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Ministerial Statement - Release of Independent Report on Bushfires

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tags: Bushfires, Firefighters, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

Tasmanian Bushfires Response: O'Connor, 8 August, 2019.


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Deputy Premier, we support your statement of support for every member of the Tasmanian Fire Service, the Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Tasmania and the SES who put everything in to tackling the fires of last summer under really extreme conditions.

What we have had confirmed today as a result of the Cronstedt review is that the response to the 2018-19 summer bushfires was inadequate because we did not equip our firefighters with the equipment that they need to tackle these fires and to hit hard and hit early.

In budget Estimates this year we repeatedly asked questions of the response to the summer bushfires and we were particularly concerned about the fact that firefighters left the Gell River fire before it was put out. As we know from the information that we have received today, there was a view that that fire had been extinguished but within 24 hours of firefighters walking away from the Gell River fire it had flared up. The consequences of that decision for Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area and for communities that were impacted by the summer fires, were profound.

As a Greens member and someone who feels passionately about the protection of environmental values from climate related bushfires, it is deeply frustrating that we are now talking about another review into the response to Tasmania's bushfires when this Government has not even implemented the recommendations of the Tony Press review into the 2016 summer fires.

When is the Government going to wake up? When? We are heading for an El Niño summer. There is every indication this will be a hot, dry, high bushfire risk summer. We have had five years of the Liberals in government and their flagship response to bushfire risk is fire mitigation through controlled burns. Of course, that is an important part of mitigating the risk of bushfires, particularly impacting on communities, but it is not enough. You have to have the equipment there. We cannot run a bushfire response on the cheap but is what has been happening.

We have had our bushfire response, our firefighters under-resourced sequentially even though in the past few years we have had bushfires created by global heating should be a wakeup call to us all and demand a strong funding response from government.

Instead of Government saying to the United Fire Fighters Union of Australia who put forward a cost-neutral proposal - go away, we do not want to hear from you - we are hoping this time they will call back in the United Fire Fighters Union and take seriously their proposals for better bushfire preparedness. We need to equip our outstanding firefighters with all the equipment and technology they require to tackle these bushfires and make sure we are going in, hitting hard and hitting early.

We cannot have another situation where a decision is made to leave a fire in extreme fire weather, to walk away from that fire and then it gets out of control. We can do so much better.

I hope under the new Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management, one of the first things he does is calls in the United Fire Fighters Union of Australia, that he calls in Dr Tony Press to talk about the recommendations he brought down in 2016 and to work through those recommendations which have not been implemented. I do not have time here today to go through those recommendations which have not been implemented from Dr Tony Press' report. We detailed that in Budget Estimates.

Every recommendation Tony Press put forward that related to the need for extra funding has not been implemented. This is intolerable; we cannot be back here this time next year having a debate about yet another report into the response to bushfires. We have to, as a parliament, get serious about making sure government is putting the resources into the bushfire prevention and control efforts they need. We have to when we are given recommendations by people in our community who are highly regarded and who in fact in the case of Dr Press were asked by the Premier himself. We have to listen to those experts if we are going to commission reviews into our response to summer fires, then we have to implement the recommendations. We cannot be fighting global heating on the cheap. We know that.

The summer fires this year - devasting. The summer fires this year were started as a result of dry lightning strikes, according to the parks and wildlife service, increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of global heating. We have a landscape here not like anywhere else on earth. We have Gondwana here - a fragment of an ancient, ancient landscape. It is so vulnerable to fire. We need to be putting every resource we can into protecting Gondwana.

I want to close by acknowledging the work that went into the Constadt review encouraging the new minister not to follow the example set by his predecessor and ignore good proposals put forward, but instead to recommit to resourcing our response to bushfires in the future.