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Estimates Reply - Petrusma

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Tags: Bushfires, Fire Management, Climate Change

Dr WOODRUFF - Chair, I asked some questions of the minister in the portfolios of Police, Fire and Emergency Management, and Prevention of Family Violence. 

I will start by saying how welcome the additional funding was into the community of people across Tasmania who work every day to reduce acts of violence in family, domestic and intimate partner relationships.  No doubt we could spend a whole lot more but this has been a quantum shift in support for services like Engender Equality, for example, that have been on essentially the same insecure funding year on year for over a decade.  They do the critical work every single day and they have had a waiting list of six months for people who ring and seek support, counselling, direction and a safe place.  They are the first port of call for many people, and they are a point of referral for many services.  If it were not for the work of Engender Equality, thousands of people trying to escape intimate partner violence and a whole range of abuse would be in a very difficult place.  I thank them for the work they do.

I want to speak about some things that came out of the Police, Fire and Emergency Management portfolio questions with the minister and members of the Tasmania Fire Service and emergency services.  I started by asking the minister whether, now that the federal election had finally changed nine dark years of leadership by a climate-denying federal Liberal government, she had had a chance to touch base with the new Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Watt, and also to talk about -

Sitting suspended from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.


Dr WOODRUFF - Chair, I was talking about minister Petrusma signalling that she would have a conversation with the federal Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Watt, and I understand that Ms Petrusma has done that.  That is an important matter because we have had nine years of inaction from the federal Liberal Party and nine years of climate denialism. 

The royal commissions on the 2019-20 east coast bushfires have made it very clear that we need a step-change in how we respond to the increasing climate heat.  It not only affects the safety of people in the community from bushfire threats in the future and other natural disasters of course - floods - but it is a really important issue for us to take account of when it comes to the safety of emergency service volunteers such as Tasmania Fire Service volunteers.  These are the people, the 6000 Tasmanians, who turn up every single day they are called, come rain, hail, or shine, even in the extreme and dangerous storm events that we had the other night that did so much damage in the north of Tasmania.  Every time we need them they are there.  The Greens are incredibly concerned to make sure that the Government is doing everything it can to prepare those people for the changing circumstances in the climate.

I asked Mrs Petrusma a number of questions, and through her, to Chief Officer Dermot Barry about the preparations we have in place for training around the changed fire conditions with the new pyro-convective firestorms that can throw a hail of fire and create mini-cyclones of fire and extraordinary winds beyond any human experience.  We cannot any longer to continue to call these things unprecedented, because every season, every natural disaster event will bring with it new changed volatile conditions.  This is the world we are living in, the world we are creating by the emissions we are producing.  We have to, first of all, reduce the emissions as quickly as possible, as well as adapt ourselves as best we can.

I was very pleased to hear the welcome expressions of understanding of the science and the royal commission findings from Chief Officer Barry.  He made it clear that Tasmania Fire Service has changed tactics.  They are working very closely at the national level with the Australasian Fire Commission to look at the best practice in response around the world including, as we always have in Australia, with California.  They have been our friends and colleagues and many people from fire services in Australia have been on exchanges to California and learned from them and vice versa.  Unfortunately, they imported our eucalypts over there and they certainly do not suit their desert-like climate.

I also talked about the ageing volunteers.  Chief Officer Barry was quite clear that we do have an ageing volunteer force and he would like to increase the numbers of people we have up to 8000 people or more.  I strongly support him and we will continue to press the Government to prioritise resourcing to those people.  I know from speaking to a woman who is one of the people in charge of the Cygnet Fire Brigade that there is a desperate need for upgrading of the vehicles.  I think she said, minister, that you had promised when you were a new minister to visit the local fire brigades in the Huon Valley and D'Entrecasteaux Channel region.  I am sure you have been busy but I just put it to you that they are quite looking forward to you coming to visit and showing you around their kit and how they do things, because every single fire brigade has its own special conditions and represents the beating heart of our communities and they need our care, attention and support, as much as we can. 

I was also relieved to hear about the new fire management approach that Tasmania Fire Service is taking.  I really want to thank the minister for being very aware of the reality of the changing climate.  It is a relief to those of us who put science first in this situation because without the science and the evidence of what is happening, where would we be in understanding what is ahead of us?  The minister who is the head of our emergency services is not a climate denier and that is a great start to have.  The chief officer was also very clear that the priority in free-running bushfires has changed to not fight the fire once it is out and running and until the weather switches to our advantage, they do not just stand in the way of a fire anymore, as once we used to do in Australia.  At the moment to do that in the changed conditions would be to have potentially terrible consequences visited on firefighters.  What that means, Chair, is that there has to be, and there has been, a quantum shift in firefighting approaches where they were once only response focused and now they are much more in the planning and prevention side of things, as they should be.

Time expired.