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Ministerial Statement - Release of Independent Report on Bushfires

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tags: Bushfires, AFAC review

Tasmanian Bushfire Response: Woodruff, 8 August, 2019


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, on behalf on the Greens, I am glad that the AFAC report has been concluded and has been tabled. I look forward to reading the findings when I have a copy myself. Some copies of that report have been available. I will speak to some of the things that have been raised as well as the minister's comments.

First of all, I was one of the people in Tasmania who observed the lightning strikes in December. I have never seen anything like it before. It was an awesome and frightening experience. I was aware of the potential of what could happen. On behalf of people who experienced the fires that followed - the people of the Huon Valley, the Central Highlands and on the West Coast - I sincerely thank all the people who put their lives on the line to protect rural communities, working for weeks and months putting out fires, cleaning up, doing hard dangerous work. I thank all the people who supported those firefighters; who cooked meals, who made beds, who donated their time and who put their lives on hold for months.

Mr Ferguson - Hear, Hear.

Dr WOODRUFF - People, such as staff and volunteers in the Huon Valley set up an amazing emergency crisis centre. Everyone in those communities put their lives on hold for months and months. All those people should know that there is a deep debt of gratitude from people in the community.

Mr Ferguson - Hear, hear.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is the strength of community that keeps us going through these hard experiences. I acknowledge the hard work of people working in the emergency centre and the conservation movement, and thank them for speaking strongly and so clearly about the risks and their concerns about the potential for great damage in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and for other beautiful places that we love and are custodians of on this planet.

What we know is that 210 000 hectares of Tasmanian landscape was burnt. Some of it was the best of Gondwanan forest and paleoendemic flora that will not recover at all or will take decades or centuries to recover. Those fires were truly cataclysmic. They burnt across some 3 per cent of the Tasmanian landscape and the terrible thing is that we can expect more of these sorts of fires to occur in the future. The Bureau of Meteorology and World Meteorological Organisation tell us that this very summer is likely to be a scorcher. We already have a tinderbox on the east coast of Tasmania. It is deeply concerning for people living there; the lack of water and the dryness of that landscape.

In a changing landscape we know that fires and lightning strikes will happen more frequently. We have to muster ourselves to change our businessasusual approach and to take this seriously. I am glad the AFAC review has been completed. I listened to the minister's speech and it is pretty clear that the minister is avoiding some uncomfortable truths. That is, there were three serious reviews of previous major fires that have occurred in Tasmania. This Liberal Government came in in 2014 and did not implement major recommendations from those reviews.

The previous police and emergency services minister did not prioritise budgetary resources to remote area teams, did not do what the United Firefighters Union requested and did not prioritise a cost-neutral wildfire response capability in remote areas. The United Firefighters Union Tasmania Branch wrote to the minister. They developed a proposal in 2017 and they wrote a letter in September 2018, pleading with the minister to put a trial of their proposal in place for last year's fire season. The previous minister, Michael Ferguson, did not take up that work and he did not take up that proposal.

When I, Ms O'Connor, Senator Nick McKim and others - people from the conservation movement, people with great expertise, ecologists, conservationists, foresters, people who understand organic peat soils in Gondwanan landscapes - spoke with people in the fire service, there was a complete disregard for the serious questions raised by those people about the Gell River fire. What we have in front of us does not let the Government off the hook on this at all because, as I understand, although the AFAC review finds that emergency services acted appropriately, the kicker is that they acted appropriately with the resources they had.

Clearly, that is the point. This Government has refused to resource the sorts of human resources, equipment and facilities we know we have to have. It is no longer acceptable to continue not to put the resources into Parks that will provide us with the expertise in remote areas. That is what we must do and that must happen before this summer.