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Bushfire Preparedness

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 17 September 2020

Tags: Bushfires, Native Forest Logging

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, if the legislation is based on science and evidence, we are likely to support it, but given the Government and Labor opposition's willingness to ignore science, and in fact denigrate scientists working in the public interest, we are somewhat sceptical at this early stage. For members who are prepared to stay ignorant, I simply refer them to Dr Woodruff's contribution in the adjournment last night.

The clear and overwhelming evidence is that there is a strong link between logging native forest and increased bushfire risk. In fact, UTAS distinguished professor Jamie Kirkpatrick has pointed to four peer-reviewed papers from four separate institutions in the past six years, that establish this clear and overwhelming link. The ongoing wilful denial of this science brings shame on everyone in this Chamber who is elected to work in the public interest.

We are in here talking about bushfire preparedness after obtaining an email from Parks and Wildlife that makes it clear the Parks service is going to this year's bushfire season with vehicles that are not equipped for the job. They have been advised that they need to arrive at fires, if there is a fire, with a lower weight and that means less water to fight the fire, in their water tank.

When Parks and Wildlife tried to tender for new vehicles so they could be ready in time for this year's bushfire season, they were directed by Treasury to put that vehicle order into abeyance until further notice as the auction market was experiencing a downturn. Our understanding is, according to this email, that the Treasury directive was reversed in July. Those vehicles are being procured now but they will not be procured in time for this year's bushfire season. It is tiring to hear the Government congratulating itself over bushfire preparedness when it is prepared to send Parks and Wildlife staff into a bushfire with a half full water tank.

The kids and I drove down the Lyell Highway, through the south-west and in fact past the burn scars of the Gell River fire from the devastating fires that raged through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area last year. Those burn scars will be there for a very long time given the nature of the landscape. We know, from the climate science and from the evidence gathered by the Parks and Wildlife Service itself, that dry-lightning strikes are increasing in their frequency and intensity, and many of those fires will begin in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area or on the west coast. We drove past Zeehan where there are massive burn scars on the outskirts of town - that fire threatened life and community.

Our level of preparedness is critical to protect human life communities, wilderness and property. It is even more concerning that we are only just seeing the Parks and Wildlife Service begin to develop a fire and management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. We have here an alert from the Parks service inviting people to have their say on a fire management plan for the TWWHA and it says:

The Parks and Wildlife Service is working to develop a fire management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area as required by the 2016 Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan.

Let us just say that again, Mr Deputy Speaker: the 2016 TWWHA Management Plan requires that there be a fire management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, and four years later Parks is apparently getting on top of it. What has happened in the past four years when Parks and Wildlife should have been working on a fire management plan is that the resources have been diverted into a commercialisation and privatisation of Tasmania's protected areas through the expressions of interest process.

Talk about warped priorities. The Lord Mayor of Hobart has quite legitimately asked the question this morning: what is happening with the ongoing planning for mitigating and adapting to fires in the World Heritage area? The evidence tells us, from people like Professor David Bowman, that if a big fire starts up in the TWWHA or up the Derwent Valley, Hobart is in danger. Now we know from the science that this fire behaviour is changing and we are dealing with pyrocumulus fires - massive fireheads that have the same energy in many ways as a huge storm or a cyclone.

It is critical that the Parks and Wildlife Service is equipped properly to deal with fires and that there is a fire management plan in place and it should have been in place three or four years ago. It is simply not good enough. What has Government and the Parks minister been doing for that time when they should have been developing a fire management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area which still bears the burn scars of that devastating summer before last?

Dr Woodruff and I are sick to our guts of hearing excuses from this minister and this Government in relation to preparedness for fire in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area because, as I have just said, it is not just about the TWWHA. It is about the people, the communities and the capital city, that are on the edges of these protected areas and the forests along the Wellington Range into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Now we know, for at least a year, the majority of Parks and Wildlife Service vehicles have not been fit-for-purpose for fighting fires and that is shameful.