Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for POLICE, FIRE and EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, Mr ELLIS
The National Aerial Firefighting Centre contracts firefighting aircraft to state and territory governments to complement the jurisdictions' aerial firefighting resources. We understand that Tasmania has a tender for a new fleet of 15 aircraft that will relocate to Tasmania for exclusive use during our summer, after the wet seasons start in Queensland and the Northern Territory - that is normally in October or November. Right now, Queensland is battling 420 blazes. The Queensland Fire Service (QFS) said last week the fire season there is only just beginning and they are '… planning for this to go past Christmas and early into next year. It's going to be a long time until we see some rain'.
We are in an El Nino weather pattern, meaning the northern wet will typically start up to six weeks later. Tasmania has an increased fire risk this summer with lower rainfall and high temperatures. Is our fire preparedness dependent on critical aircraft coming from interstate at an undefined point in the future? Did you factor in the wider threat of climate change heating into your bushfire planning?
Mr SPEAKER - The member's time has expired.
Mr Speaker, I thank the member for Clark for her question and her interest in making sure our community is prepared for what will be a challenging future, not only across our country but specifically in Tasmania. We are already one of the most bushfire-prone places on Earth. Ensuring that we, as a parliament, act to make sure we are securing fire and emergency services for that challenging future is a key part of our adaptation to climate change and extreme weather events.
You are right: we are very aware that we are facing a difficult summer ahead with El Nino. In Tasmania, we will see a hotter, dryer summer potentially extending longer. At the recent AFAC council I spoke with out counterparts on the mainland. The Northern Territory is expecting a 10-month bushfire season, with fire fronts that are more than 100 kilometres long. Our hearts go out to the communities in New South Wales and Queensland where we have already seen the loss of life, homes and businesses. Communities are shattered by these events and they are a reminder for us in Tasmania with our coming summer - a more difficult summer ahead.
Dr Woodruff - What about the aircraft?
Mr ELLIS - As to our preparedness in terms of aircraft, we work closely with partner agencies interstate. That is important because, as you mentioned, we often have fire seasons that come on at different times. A heavy fire challenge across the country can stretch resources. Aerial firefighting is a critical tool for bushfires and emergency management, particularly in our rural, regional and remote areas.
During the 2022-23 fire season, Tasmania had access to 12 aircraft, eight helicopters and four fixed-wing bombers which were prepositioned in strategic locations around the state. The fleet consisted of helicopters, intelligence gathering, water-bombing, mapping, crew and fixed equipment transportation. The fixed-wing bombers carry 3000 litres of suppressant which can be tasked in groups of two or more aircraft to increase overall effectiveness. Scooping aircraft can scoop water from a nearby suitable water source, injecting retardant and foam concentrate into the load of water.
Dr Woodruff - What are we going to do without those 15 aircraft, though?
Mr ELLIS - Tasmania also has access to 20 locally owned planes and helicopters if required, meaning that over last summer we had access to a total of 32 sophisticated, flexible, aerial firefighting resources to respond to bushfires, protect communities and support firefighters on the ground. Overall during that season, there were 532 individual aircraft dispatches between 1 September 2022 -
Dr WOODRUFF - Point of order, Mr Speaker, Standing Order 45. The question is about the 15 aircraft that we are meant to be getting from northern Australia. What is going to happen when they do not arrive?
Mr SPEAKER - It is not a point of order. The minister only has 40 seconds left. I will ask him to continue his answer.
Mr ELLIS - Thanks, Mr Speaker. There were 532 individual aircraft dispatches during that period. We continue through our AFAC and NAFSI arrangements to ensure that Tasmania will have access to that national capability.
Dr Woodruff - But we cannot.
Mr ELLIS - Dr Woodruff, we can, and we will, continue to work with partners interstate. Last week, Hobart hosted the AFAC conference and this was a key topic of conversation from chiefs around the country. The good thing about aerial capability is that it can be delivered in partnership with other jurisdictions.
Mr SPEAKER - The member's time has expired.