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Adjournment - Response to Recommendations on Bushfires

21 March 2019

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, this 
morning in parliament in response to a Dorothy Dix question from the 
member for Lyons, Mr Shelton, we had some information come out of the part-
time Parks minister and Premier, Mr Hodgman. This of course is almost 
three months after the fires first started in Gell River in the south-west, 
but as a result of those thousands of dry lightning strikes that struck 
this state in the summer months which we all know, although the Premier 
could not bring himself to say it this morning, are a consequence of 
accelerating climate change. What we learned from the Premier this 
morning is that about 95 000 hectares or around 6 per cent of the 
Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area has been burned.

We know, according to the part-time Parks minister, that approximately 
42 600 hectares or 3.4 per cent of other reserves managed by the Parks and 
Wildlife Service has also been burned. The Premier says that early 
analysis indicates that around 84 per cent of the vegetation within the 
fire boundaries of the TWWHA is fire-adapted and we know that means a 
substantial percentage of the vegetation inside the TWWHA is not fire-
adapted because it is King Billy or Huon or pencil pine, or rainforest 
which, of course, does not respond well at all to bushfire.

I want to take the opportunity on the adjournment tonight to lay out some 
of the recommendations that have been put to Government to respond more 
effectively to bushfires in the future, recommendations that have not been 
adopted by government and I think this needs to be laid on the record.

The Tasmania Fire Service union and authors Simon Pilkington and Alex Dean 
presented to Government an excellent and cost-neutral proposal for a more 
effective and rapid response, particularly to remote area fires. The 
recommendations put forward by the union include investing in initial 
attack and sustained attack by establishing four personnel at a career 
station who are part of the on-shift numbers with go bags and pagers who 
are ready to respond quickly to any wildfire using on-ground vehicles or 
aircraft as required. Increased training for fire fighters over and above 
the current standardised training, including aerial firefighting skills 
such as hover entry and exit, helipad construction and sling loading, as 
well as remote skills such as line locater, remote first aid and tree 
felling. A wildfire-ready doctrine that embeds initial attack and 
sustained attack into firefighting practices and to establish a tripartite 
10-year fire walled budget for firefighting resources.

That is something every member in the House would support. After the 
devastating January 2016 bushfires, which caused profound scars in our 
wilderness, the Government commissioned Dr Tony Press, who at that time 
was at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, 
to undertake a study which is titled 'Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage 
Area Bushfire and Climate Change Research Project', a research project to 
investigate the impact of climate change on bushfire risks for Tasmania's 
wilderness area and appropriate management and firefighting responses. Of 
Dr Press' recommendations in 2016 these are the ones that have not been 
fully supported by government and we believe these are the ones that go to 
the nub of our response in future to climate related extreme bushfire 
events.

Dr Press says,

Keep abreast of and incorporate into preparedness and response planning 
emerging technologies for predicting and detecting lightning strikes and 
ignitions.

It is clear that we do not have the technological tools at our fingertips 
that we need as Tasmanians who love this beautiful place.

Dr Press recommends:

That there be investment in infrastructure, which includes identification 
and evaluation of options for installing new automatic weather stations in 
the TWWHA and nearby areas to improve weather and data records for the 
region; 

That there be remote area sensors for monitoring local rainfall and soil 
moisture and early detection facilities such as fire watch installations; 

That firefighting equipment be available to fire agencies in different 
regions of Tasmania;

That is remote firefighting equipment obviously. 

That there be improved communication facilities, to enable better 
communications between agencies and for remote firefighting teams; and 

An investment in facilities and equipment to enhance aerial firefighting 
efforts.

We know that the Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmanian Fire Service and 
Forestry Tasmania fire fighters had at their disposal some of the aerial 
equipment that is required, but clearly not enough. 

Dr Press goes on to say that there needs to be a regular review of 
operational practices, fire suppression techniques and technologies and 
techniques used in other jurisdictions and determine their efficacy for 
Tasmania including in the TWWHA. Particular attention should be paid to 
early intervention techniques and technologies such as early detection and 
rapid attack and continuing to investigate methods and equipment for 
extinguished ground, that is organic soil fires, through things like spike 
and pump combinations. Finally, the only supported in-part recommendation 
by Government that Dr Press made was that the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife 
Service and other fire agencies should establish protocols for rapid 
assessment of the impacts of major bushfires in the TWWHA and resourcing 
of immediate priorities for recovery action.

We want the state of Tasmania and the Government of Tasmania to get it 
right and we are prepared to work constructively to make sure we do not 
have another fire season like the last one.