Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I move -
That the House -
(1) Acknowledges the bushfire season has started early and ferociously in eastern Australia, with homes having already been threatened in Tasmania, and massive fires causing widespread devastation in New South Wales and Queensland.
(2) Understands the likelihood of ongoing bushfire emergencies in mainland Australia, meaning Tasmania may not be able to depend on the assistance of resources from interstate if we face a large event of our own.
(3) Recognises the Government was provided with nine important recommendations by an independent review conducted by AFAC after the 2018 bushfires.
(4) Calls on the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Mark Shelton, to lay before the House, by 14 November 2019 -
(a) all information related to the completed implementation of Recommendations 4 and 6 of the AFAC review; and
(b) all information related to the progress of implementing Recommendations 1, 5 and 8 of the AFAC review, along with a timeline for completion of these recommendations.
(5) Calls on the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Mark Shelton, to lay before the House detailed strategies outlining the plan and resourcing for implementing Recommendations 2, 3, 7, and 9 of the AFAC review, no later than the first sitting week of the 2020 Parliamentary session.
We call this private members' debate on today about bushfire preparation. All Tasmanians would be aware that the bushfire season has started. It has started in Tasmania and it started early and ferociously across eastern Australian states. Tasmanians are part of the groups of men and women who are fighting those fires on the mainland states, in New South Wales and Queensland. We are all thinking of them and their families in Tasmania and the role that they play protecting other people's communities and protecting other people's wild places, protecting other people's properties, their stock, their pets and everything that they hold dear in their lives. If it was not for the efforts of volunteer and paid firefighters those communities would be an even darker place than they are.
That is why we are here, because the next order of business for Tasmanians is to think about our own fire season, to think about the risks for us, for other communities and to reflect on how well we individually and as a state are prepared for what is likely over the coming months. Fire in some form of another, intense or not so intense, it will come. That is the point being made again and again by seasoned firefighters such as Greg Mullins, the former commissioner of the New South Wales Fire Service, who has brought together a cadre of seasoned firefighters from around the country. Twenty two of them spoke to the Prime Minister and to the media earlier this year after last summer's bushfires calling on governments, but particularly the federal government, to pay attention to the reality of the climate heating that is happening, the way it is changing fire behaviour and the way we need to respond to those changes.
Monday was the first day in recorded history that mainland Australia did not have a single drop of rain. It is incredible to think from the wetlands in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, yes, they are dry. South Australia is a dry place but the Northern Territory, Queensland, far north Queensland, the whole of New South Wales, the whole of Victoria and the whole of the ACT, each one of those states and territories did not have a single drop of rain. It was the first time in Sydney, only a few days ago, that a catastrophic fire risk was reported to people. There are four other major shires in New South Wales still suffering catastrophic fire conditions.
We have an unprecedented number of fires burning across New South Wales and Queensland, burning in areas that have not burned in living memory, such as rainforests and swamps, places that people have never known fire. They are utterly unprepared for responding to fires. The fact there are fires even though we are not in a so-called fire season yet in Australia is because of climate heating. Across mainland Australia we are enduring the worst drought in human memory. Meteorologists and drought experts say it is worse than the millennium drought that started at the end of the last century.
We have higher temperatures and the evaporation that is being driven by those higher temperatures is making bush and grasslands even dryer than before. Fires now start more easily, they spread more quickly and they are reported as spotting twice as far ahead as before. A fire expert from California speaking at UTAS talked about the unpredictability of fire, travelling in directions it has never done, spotting and throwing enormous balls of fire in ways that have never been seen before.
Greg Mullins wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald two days ago in which he talks about unprecedented fire behaviour and reflects on what unprecedented means in the context of fire and climate heating. He said we have -
Unprecedented dryness, reductions in long-term rainfall, low humidity, high temperatures, wind velocities, fire danger indices that are unprecedented, fire spread and ferocity unprecedented, and pyro-convective fires, where fire storms make their own weather. The early starts and late finishes to bushfire seasons are all being driven by the long-term warming of the climate.
More appropriately, we talk about the heating of the climate. Warming is too soft and benign a term for what is happening on the planet.
This is happening with just 1.1 degrees Celsius of additional average global temperature. We are trying desperately to keep the planet to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above the long-term average and here we are at 1.1 degrees Celsius. Every single year Australia has been increasing its carbon emissions. Every single year federal politicians from the Labor and Liberal parties keep accepting donations from the coal and gas industry, keep voting against the sorts of climate mitigation and climate emission reduction strategies that we must take, not only to make our contribution to reducing emissions for the whole planet but to protect our lives, to protect our properties, to protect our wilderness from the heating climate. We are contributing to that. We, as a country, have a disproportionately massive contribution of coal and gas that we are exporting to be burnt. We are on just one planet. Whether it is on somebody else's patch of land on the other sides of the sea makes absolutely no difference to us when we are standing in Hobart fighting a fire. When we have climate-driven and climate-heated fires they are coming from a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
The planet is struggling to keep to the 2015 Paris Agreement. On the current rate of planetary and especially Australian emissions, we are looking to a 3 degree Celsius minimum increase in temperatures unless we make an active change. This is exactly why we have to talk about the link between bushfires and climate heating. We have to do it all the time, not just during a fire or before a fire. That is the reality of the world that we live in. We are having this debate today because unless we change the way that we think and the way that we respond we cannot hope to be equipped for the sorts of conditions that we will confront.
Glen Innes mayor, Carol Sparks, and MidCoast mayor, Claire Pontin, have both lambasted federal politicians for saying that they should not talk about climate change. They have both linked the disasters in their communities that they have experienced over the last week to climate change while their regions are dealing with devastating bushfires. Ms Sparks said that it is not a political thing, it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change. Carol Duncan tweeted -
This is my father's home being destroyed by New South Wales' fires a few weeks ago, just one of 64 in this fire alone. Two of his friends were killed. My brother and his wife have today had to evacuate their home. I think now is a very good time to talk about climate change.
Hear, hear, Carol Duncan. Good on you for being brave and for reflecting on that when so many other people, Liberal members of parliament this morning, are shamefully pointing to people who live in cities and to Greens voters as somehow being responsible for the situation. That is utter nonsense. The mayors from New South Wales and the experiences we have had in Tasmania and across the world now show that fuel reduction burns are not and cannot ever be enough to confront the sorts of fires that we are experiencing now - and we will experience far more of them in the future.
The warmer and drier conditions and the start of the dangerous fire season is narrowing the fire hazard reduction burning period. It has been doing this for years. I had a briefing with Tasmania Fire Service in 2016 about this. They were talking about the difficulty of undertaking fuel reduction burning because of the narrowing window of appropriate time. There is only so long when it is not too hot, too dry, too windy, or too wet to burn. There is only a short amount of time. As much as the Liberal members of parliament might like to deny the reality of this, that is the truth. They can keep talking about things that might have happened in the past, but the fact is, you cannot burn everything. As Mayor Sparks said, they burned twice in the last 18 months around their area, actively reducing fuel. Nonetheless, those areas still burned because of the nature of fire, the spotting of fire, and the intensity that builds up in bushland areas.
Thanks to the very active, caring and compassionate work of staff at the Hobart City Council for their strong leadership in this area. It is important to have that council and staff at the council being leaders in this space. This is what we expect to be hearing from the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management. He should be acknowledging that the fire season has never really left Hobart. He should be acknowledging that fuel reduction is not and cannot be enough. As John Fisher, the council's bushland manager, said -
Moisture levels in the forests surrounding Hobart have not reset to normal levels, which has resulted in conditions in Hobart similar to those faced before Tasmania's devastating 1967 bushfire.
He said -
It was dry throughout winter. We have had a bit of rain in August and September that is allowing us to carry out hazard reduction burns but conditions have been barely suitable for the sort of low intensity fuel reduction burns we carry out in Hobart's forests woodlands and grasslands.
Despite intention, it is simply not possible to do that work, not to the level that we need. It is convenient to blame the Greens for the Government's inability to keep up with fuel reduction burning but the fact is that it is going to continue to get harder and it is not helped by cuts to Parks. This Government is totally culpable for cutting the guts out of the Parks service, for failing to fund them so they can do the fuel reduction burns and be able to have trained staff to go into wilderness areas.
Ms O'Connor - True. Same in New South Wales. Cut by one-third.
Dr WOODRUFF - This is true. New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service has been cut by one-third. Great - all those massive bushland areas are burning in New South Wales. You cannot do fuel reduction burns in a rainforest, yet we have the areas around Nimbin, Falls, rainforests that have never burned before. You do not do fuel reduction burns in rainforests. We have to understand that the climate is heating and we need a whole different way of approaching bushfire preparation and management.
It is distressing and disgusting to see Liberal and Labor members in federal parliament pointing the finger elsewhere and denying the reality of climate change. Last summer's fires in Tasmania were the second largest only to 1967. They burned 6 per cent of the World Heritage Area and 14 per cent of our Tasmanian tall forests were burned. It was fortunate that communities in the Huon Valley, Central Highlands and in the north-west were not more affected. It was the amazing work of the TFS and Parks, paid and volunteer firefighters and incredible organisation that managed to prevent worse damage.
The findings of the AFAC Report undertaken after that and delivered in June made it very clear that the crews were not properly resourced and that they were without aircraft available to identify hotspots. That was one of the reasons that the fire got as big and went as far as it did. That is the truth. That was the finding. This Government's failure to comprehend the relation between bushlands, between the requirement for remote area firefighting, between the ability to have rapid attack in remote areas and the will to care about wilderness, not only for its intrinsic value but for the potential threat from fires that start in wilderness areas are not adequately responded to.
This minister and the Government have a dinosaur-like and deeply concerning response to the threat that it has beyond those areas that. We continually hear the Premier and the minister talking about their priorities being lives and property.
Ms O'Connor - Never mention wilderness.
Dr WOODRUFF - They do not mention wilderness. That is an appalling statement about their lack of understanding of the extraordinary values for wilderness areas that have been here since Gondwanaland, which nowhere else on this planet has. Their incompetence and inability to recognise the threat and not appropriately responding to the threat those areas could have, do have, have had on communities outside those areas is a scandal.
The minister's response was that he would only accept the nine recommendations from the AFAC Review in principle. Since then we have been asking for what response he is actually going to make to those recommendations and what money he has put into it. No money was put into the Budget for this financial year to respond to the AFAC Review recommendations, despite the fact they knew they were coming. They knew that resourcing would have to change yet this Liberal Government put nothing into the Budget.
We have also had no response at all, about which of their recommendations have been implemented and what the time frames were. We wrote to the minister on 31 October, two weeks ago now. We have not had a response to our letter. We asked for a detailed response to each of the recommendations, what particular reports had been initiated and how the Government was responding in resources, timing and priority, preparing us for this coming summer. Nothing - radio silence.
Since then we have been able to glean - the minister is obviously feeling the pressure - that two of the nine recommendations have been completed - apparently. We can only take their word for it; we have no evidence, only their say-so, and given the minister's track record, I do not trust anything he says until I see something on paper because it is clear he is not being honest with Tasmanians about what money is being spent, otherwise he would let us know.
So two of the nine recommendations have been done and seven have not. Of the seven, two more apparently are going to be done soon - that is good because we are in the fire season - and another four of them have been pushed off into the never-never - 'We will do that later'. Let us come to some of those later ones. They relate to, guess what, remote air firefighting and rapid attack, because why would they prioritise something that has anything to do with bushland and wilderness? Why would they have anything to do with a recommendation that has resourcing attached to it?
The AFAC independent review's second recommendation was that:
The TFS should pursue the creation of a cadre of volunteer remote area firefighters. In doing so, the TFS should not consider itself limited to upskilling of current volunteer brigade members but should carry out a cost-benefit analysis of creating one or more remote area firefighting units based in urban areas in order to tap into the potential of those members of the urban-based Tasmanian community who may have advanced knowledge and skills relating to navigation and survival in wilderness areas.
That sounds very familiar if you read the Tony Press review of the massive 2016 bushfires, which made essentially the same recommendation, and although the minister and the Government might like to pretend they have not had time since June to attend to an AFAC recommendation, the same thing was recommended in 2016. They have had three and a half years where this Treasurer has come into this House and crowed about the fact he has the budget back into the black and he has not attended to resourcing for bushfire preparation in remote areas. He has not done it.
The AFAC recommendation number 12 was that:
A full review be undertaken of the benefits and costs of training a cadre of Tasmanian volunteer firefighters in remote area firefighting, with reference to the experience of jurisdictions interstate that already do so.
I remind you that was three and a half years ago. That was the AFAC recommendation from 2016 and there was also the Tony Press recommendation from 2016 that was essentially the same in it also looked at the use of volunteers in supporting fire management activities, including the potential to use trained remote area volunteer fire crews.
The Greens were contacted by many good Tasmanians last summer while the bushfires were burning. So many people said, 'We want to help, we want to volunteer. We are skilled, we are experienced bushwalkers, we are fit, we are active', and there is no way under this Liberal Government that they will resource the creation of volunteer remote area firefighters. They have had that recommendation from two reviews from 2016 and again from this year, and they still have not investigated volunteer remote area firefighting.
The recommendation from this year was harder than the review. It said that the Government should create a cadre of volunteer remote area firefighters because they say people in urban-based Tasmanian communities may have advanced knowledge and skills relating to navigation and survival in wilderness areas. What a missed resource. Other states are doing this. Other states have those people with skills on the ground. We will never have enough skills and enough resources but how can we not use what is sitting there? It is a disgrace. People want to get involved and this Government repeatedly fails to put the resourcing aside. That is what is underneath it. What is underneath it is a failure to put the money in, and the only conclusion I can come to is because they do not actually believe that climate change is happening. I believe there is a deep level of climate heating denialism in Government that is holding back any change in the way that we do business. It is business as usual for this minister, and business as usual in a bumbling, incompetent, totally opaque manner. It is not good enough.
He has time to turn this around. He can do something about it now. He can fully open up what is happening. He can be really honest instead of reading prepared scripts in question time about how many people are available in the south as remote area crew. He did not reveal that bit of information this morning. He said something about 1 December - well, how many? For three and a half years this Government was meant to be expanding remote area firefighters. Not only have they not done that but now we find out that there are even less than there were last year because they have not prioritised training them. They have not prioritised making sure that they have the skills and ability they need. Let us not forget that remote area firefighting is not easy.
Mr Shelton - Let us not forget who shut down the forest industry and had dozens of firefighters having to shift out of the state.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Mr Shelton, through the Chair.
Dr WOODRUFF - These are not people who work with water from fire tankers. Remote area firefighters have to clear the earth, they have to make breaks and walk the kilometres from drop-off points. They have to work in steep terrain. They have to be transported by helicopter and they have to be fit. This is a lot of work and that is exactly why the Government should have been getting on with it. Other states are mobilising the Army.
Mr Tucker - Forestry workers were all well trained and you just flogged them off. You closed it down.
Madam SPEAKER - Excuse me, Mr Tucker.
Dr WOODRUFF - We cannot even get this minister to mobilise his own staff to be fit and ready for business. They are ready in their minds, they are ready in their will, but they are not being given the training and equipment that they need by this Government. This Government is not prioritising it.
We will not be cowed from speaking the truth about the extreme situation we are facing. We are in company with many seasoned firefighters such as Greg Mullins, with 47 years firefighting experience, and Mike Brown, previous Tasmanian fire commissioner. Like every other person I have spoken to who stands behind a hose, we are in their company. We walk with them and stand with them against a bunch of climate sceptics who are refusing to prioritise the sort of change we need to have in Tasmania, with the rest of Australia, to confront totally different fire regimes.
There are no easy answers here, but there are plenty of people in Tasmania, some of the best experts in the world, such as Professor David Bowman from the Fire Ecology Unit at UTAS. We have extraordinary expertise, we have great will, we have amazing local councils with mayors who totally get the risk and understand that their communities want leadership and very clear directions on how to prepare themselves. We have the Tasmania Fire Service volunteers who are going out into communities every weekend, every day, in contact with people in the communities. They are doing an amazing job. I had the pleasure of meeting some of them down at the Tasman Peninsula a few weeks ago. They have extraordinary expertise. I felt more confident about responding to fire in a personal situation, more prepared, after speaking to those people. They live it, but they do not live in a state where their government is working with them to help them do everything possible to prepare for the upcoming fire season and the ones in the future, which in all likelihood will be more extreme than the one we are in now.
To conclude, because I know other members will be wanting to say some useful things in contribution, we asked the same thing two weeks ago. The minister has not responded to my letter, which is impolite. I can understand you might not open these things up to the community -
Mr Shelton - You sent it last week.
Dr WOODRUFF - No, I sent it two weeks ago. To not even say that you are preparing a response is inappropriate given that we are in a bushfire season. We are calling on the minister to provide detailed plans for the resourcing and implementation of the recommendations from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council review, the Tony Press review from 2016 and the AFAC review 2016.
Ms O'Connor - And 2019.
Dr WOODRUFF - There was one from 2016 as well, but essentially from 2019 AFAC and the 2016 Tony Press review. Both have substantial outstanding recommendations. Tasmanians need to know the time frame, not just for the long-term, as the Premier has said, but the time frame for acting on those recommendations. They were clear. We do not want to waste peoples' time doing independent reviews of these bushfire events without taking them seriously. That is the job of the minister. I hope he lays before the House today the response to our questions, because Tasmanians are waiting to hear them.
Mr SHELTON (Lyons - Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management) - Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to this motion. I would like to move an amendment to the motion as distributed.
The Government's amendment is to leave out paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 5 and replace them with the paragraphs -
2. Confirms the strong support of the Tasmanian people for those affected by the fires and praise the efforts of Tasmanian firefighters in New South Wales and Queensland who are helping their mainland colleagues to defend life and property.
3. Again recognises the Government has accepted in principle the recommendations by the independent review conducted by AFAC after last season's bushfires.
4. Note that no Green members of parliament attended a briefing on the season's outlook and preparation as provided by the chief fire officer for members of parliament.
5. Acknowledge the advice provided to the House that the AFAC short-term recommendations 4 and 6 are completed and that the remaining short-term recommendations, being 1, 5 and 8 will be completed by the end of November. Further that medium and long-term recommendations of 2, 3, 7 and 9 are being progressed by the dedicated project manager in the Tasmanian Fire Service.
Regarding the issues raised by the member who just resumed her seat around the Tasmanian Fire Service and particularly the volunteers, I place on record that there is no one in this place more connected to volunteer firefighting service than me. My father was the inaugural fire chief of the Bracknell Fire Brigade. My wife and I have been members of the Bracknell Rural Fire Brigade; my two sons are now involved in the Bracknell Rural Fire Brigade, and are second officer and third officer. I understand fully the issues around Tasmania Fire Service and the volunteer brigade.
Now, to the motion and the amendments. As the Prime Minister has said, there needs to be an end to the shouting. The Tasmania Fire Service has said on numerous occasions, and I have also said on numerous occasions, it is normal for there to be bushfires at this time of the year. Spring bushfires are normal in Tasmania.
We note the strong backlash nationally against the Greens for making it so hard to reduce fuel reduction loads and then preaching about politics while the fires are still burning. That is terrible behaviour made all the more galling by its hypocrisy. The Greens have been called out by firies on the ground and by farmers and by people in the country areas. Noone is denying climate change as an issue but now is not the time for the Greens' armchair critics to be playing politics. It is disgraceful. That is because the Greens are the definition of hypocrisy on fires and preparation. They are the definition of hypocrisy on energy and climate change. Even the leader of the Labor Party federally, Anthony Albanese, has said that now is not the appropriate time for politicking.
Ms O'Connor - Because both parties take millions from fossil fuel companies. You are complicit.
Mr SHELTON - We will always back our magnificent firefighters over those opposite. Rather than seeking to politicise fires and scaremongering, Labor and the Greens should be joining with the Government to support our fire agency experts and the work they do -
Ms O'Connor - Like the 22 former fire chiefs who could not get a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.
Mr SHELTON - This is another dirty political stunt while fires are burning interstate where lives have been lost and I am calling them out.
Our focus will always be on protecting lives, communities and properties. It is just a little frustrating that in the context of climate change, rather than adapting the Greens and their Labor partners spent decades locking up our natural wildfire forests, arguing against fuel reduction in our state, which is one of the most fire-prone in the world, arguing against sustainability -
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker, I asked the minister to withdraw that last statement. He has just misled the House. The Greens have never had a policy not to support strategic fuel-reduction burning. Never in our history. He is lying and I ask you to ask him to withdraw it.
Madam SPEAKER - We do not like the word 'lying' in this House but I ask the minister to be sure of his facts.
Ms O'CONNOR - On the point of order, Madam Speaker, as a minister of the Crown, allegedly trustee and beloved by the governor, he is bound to tell the truth in this place and he has just laid a complete falsehood on the public record. I ask him to withdraw it immediately.
Madam SPEAKER - It is not a point of order.
Ms O'Connor - He has accused us of something that is untrue.
Mr SHELTON - If you will allow me to explain, I will keep going. It is a little frustrating that in the context of climate change, rather than adapting, the Greens and their Labor partners spent decades locking up our natural wildfire forests, arguing against fuel reduction in our state which is one of the most fire-prone in the world. Arguing against sustainable harvesting of timber and regrowth forest while gutting the forest management capacity. Now they turn around when there are fires and say, 'We told you so'.
Well, we told you not to lock up every tree and bit of land in Tasmania. We told you not to shut down sustainable forestry and we told you not to shed jobs and trash years of forest management knowledge and skills.
Ms O'Connor - This is about you and this year's bushfire season.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor, please.
Mr SHELTON - We told you that the fuel loads needed to be reduced and not added to. You were told by several scathing reviews that fuel loads needed to be reduced. What did Labor and the Greens do? Worse than nothing. They kept locking up land. Now you hypocritically accuse the Hodgman Liberal Government of not acting and preparing. We did act and we are continuing to act and prepare. It took this Government to take climate change and fuel reduction seriously. We called for it in opposition and we have implemented it in Government. I know it makes you feel uncomfortable that we were capable, in opposition, of having a policy position, while you seemed to really struggle with how to decide a position to stick to.
It took this Government to fund and implement our nation-leading fuel reduction program and encourage private landowners to burn more. It took this Government to commit at the last election, at which, I might add, we were resoundingly re-elected with 50.5 per cent of the statewide primary vote, to developing the remote area firefighting after Labor and the Greens together did nothing.
It is at least reassuring that you have both adopted our policy. As we know, Labor could not even bother to prepare a budget, so we will not be lectured by you who have done more to add to the risk of the impact of climate change than any other party.
Mr SHELTON - The Greens do not get to scoff. Your godfather of coal, Dr Bob Brown, has a track record on promoting coal at the expense of renewables and even he cannot deny that.
Ms O'Connor - You should be embarrassed.
Mr SHELTON - Do you deny that?
Ms O'Connor - That was 1976.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, through the Chair.
Mr SHELTON - The Greens were in the Labor-Greens government when the Cabinet deferred a decision on considerably expanding the burning program over five years, coordinated over multi-agencies -
Ms O'Connor - At the time, we did not have $30 million in our back pocket.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor. One more squawk and you are out the door.
Mr SHELTON - Thank you, Madam Speaker. In 2011 Cabinet deferred a decision on the minute that is on public record. It left Tasmania with no strategic fuel management plan -
Ms O'CONNOR - Madam Speaker, that is untrue. As a minister of the Crown he needs to tell the truth.
Madam SPEAKER - I ask the minister to sit down, please.
Ms O'CONNOR - The minister has just said that Tasmania had no strategic fuel reduction regime in 2011. That is untrue. There was strategic fuel reduction happening all over the state, undertaken by a number of agencies across tenures.
Madam SPEAKER - Thank you.
Ms COURTNEY - On the point of order, Madam Speaker, that is a debating point. The member can deal with that when she makes her contribution.
Madam SPEAKER - It is not a point of order.
Mr SHELTON - I will read it again. It left Tasmania with no strategic fuel management plan. By not acting back then, Labor and the Greens allowed fuel loads across Tasmania to increase. The trees and the understorey did not stop growing. Labor and the Greens allowed that to happen. Labor and the Greens allowed the fuel load risk to increase.
The briefing prepared by SFMC, the State Fire and Management Council, provided advice to Cabinet in March 2011 outlining a program by which a burning target of 5 per cent of treatable fuel on public land could be achieved through a considerably expanded program over five years, coordinated over multi-agencies. Such an expanded program also required legislative amendments to enable the restructuring of the fire management area committees. Cabinet deferred a decision on the minute. Tasmania had no strategic fuel management to address recommendation 56 or other complex issues surrounding fuel management on private land tenure.
We acted decisively upon coming to government and implemented what is now recognised as a nation-leading fuel reduction program. This is the Government that listened to the experts, unlike those opposite, and that is why we commissioned the AFAC review into last summer's bushfires.
Dr Woodruff - And you're doing nothing about the recommendations. You've only implemented two of them.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Dr Woodruff.
Mr SHELTON - All the recommendations of the AFAC review were accepted by the Government in principle. Short-term recommendations 4 and 6 are completed. It is that simple. The remaining short-term recommendations 1, 5 and 8 will be completed by the end of November 2019. The medium and long-term recommendations 2, 3, 7 and 9 are just that and the TFS has a dedicated project manager working on their delivery.
I began calling for an increase in fuel reduction burnings in 2010 when I first came to this place. The fact is those opposite never did enough when they were in government and allowed the fuel loads to get dangerously out of control. We had the premier of the day, Lara Giddings, rejecting the recommendation of the royal commission into the devastating 2009 Victorian bushfires which was to undertake major fuel reduction burns. Then what happened? An horrendous 2013 fire season that saw a massive loss of property at Dunalley. The Greens, of course, were only interested in telling us that they were not to blame in posts on social media during the height of the bushfire in January 2013. Then on 9 April 2013 the Greens called for the end of fuel reduction burns, not three months after the devastating bushfire season, and I quote the Greens:
The Tasmanian Greens today condemned the start of the annual forestry high-intensive burning-off regime.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker. The minister is being misleading again. He is conflating forestry burns that happen after a place has been clear-felled and logged, an alleged regeneration burn, with a program of backburning or strategic fuel reduction burning. He is misleading the House repeatedly. I ask you to pull him into line. It is a lie.
Ms COURTNEY - On that point of order, Madam Speaker, I think you know what I am going to say. That is simply a debating point and if the member wants to move a substantive motion she can in other business.
Madam SPEAKER - That is not upheld and I ask the minister to continue.
Mr SHELTON - Thank you, Madam Speaker. Obviously the Greens do not like it. The Greens have been in this space ever since I have been in this place. I understand why the Greens do not like it and they use points of order to constantly interrupt people.
Ms O'Connor - To try to get you to tell the truth.
Madam SPEAKER - Excuse me, Ms O'Connor, do not bite.
Mr SHELTON - I repeat, the Greens condemned the start of the annual forestry high-intensive burn regime only three months after the devastating Dunalley fires. The Greens then said:
Once again, Tasmania's beautiful autumn days are blighted by the dense smoke plumes blocking out the sun and choking our air.
The Liberals, as I have said, promised and have delivered more fuel reduction burns. What those opposite actually did was massively reduce the number of burns undertaken by Parks and Wildlife. DPIPWE's annual report for 2011-12 showed a 94 per cent reduction in fuel reduction burns undertaken. We have implemented the recommendations of the Hyde review when Labor and the Greens could not be bothered. They had six months to implement the Hyde review recommendations and today we had the former failed minister, Mr O'Byrne, coming into this place to weasel his way out of his responsibility to act. The Greens and Labor had multiple fire reviews telling them what needed to be done and what happened? Nothing. No fuel reduction program, no additional funding.
It has taken the majority Hodgman Liberal Government to develop policies to keep Tasmanians safe from the risk of catastrophic bushfires. We asked the Tasmanian people in 2014 if they preferred a policy committed to fuel reduction or a Labor-Greens approach of locking up land and letting fuel loads spiral out of control. The Tasmanian people spoke loud and clear and they spoke loud and clear again in 2018. They did not and do not want to be abandoned to the Labor and the Greens government opposed to fuel reduction. Farmers want to be able to manage their land without being strangled by red and green tape. Areas around cities and towns need more fuel reduction and clearing, not less.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, Ms Butler, Mr Tucker.
Mr SHELTON - It is tenure blind. It is based on science. There is no greater danger to Tasmanians in relationship to fire than a Labor-Greens government. I want to talk about the hypocrisy of Labor and the Greens.
Madam SPEAKER - Order, please have some respect._____________________________________
Recognition of Visitors
Madam SPEAKER - Honourable members, I would like to introduce you to grade 5 and 6 students from the Romaine Park Primary School whom I hope behave better than we do. Welcome to parliament. I remind the honourable members to be honourable._____________________________________
Mr SHELTON - We are the nation's renewable energy state. Under our Government we are generating around 25 per cent of the nation's renewable power. We are on track to be 100 per cent self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2022. We were the first state in the country to have zero net emissions. We did that in 2016. Tasmania has the lowest per capital emissions of all states and territories and is one of the lowest emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet.
The Greens have opposed new wind farms and new dams since their inception. We know there is always more to be done. That is why we are aiming to be 100 per cent renewable in terms of electricity generation by 2022. No other state will get close to this. We are well ahead of the 2050 target of zero net emissions. We are also investing significant funds to support the rest of the country to move to a renewable energy future, including $30 million for the first stage of the Battery of the Nation and, with the federal government, $56 million to move the Marinus link forward. So there it is. Whether they like it or not, that is the record and they are the facts.
Ms BUTLER (Lyons) - Madam Speaker, I start by paying homage to the Tasmanian firefighters currently in New South Wales and Queensland who are making a difference. On Sunday morning the Bridgewater fire brigade sent four volunteer firefighters to fight the fires in New South Wales. They joined 30 other TFS volunteers and personnel on a rapid seven-day deployment to assist firefighting efforts in New South Wales.
I thank the member for Franklin, Dr Woodruff, for bringing on this Notice of Motion today. It is only mid-November and already across Australia we are facing catastrophic bushfires. We have already had significant bushfires here, right at the start of November. This is a very dangerous season which is coming. We know that the 2018-19 summer bushfires were the second-largest bushfire event in Tasmania's history only behind the catastrophic events of 1967.
I note that I have only been given six minutes to speak and I had to listen to that minister waffle on with a heap of political nonsense instead of actually dealing with the facts and figures. These are very serious issues. These are people's lives. You would know from being involved in firefighting. I have been in a fire myself. It is one of the most frightening experiences in my life. I cannot believe that we are doing 'Labor this', 'Greens this' when this is such an important issue. You should know better, minister.
Mr Shelton - It is not our motion. The Greens are the ones playing politics.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. Minister, you are above this.
The bushfire occurred during this state's second-warmest summer on record resulting in drier fuel loads. The three main fires were started by lightning strikes. The fires burned through 210 000 hectares and put communities such as those south of Huonville and the Central Highlands at risk for weeks between December 2018 and March this year.
The AFAC Review of the management of bushfires during the 2018-19 fire season commended Tasmanian fire agencies for protecting human life and property but highlighted the significant damage done to the Wilderness World Heritage Area. Approximately 14 per cent of Tasmania's very tall forests were burned. The report raised the lack of smartphone apps in Tasmania, like the Victorian Emergency app in Victoria or Fires in New South Wales, which allowed community members to easily access information on their mobile devices. Can the minister confirm whether this app is complete yet? Is it ready to be rolled out across Tasmania now?
The report recommended the Tasmania Fire Service pursue the creation of a team of local volunteer remote area firefighters and that the TFS, Parks and Wildlife Services and Sustainable Timber Tasmania initiate a discussion with their Australasian peers about good practice in managing new fire starts in remote terrain. It was recommended that TFS begin a policy review to identify which agency was responsible for planning, carrying out and enforcing fuel management on private property at a township level and that Tasmania's fire agencies work to pursue a statewide fuel management and burning program.
The report reveals 12 workers compensation claims were made by the Tasmanian Fire Service following the fires and a further 10 by Parks and Wildlife Services. It has been suggested that the state's fire agencies review their practices in fatigue management of personnel. Has that been conducted, minister? This needed to be done yesterday, if it hasn't.
It states fire legislation policy in Tasmania is overdue for an overhaul, labelling it outdated. It added that the state would be well served by a purpose-built state control centre for the management of natural hazards because the Cambridge facility was awkwardly laid out, cramped and not supportive of contemporary incident management practice. Minister, has that been looked into? Can you come back to the House with that information? That also should have been done yesterday.
The report was also critical of the $40 million spent on water bombing and surveillance aircraft, stating contracts should be negotiated in quiet times, not when aircraft are urgently required as we then have to pay tenfold for that. Minister, we would appreciate you talking to the House about those negotiations and whether you were able to get some good deals on behalf of Tasmanian taxpayers beforehand instead of at the last minute.
Recommendation 12 of the report stated -
That a full review be undertaken of the benefits and costs of training a cadre of Tasmanian volunteer firefighters in remote-area firefighting with reference to the experience of jurisdictions interstate that already do so.
We have no evidence to support this recommendation being implemented. We have seen the depletion of rural and remote firefighters due to disputes and unsafe work conditions. The technical release of these Remote Access Team Services to be deployed ready with the blessings of WorkSafe and workers themselves is the subject of much boisterous semantics, instead of an honest response about where work needs to be done or where negotiations are so that the matter can be resolved. We need to have these matters resolved. I am sick of hearing all the politics of it. Just get on and do the job. It is so important.
It seems every question asked of this Government, regardless of relevance and importance, is met with accusations of dishonesty and scaremongering. That is frightening. As I said, I have been in a fire before. I have had a ceiling of a room collapse on me. I know what that feels like. You cannot muck around with this. Stop the politics. Get on and do your job.
I have also consulted the AFAC Independent Operational Review, a review of the management of the Tasmanian fires of January 2016 and read not just the reviews, not just the executive reports but read all the submissions as well because that is where you get the truth of it. I found some very compelling information: inappropriate resourcing by the Government; lack of adequate communication between various stakeholders; an ineffective top-down approach; and training inefficiencies. That is a constant theme in 2016 and 2018-19. Plus: lack of consistency in operational approaches; inconsistent delivery of equipment; and not listening to experienced volunteer firefighters, especially landowners and farmers on how to fight fires on land that families have managed for generations without problem.
Recommendation 3 -
The Tasmanian fire agencies develop a multi-agency position to ensure that training for incident controllers includes training in how the transition from local incident control to divisional control is managed
The TFGA states in its submission to the review of the management of the bushfires in the 2018-19 fire season, the government-funded forest fire training for both the Tasmania Fire Service
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
PAIR Mr Rockliff, Ms Houston
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the motion, as amended, be agreed to - put.
The House divided -
PAIR Mr Rockliff, Ms Houston
Motion, as amended, agreed to.