: the other side of the coin is to act in a reckless manner, now that I believe is the crux of the matter.

‘‘Unless it can be demonstrated you’re acting in a reckless manner, well then it’s in good faith with the available knowledge and in consultation with other parties; I agree with Cr Lawless, we’ve got to get ourselves back on track.’’

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