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Censure in the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 28 November 2019

Tags: Bushfires, AFAC review

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, this is an extremely serious topic and we support the Opposition's moving it for debate today. It is something the Greens have been focusing on relentlessly since the catastrophic bushfires we had last summer where 3 per cent of Tasmania was burnt, including 6 per cent of the World Heritage Area. Communities were threatened for months and there was a massive strain and exhaustive work of our bushfire firefighters around the state, particularly in the south. These all pointed to really serious changes that needed to be made to the way we fight fires in Tasmania and our ability to prepare for changed conditions. There is no doubt it was a wake-up call for people of the intensity of these new fires.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - I remind the member that you need to speak to the relevance of why you need to seek leave. We are not on the substantive motion itself yet; this is on why leave should be granted right now.

Ms O'CONNOR - On your determination, Madam Deputy Speaker, Dr Woodruff is explaining why we need to have the debate because this is an urgent issue as a result of all the points she is raising.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hear what you are saying and it is exactly as the Leader of the Greens said. We have been talking about this all year and I would have thought foremost in the mind of the Liberal Government and particularly this minister would be the gravity of last summer's bushfires and the importance of preparing for this season and for future summers.

Instead, we have seen no action in the Budget, no action in the budget Estimates, no response since then to the AFAC independent review until the bumbling comments that were made in parliament this week in response to repeated questions from the Greens and the Labor Party about what actions had been taken to prepare for this summer.

We are concerned on behalf of Tasmanians who are looking at what is happening in New South Wales and other parts of the mainland. It is very concerning when people understand that the comments the minister has made over the last couple of weeks in response to repeated questions about resourcing for this summer demonstrates that he does not accept -

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - I ask the member to bring it back to why it has to be dealt with today.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The minister demonstrates he does not understand that we have a changed bushfire behaviour. He repeatedly has used the term 'normal' behaviour, saying it is normal to have fires like this. We are creating the same response that we have always had. My point is that everything this minister has said over this last month indicates that he is not responsive to the reality of the changed fire conditions, he is not capable of being agile to the conditions he is confronted with, he is not on top of the details of his portfolio, and therefore I am speaking on behalf of Tasmanians who are concerned to be reassured that they have a government that is doing everything it can to respond to the conditions as they arise and to resource in advance in preparation, not reactively at the time.

We need to have this debate today because we have serious concerns that this minister is not doing his job and is not preparing Tasmanians for the season we are in. Unless we have this conversation, how else can people in Tasmania be confident that the minister understands the gravity of the responsibilities in his portfolio? He is not showing leadership. He is not showing the ability to be the leader that is needed for somebody in this most crucial role in government at the moment. We have not had any proper response to the recommendations from the AFAC. What he attempted to give in private members' time yesterday was appalling.

The Greens wrote to the minister a month ago asking for detailed responses to the resourcing put into the AFAC report from August this year. We have not even had the dignity of a cursory response to that letter. That was a month ago. This is the failure, the carelessness that the minister treats his serious portfolio issues with. Why is he not prepared to tell us, as a state, where the resourcing is going? If he will not tell us now - and this is the last day of parliament for the year - we have to use this opportunity to seek some assurance on behalf of Tasmanians that they will be looked after between now and the next election in this issue, because the minister has indicated this week that he is expecting to outsource winch capability deployment to mainland bushfire experts. We cannot rely on having people coming from interstate when there are catastrophic fires across the country now. We cannot rely on that, so what is his plan B?

Madam Deputy Speaker, this is the detail the minister is not on top of. We have repeatedly asked questions about remote area firefighters and the rapid response capability, and we want to hear these answers from the minister. This is his opportunity to come into this place now and answer the questions that have been laid out by the Labor Party in this motion. We expect him to do that fulsomely and in detail so that Tasmanians can be assured there is a person here who has some ability to manage the portfolio, or at least delegating to the people who are capable of it, if he is not.