WE MAY never know if anything could have prevented or reduced the spread of bushfires that ripped through the Tasman Peninsula this summer.
Most likely, fuel reduction burning would not have stopped the fire taking off, nor contained it, given the catastrophic conditions that day.
An inquiry into the circumstances around the fire that started at Forcett will examine the issue more closely. Faced with public criticism that a lack of burning off contributed to the disaster, the state government would prefer the issue to rest until then.
Any time the Opposition brings it up, Premier Lara Giddings' standard retort is to castigate it for political game playing.
It has worked for the last two months. But that line was inadequate to diffuse news this week that the government didn't act on advice from its three firefighting agencies two years ago to spend an extra $25 million on a strategic and co-ordinated fuel reduction burn program.
Sensing its chance to break through the standard defence, the Opposition went hard.
The Premier's response to the revelation was unconvincing. First she downplayed it as "initial preliminary advice".
The 30-page document prepared over five months was hardly a back of the envelope estimate. It contained breakdowns of the yearly spend required, a proposed operational structure of a newly established fuel reductions burn unit and considered how the Victorian post-Black Saturday approach could be adapted to better suit Tasmania.
It contained warnings that the existing level of funding for bushfire mitigation was inadequate and piecemeal and the state faced worse bushfires without a new approach.
Giddings then insisted Cabinet never rejected the proposal and it was absolutely wrong to suggest such a thing. No, they considered it and decided to put it off. Indefinitely.
Perhaps most telling, after learning Cabinet had deferred the decision, the State Fire Management Service hastily submitted an alternative request for just $400,000 for some research into the issue.
It seems it was clear to them that the massive funding boost for fuel reduction burning they thought was much-needed would not be forthcoming.
The initial reaction of many, including the Liberal Party, was to blame the Greens who have strong reservations about burn offs. There's no real evidence that that's the case.
More likely, the Premier and her Cabinet colleagues may have baulked at the cost.
The expensive recommendations were received just two months after Giddings took over as premier from David Bartlett and one month after revealing the budget was in big strife and declaring drastic cost cutting was required.
The subsequent 2011-12 budget that followed stripped almost every part of government of significant funds. It's hard to imagine how the government could have dished out an extra penny, let alone $25.7million.
That's not it either, according to Giddings. They needed more information.
And apparently still do, two years later with no completion date set for the research.
Considering the dire predictions from the SFMC, it's extraordinary that the government did not even put a deadline on the research.
It's underway was all Ms Giddings could tell us on Thursday.
That work is now likely to be overtaken by the inquiry's work.
When its findings are handed down, the government must not put it off any longer.
Rosemary Bolger is The Examiner's chief political reporter.