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Police, Fire and Emergency Management – Bushfire Risk

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Climate Change, Bushfires

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the Bureau of Meteorology's Forest Fire Danger Index is how Australia measures bushfire risk. An index of above 50 is a classification of Extreme, usually resulting in a total fire ban. Bushfires in 2009 had an index of more than 100 in many locations, and that caused a catastrophic category to be added to the rating system.

The bureau's records show that the number of dangerous fire weather days - the top 10 per cent of the fire danger index - has already increased by between five and 15 days a year in Tasmania, depending on the regions.

Australian Government modelling suggests that the number of days with more than a rating of 50 - extreme - could increase by as much as 300 per cent by 2050.

Minister, do you agree with the overwhelming international scientific consensus that these dangerous changes recorded by the bureau are the result of human-caused climate change?

Mr SHELTON - Dr Woodruff, I know that we as a government are working to protect our communities, and in this year's Budget there is $17.6 million-worth of added funds to help protect our community from the threat of bushfires.

That is what I know. We are doing more fuel reduction burning, we have trained more remote area firefighters, we have more people involved in Tasmanian Fire Service and we are working as a government to protect Tasmanians from the threat of bushfire, which has always been there and it always will be.

I am not going to get into an argument about the extent of it. We know every year we have a bushfire season whether it is a high-risk season or not, and reducing the risk of bushfire is essential to protecting Tasmanian lives, property, infrastructure and our unique and beautiful pristine natural assets.

That is why the Tasmanian Government is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to bushfire preparedness. The National Council for Fire and Emergency Services has said there is no viable alternative to broadscale fuel reduction and the resultant risk reduction for communities. While fuel reduction burning is not going to prevent every catastrophe -

Dr WOODRUFF - Excuse me, minister -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff.

Mr SHELTON - it is a fact reducing fuel loads in Tasmania is one of the most critical tools in the firefighting toolkit. The Government's Fuel Reduction Program is nation-leading in its strategic risk-based approach to fuel reduction.

We have completed approximately 189 fuel reduction burns across nearly 35 000 hectares in strategic locations to protect Tasmanian communities this year. The autumn 2020 fuel reduction burn season in particular was very successful.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is there any possible way of drawing the minister to the question I asked?

CHAIR - You can have another question when he is finished, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - He has not answered this question.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff.

Mr SHELTON - I am indicating to you what I do know is that every year we have fires and we have to protect our community from those fires. I am talking about what the Government is doing to protect the community from those fires.

Dr WOODRUFF - I asked this question on behalf of Tasmanians who want to understand whether their fire and emergency service minister accepts the science and is responding to the evidence of the changes happening around us. Can you please answer the question, not about what the Government is doing, but: do you agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus the dangerous changes I outlined before, recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology as already occurring in Tasmania, are the result of human-caused climate heating?

Mr SHELTON - What I would do is take on board what I have learnt over my lifetime and it is certainly that the seasons have changed over my lifetime. There is no doubt about that and climate change has been identified by AFAC -

Dr WOODRUFF - Are you a climate denier?

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff

Mr SHELTON - Climate change has been identified by AFAC as an issue for the fire services nationally. Climate change has been recognised by AFAC in that sense and what we do as a government is respond to the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services.

Dr WOODRUFF - Could we have the fire chief's perspective on this matter?

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff.

Mr SHELTON - And so we do have. Well, I was going to hand over to the chief in a moment to talk about the fire season we have coming up and what he expects as far as a season goes.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well, that is a dorothy dixer. I am asking -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, the minister is entitled once you have asked the question to answer it in whatever way he sees fit. Please do not interrupt.

Dr WOODRUFF - Hansard is recording it -

CHAIR - Please.

Mr SHELTON - Well, I have acknowledged AFAC has identified that climate change is an issue for emergency services.


Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, do you agree that human-caused global heating is the most serious ongoing long-term threat to community safety in Tasmania?

Mr SHELTON - Dr Woodruff, I have acknowledged that over my lifetime seasons are changing. I'm not going to get into a debate with a Greens member over climate change and human induced-type climate change and so on. I agree that the climate is changing, yes.

Dr WOODRUFF - This is not a debate; this is parliamentary scrutiny so I'm not debating, I'm asking a question.

CHAIR - Quite right, so ask your question, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay, the minister doesn't want to answer that. Minister, when does the fire season start?

Mr SHELTON - When does the fire season start?


Mr SHELTON - It starts with fire. The official fire season - I will go to the chief officer.

Mr ARNOL - For clarity around the start of the fire season, it is generally in the summer. I know that might seem a bit trite, but generally when we reflect on a summer fire season, the fire season generally starts when we bring on our fire permits on the shoulder of the fire season.

This year it will be delayed somewhat and we're anticipating we'll do that on 4 December - that's generally when we start to really focus on what we term a fire season notwithstanding we have fires all year round and we have experienced some fires approaching the summer now.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, could I ask the chief whether he agrees that the fire season is lengthening and isn't just limited to summer any longer?

Mr SHELTON - The chief can answer it how he likes. The reality is, as I've indicated, seasons change every year, and I've been working on the land all my life as I know Mr Tucker at the table has. Every fire season is different. There's no doubt about that and, as you've indicated, through various reasons, and human-induced climate change is argued to be one of them -

Dr WOODRUFF - Is 'argued' something you don't agree with the argument, by science?

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff.

Mr SHELTON - The fire seasons change every year, I agree with that. As far as how long a year will be -

Dr WOODRUFF - I'm talking about the average - on average, do you agree that they're lengthening?

Mr SHELTON - I haven't seen the detail of that and I don't know whether the Australian Statistics Advisory Council - ASAC - produces anything along those lines. Chief?

Mr ARNOL - Our evidence is showing that the summer fire seasons across Australia are becoming protracted and more frequent.


Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, does Mr Arnol, the Chief Officer of the Fire Service, have a view on what is the most serious ongoing long-term threat to community safety in Tasmania?

Mr SHELTON - Dr Woodruff, we all acknowledge that fires are a significant threat to the community. There is no doubt about that. We are not going to argue about that. What this Government is doing is more than any other government has in the past, in supporting and protecting our community.

CHAIR - I am going to move on from that question, Dr Woodruff. The officials aren’t at the table to give their personal opinions. They are here to answer operational questions.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, I will ask another question then. Minister, perhaps you could ask Mr Arnol to answer this question if you think it is appropriate. The 2019 Tasmania Fire Service annual conference was called 'Not the Norm'. Could you please explain why that theme was chosen for that conference, and what that was about?

Mr SHELTON - I will go to the Chief Officer in a moment, but what we do know is that in the fire season last year we had fires at Fingal and Pelham. We always have fires, and from a national perspective, our fire season never got to the devastating effect of the national fire season. We saw horrific conditions after a significant period of drought on the mainland. As to what the Tasmania Fire Service call their get-together, I don’t know if the chief actually knows the answer to that and who put it together.

Mr ARNOL - The 2018-19 fire season we experienced was the biggest summer bushfire season, in area burnt, since 1967. What we had was clearly above normal. As I said earlier, we are experiencing bushfire seasons that are becoming more extensive, and these more extensive seasons are becoming more frequent. That was the idea of having that theme. It was a combined SES and Fire conference, because we had also experienced floods in recent years. They are the two major disaster-scale events that Tasmania experiences, unlike Australia which has other types of emergencies such as cyclones and the like. That was our focus.