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Commonwealth Funding for Bushfire Protection

Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 30 October 2019, Cassy O'Connor MP


Commonwealth Funding for Bushfire Protection: Cassy O'Connor, 30 October, 2019

 

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN

Madam Speaker, that was a seven-minute answer from the minister following on from a 10minute answer yesterday - pretty self-indulgent.

Premier, in January this year, fires ripped through Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area torching tens of thousands of hectares of wilderness, some of which, as we know, will never recover. At the time you said you wrote to the Prime Minister to flag a request for additional funding to protect the TWWHA. Nine months later, and with an early bushfire season already here, in Senate Estimates last week, Senator Nick McKim had it confirmed that your Government has as yet made no request for extra money. How do you explain that delay, given the urgent need for more resources to protect the TWWHA from burning beyond repair again this summer?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question and note not only the significant impact of the bushfire season gone but also the preparedness that we have in place for the upcoming season. That has been well covered by the minister and I urge the members who asked the question to inform themselves of the facts around this.

Greens members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Mr HODGMAN - It is not adequate, in our view, to simply send a staffer along to listen so you can then come into this place with some deniability and deliberately plead ignorance when a lot of work is being done by our excellent Fire Service and emergency services personnel to best prepare our state. Similarly, under this Government we have reduced the fire risk to our state, but we need to ensure that all communities remain vigilant and provide our support to our Tasmania Fire Service.

In relation to the season past, I have written to the Prime Minister and have also spoken to him. We are still assessing the cost of those bushfires to our state. The total cost at this stage, I am advised, is around $80 million and that includes almost $60 million for firefighting costs. The Tasmanian Government, in due course and once the extent of those costs are fully known, will be making a claim to the Australian Government under the disaster recovery funding arrangements to alleviate the financial burden on the state. We will be formally requesting additional financial assistance from the Australian Government in relation to the costs incurred in protecting the environmental and heritage assets.

Ms O'Connor - When?

Mr HODGMAN - If you listen to the answer - it is appropriate for that to occur once the full extent of those costs are known so appropriate application can be made. State and territory governments have until 31 March 2020 to submit the 2018-19 financial year claims to the Australian Government. The arrangements are complex and subject to two separate audit processes. It is essential that our agencies, the experts who are entrusted with compiling this information, are enabled to have sufficient time necessary to ensure that claims are accurate so we do not sell ourselves short and miss out on funding opportunities for the state.

We have made our position very clear. As I say, I did write to the Prime Minister so it is not something that is open to question.

Ms O'Connor - I acknowledged that in the question.

Mr HODGMAN - I think you suggested that I may have written to the Prime Minister. I want you to be aware that I did.

Dr Woodruff - So you're not worried about getting that $50 million now? Everything's all right?

Madam SPEAKER - Order, please.

Mr HODGMAN - It is always so simple and easy for the Greens, who do not have the responsibility of following the well-outlined, documented and understood processes to ensure Tasmania gets all that it deserves. If we took the Greens' approach and just ran in half-cocked we would sell our state short and likely miss out on additional funding support for our firefighting costs incurred, including and protecting our environmental assets.

In response, the Prime Minister reiterated the Commonwealth's support and, as a result, the Department of Premier and Cabinet has been working with Emergency Management Australia, the Department of Home Affairs and Tasmania's Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management to analyse firefighting costs and determine the proportion of costs incurred in protecting our environmental assets. This additional funding application will be in addition to the $9.9 million received for the Community Recovery Grant which was jointly funded by the Tasmanian and Australian governments to restore damaged Parks and Wildlife infrastructure and other recovery measures for the bushfire-affected communities - the Central Highland, Derwent Valley, Huon Valley and west coast.

We will always endeavour to ensure we get appropriate and justifiable support from the Commonwealth to assist us with the significant costs that have been incurred, but we will always do the right thing by our state and make sure that we are best placed through our agencies to provide a full account of the damage and to recover that in due course as that process properly allows.