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Matter of Public Importance - Bushfire Preparedness
Parliamentary Activity - Thursday, 26 September 2019
Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I move -
That the House take note of the following matter: bushfire preparedness.
Last summer Tasmania suffered through massive bushfires that terrorised local communities and burnt an enormous 3 per cent of the state surface area; a whole 6 per cent of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was burnt. Homes were lost, ancient rainforest ecosystems and alpine communities were lost. King Billy pine and pencil pine forests are now gone for ever. We know that the loss would have been far greater if it had not been for the work of people on the front line, volunteers and paid. The Greens give our deepest thanks to people, volunteer and career firefighters, the SES, local communities who rallied and supported all of us who were affected by the fires, and to make sure that more people were not affected.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities review, which was undertaken and the information was provided to us from that review, the report into those bushfires in August painted an alarming picture of summers that were to come. It painted a particularly scathing picture of the Government's failure to be ready in time for last summer's bushfires. The report's authors described the Tasmanian Fire Service's state operation centre as dated and barely adequate to the task.
The report was crystal clear that the TFS needed to be able to properly accommodate and integrate the needs of partner agencies in times of crisis, those agencies being the Parks and Wildlife Service and so-called Sustainable Timbers Tasmania. It also made the point that the operations centre needed to be substantially reconfigured and expanded. The AFAC report found crews attending the Gell River fire in the south-west late last December and early January were not properly resourced, that there were no aircraft available to identify hotspots and that the frontline crews consequently withdrew too early. The report authors also identified communication issues between the Parks and Wildlife Service and Tasmania Fire Service and found that resource requests from Parks were delayed.
Since that point, we have had a new Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services who has only accepted in principle the report's nine recommendations, and has only said they will subject to the budget process, the same budget which has had cuts and efficiency dividends exacted upon it, including to each of the services I mentioned, Tasmania Fire Service and Parks and Wildlife Service. This is in the context of what is an already incredibly dry east coast which has an acknowledged high bushfire risk and it is essentially a frighteningly irresponsible response from this current Police, Fire and Emergency Services minister and the Government. We are deeply concerned there has been a lack of funding into the services they need to be as well-equipped as they can be for the coming season.
The bushfire season is not happening from December. It is not like that any longer. The bushfire season is with us now. We seem to be in a state where we always have a bushfire season. We have 80 people who are currently not available to be deployed as remote area teams because the TFS has not attended to the safety issues they needed to in time for this bushfire season. We have had eight months now since the firestorm of last summer, eight months of internal capacity building and risk assessment that ought to have been happening. Instead, that has not been done and we will have 80 fewer people available at any time a fire breaks out in a remote area in Tasmania than there were last summer. This is a really terrible situation for communities who may be threatened by bushfires in remote areas and are not getting the support they need.
It is deeply concerning that the Government fails to appreciate the increasing risk for the state. We want the minister to stop sitting on his hands on this and tell us how much money has been put into the extra capacity required by the AFAC review and who is responsible for the planning and enforcing of fuel management on private property at township levels, because that was something the review recommended the minister manage immediately. Is it the case that we now have an updated version of the inter-agency fire management protocol? Do we have practice now around managing new fire starts in remote terrain? Do we have a whole-of-state fuel management and burning program coordinating the activities of the three agencies responsible? These are some of the recommendations from the AFAC review which have only been adopted in principle, yet each of these is an essential part of our ability to be able to respond appropriately to the next fire.