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Bushfire Readiness - Press Review and AFAC Review Recommendations

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Tags: Bushfires, AFAC review

Press Review and AFAC Review Bushfire Recommendations: Cassy O'Connor, 12 November, 2019



New South Wales and Queensland are burning. Lives have been lost and hundreds of homes destroyed. Today looks set to be the most catastrophically dangerous fire day in Australia's history. I am sure I speak for every member here when I say our hearts are with our fellow Australians facing such a terrifying scenario. During last season's Tasmanian bushfires, we received significant assistance from interstate fire agencies. The spirit of interstate cooperation has played a significant role in bushfire management across Australia, as shown again by the 80 brave Tasmanian firefighters currently helping interstate. With the ever-extending fire season and increasing severity of bushfires, Tasmania will not always be able to rely on this help. Do you agree that Tasmania must become as self-sufficient as possible with our firefighting capability? If so, why has your Government been so sluggish in adopting key recommendations from the Press Review in 2016 and the AFAC Review this year on how to be better prepared for bushfires in future?



Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question and the opportunity to acknowledge that there are brave professional Tasmanian firefighters on the ground interstate. I was in contact with the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister on the weekend about Tasmania's contribution to the effort. You are right. We did welcome many from interstate and overseas during last year's fire season. It is a great area in which all jurisdictions collaborate to ensure resources are deployed as swiftly as possible. With the expertise that we have in this state, being one of the most bushfireprone places on the planet, we have considerable capability and Tasmania is playing its part. It was heartening to hear of the courageous efforts of a number of firefighters, and all those who are leaving our state now have our best wishes, the thanks of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland governments.

It is important that we reflect on what is the most critical priority for our firefighters, both there and here, and that is to protect life and property. That is the most important thing that our firefighting agencies have to bear. I was pleased that this year, during what was one of the largest fire seasons in our state's history, since 1967, there was some property lost, significant damage to our wilderness areas and also, thankfully, no lives lost. Our hearts go out to those loved ones and friends of the people whose lives were lost in New South Wales recently.

We have not, as the member says, not responded with adequate priority to a number of recommendations that have come through, a number of which we inherited as an incoming Government and had not been adopted by the former Labor-Greens government.

We are doing a lot more to make our state fire safe. We have reduced the fuel load considerably, adopted recommendations from reports not responded to appropriately by Labor and the Greens. We are also responding to reports, including the AFAC Review the member referred to. As is the case, and as has been noted previously, the short-term recommendations have been completed, 4 and 6. The remaining short-term recommendations, being 1, 5 and 8, will be completed by the end of this month. As to the medium- and long-term recommendations, being 2, 3, 7 and 9, the Tasmanian Fire Service has a dedicated project manager working on delivery.

Despite the suggestions being made, we have taken action to prepare for the upcoming season, including completing multi-agency briefings, undertaking fire brigade district briefings statewide, ensuring helicopter readiness, ensuring national aerial firefighting contracts are in place, implementing a combined air desk, establishing such and ensuring exercises are prepared, conducting fuel reduction burns in all regions as part of this Government's nation-leading Fuel Reduction Program - with $55 million invested into this important area that has reduced the fuel load to historic lows - establishing permit restrictions, activating campfire management strategies, confirming that all high-risk areas have community protection plans, confirming the reinstatement of remote-area firefighting capability by the State Fire Commission, engaging with Australian peers regarding practices that can support our efforts and continuing to work to establish the volunteer remote-area firefighters. These things are underway in response to the AFAC report.

As to the time frame you are demanding for completion of the AFAC Review recommendations, you were not able to deliver this when you were in government. The Hyde Review attributed many of the issues from the 2013 bushfire response directly to Labor-Greens negligence; not committing the required resources to fix those issues. Mr Hyde's report also identified expanded fuel reduction burns as a high priority and found that the delay in implementing an effective fuel reduction burning program in Tasmania was disappointing but we know it also added to the risk across our state.

It took this Government to deliver a strategic fuel reduction program to reduce the risk in our communities. That is a $55 million commitment, a significant investment, we have made to reduce that fuel load. We reject any suggestion that we have not acted on this as a priority, with the appropriate level of resources, or in response to the expert reviews and recommendations that have come forward. These are the views, the recommendations, of experts.

There are a lot of armchair experts across the country, including from the Greens' party, making all sorts of reckless claims about fire readiness. In Tasmania, I am assured from discussions with the Chief Officer and through Cabinet briefings that, yes, we do face a difficult season ahead. There is no doubt about it but we have acted with great priority and have allocated additional resources to ensure that our communities are as safe as they can be. We urge Tasmanians to be very careful in their communities and have fire plans in place for when the fire season hits, but none of this will be helped by the Greens continuing to scaremonger.