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Bushfire Preparedness

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 17 September 2020

Tags: Bushfires, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Remote Area Firefighters

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Motion) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: bushfire preparedness.

The bushfire season is almost upon us and the experiences of the 2016 and 2018-19 bushfire seasons have been more than enough to strengthen the resolve of Tasmanians to never again enter a fire season without enormous amounts of preparation and the resourcing required to keep communities safe and to protect our incredible wilderness areas.

In 2018-19 there were 70 separate bushfires and 205 000 hectares of Tasmanian landscape was burnt. Over 40 per cent of that was in the Wilderness World Heritage Area. Incredibly, there was no loss of life at that time but it was nearly three months of on ground firefighting. It was a very destructive fire season and very exhausting for everybody who was involved in firefighting and the communities who spent months with enormous levels of smoke and supporting the volunteer and paid firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect us. It was frightening and there are important lessons that we must have learned from that period.

If that was not enough, last summer's horror fire season on the mainland of Australia is further evidence that we must change the way we prepare for bushfires in Australia. The conditions in eastern Australia last year were unprecedented but they were not unforeseen or unexpected. They were fuelled by climate change. It was the hottest and driest year ever recorded in Australia and fires burnt through two and a half times the size of the land area of Tasmania. More than a billion animals were killed. It affected nearly 80 per cent of Australians and there was the tragic loss of life of 450 people and 3000 homes destroyed. Communities were miraculously saved at the last minute by the intervention of the army and navy at Mallacoota, Batemans Bay and Malua Bay and were airlifted to safety. It was truly horrific.

The Emergency Leaders for Climate Action have been calling out since early last year. They comprise 33 of the most experienced ex-fire chiefs from state and territory jurisdictions across the country. They sought a meeting early last year to warn the Prime Minister of the conditions and to prepare the country for what was coming but they were speaking to a Prime Minister who refuses to accept the reality of climate change and he refused to listen and heed their call for preparation.

Those climate leaders held a bushfire and climate summit this year after last year's bushfires and they have told us what we need to do. We need to learn and act and be properly resourced. The Tony Press review in 2016 after the Tasmanian bushfire season and the AFAC review which was released mid last year after the 2018-19 bushfire summer in Tasmania both recommended that we have to increase our firefighting capacity. We have to expand it urgently and it has to be resourced appropriately.

We are deeply concerned that there is no evidence the Government has listened to the calls of both those expert reviews into the Tasmanian bushfires and has not been listening to the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and ex-fire chief Mike Brown from Tasmania, a man with enormous decades of expertise in firefighting. It was only in October last year when the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management's underfunding resulted in 80 TFS remote area firefighters being grounded, leaving a gaping hole in our state's firefighting capacity. We want to know if there is a full contingent of RAFs who are ready to go and become operational now on the ground in Tasmania.

In November last year, insiders from Tasmania Fire Service raised the alarm about the lack of resources and staff that they said would leave the state exposed during the busy summer fire season last year. The southern region in Tasmanian was struggling for volunteers last November and people were having to called in from the state's north-west to backfill strike teams when there were total fire bans and fires in that area.

A northern career firefighter said last November that he had to be called in to cover a shift in the south and according to staff in the north and south there were double shifts being worked simply to keep stations open. The inside source from the Tasmania Fire Service said, and these words were deeply chilling at the time, 'It's just luck that is getting us by, we just fill holes with warm bodies'. They moved people around the state because there were simply not enough resources to support the volunteer firefighting service in Tasmania.

Madam Deputy Speaker, here we are this year and we find ourselves asking a question of the Minister for Environment and Parks in this morning's question time in parliament about the email that we have from management to Parks staff warning that the current vehicle fleet in the event of fire could not be used to its full capacity. For at least a year, the majority of vehicles in the Parks fleet used to carry those slip-on fire tankers are totally under capacity and the resourcing has to be put into place.