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Local Government – Draft Bushfire Mitigation Measures Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Bushfires, Legislation, Local Government

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the draft Bushfire Mitigation Measures Bill 2020 was out as a consultation draft, which closed. A number of councils have specifically raised some questions with me about it. It seems the act is intended to replace the existing processes, such as bushfire hazard management plans under the Fire Service Act 1979, and would give authority to councils to instead issue bushfire hazard reduction notices, which would be issued under the Local Government Act 1993 instead.

It is the case that many, probably most, councils don't have the necessary fire expertise to undertake this role. There is also a concern that it could create an expectation within the community that their council will act on all requests to review and issue notices, and if they do not do that, the council might incur liability.

Do you agree that the bill would, as it currently stands, provide councils with any protection from liability, or immunity, and that the expertise held by the TFS should be the first body of expertise in making these decisions, and that the TFS should be resourced to administer and comply with that part of the bill?

Mr SHELTON - As you have mentioned, the draft Bushfire Mitigation Measures Bill is in the community for discussion purposes and feedback, and we have had some feedback on that. It is a draft bill, and there will be a conversation with the community and in parliament and the processes will go through.

As far as local government goes, when it comes to fire, they have obligations under their abatement notices process whenever there is fuel load build-up. This interpretation builds on what is already there. I can hand over to the director, as he has been involved in this.

Mr LIMKIN - Can I ask a clarification question? The question you are asking is: does the bushfire mitigation bill require councils to make notices, and does this sit with the TFS?

Dr WOODRUFF - It gives authority to councils to be able to issue bushfire hazard reduction notices. What I asked the minister was whether he agreed that the responsibility for signing off on those things should rest with the TFS, which has the fire expertise, and could provide immunity from indemnity.

Neither the expertise issue nor the legal liability immunity issue is really addressed in the bill, and that is a perceived problem with it, as it is at the moment.

Mr LIMKIN - My understanding is that it is actually in the bill. It is the Tasmania Fire Service that will issue the notices, not the local government council. The TFS will seek appropriate information. A local government council or a landowner can appeal to the bushfire mitigation panel for it to be overturned, but my understanding of the bill is that TFS will be empowered to actually issue those notices.

Dr WOODRUFF - That will have to be clarified, because that is not the only interpretation possible in the bill as it is drafted now. That has certainly been flagged, and it clearly does give authority to councils to be able to do that.

Mr SHELTON - As I indicated, it is a draft bill, and it is out for public comment and consultation.