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Bushfires - Communications-Equipped Aircraft

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 14 November 2023

Tags: Bushfires, Climate Change


The dangerous El Nino summer has already hit east coast Tasmania. Friendly Beaches was scorched in September and now Dolphin Sands is ablaze and homes already lost. Tasmania's nationally contracted aerial firefighting fleet is potentially on the mainland for months. You assured us last sitting week that Tasmania has access to '20 locally owned planes and helicopters'. Despite the critical situation at Dolphin Sands, only a handful of aircraft have been dispatched. Why? Is it because your Government refused to supply aircraft operators with the new government radio network equipment required for participants in an emergency response? They were told to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to get onto the system.

Communication is critical in the middle of a bushfire. How many aircraft are on the ground today, unable to respond to a fire, because of your Government's communication mess? Will this problem be repeated when or if we finally get our nationally contracted aircraft sometime this burning summer?



Mr Speaker, as the chief officer said in the operational brief yesterday, aircraft were pivotal in support at Dolphin Sands, just as they are with about 50 per cent of bushfires we have in Tasmania. We have 20 aircraft available on island. There is also a national aerial firefighting centre to provide search capacity for every state around the country. As I mentioned to the member last sitting week, we continue to work closely with all jurisdictions on that, just as they work closely with Tasmania. We have already had Tasmanians supporting bushfire responses interstate and our friends on the mainland are always ready to reciprocate.

As I mentioned, we have access to 32 firefighting resources to respond to bushfires, aerial firefighting -

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Speaker, point of order, Standing Order 45. The minister is deliberately misinterpreting the question. How many of them have a radio network?

Mr SPEAKER - Order, I will again remind the minister of Standing Order 45 and allow him to continue.

Mr ELLIS - This includes 12 of our own aircraft: eight helicopters and four fixed-wing bombers which are pre positioned in strategic locations around the state. There are a further 20 locally available planes and helicopters if required. This includes: helicopters for intelligence-gathering, waterbombing, mapping, crew and equipment transportation; fixed-wing bombers carrying more than 3000 litres of suppressant, which can be tasked in groups of two or more aircraft; and scooping aircraft which can scoop water from nearby suitable water sources injecting retardant and foam into the load. There were 532 individual aircraft dispatches from 1 September 2022 to 2 February 2023, including to 531 fire incidents.

Regarding the Tasmanian Government Radio Network, this is one of the most significant investments in infrastructure our Government has delivered. It is literally world leading. For the first time, an encrypted network is able to be shared across police, fire, SES, ambulance and a whole range of land managers. This is at the global forefront -

Dr Woodruff - And you want private operators to pay $15 000 to get access to this.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, Leader of the Greens.

Mr ELLIS - At Dolphin Sands, the reports I had from our first responder leaders were that the TasGRN is a quantum leap in terms of our capability. The recommendations from the Dunalley bushfires were that one of the key difficulties in that tragic event was the ability for our first responders to communicate effectively with one another across agency. The TasGRN is delivering the step change recommended as part of the review into that tragedy. It has been delivered on time and under budget, and the rollout around our state -

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Speaker, point of order, Standing Order 45. This is about peoples' lives and property and the minister is refusing to answer the question. How many of those aircraft have that operation and can get into the air?

Mr SPEAKER - Order. That is the second point of order. I am not going to call the minister.

Mr ELLIS - This is a massive and critical investment. It puts Tasmania at the forefront of government radio communications anywhere in the world. It is an outstanding investment.

We have also retained important backup communications through UHF which we can use to communicate with other people who are not on the network, as well as the opportunity for the network to communicate more broadly. We continue to deliver massive aerial capability in this state to bring to bear and communication equipment as well.