You are here

Response to Recommendations on Bushfires

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 21 March 2019

Tags: Bushfires, Climate Change

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, this morning in parliament in response to a Dorothy Dix question from the member for Lyons, Mr Shelton, we had some information come out of the part- time Parks minister and Premier, Mr Hodgman. This of course is almost three months after the fires first started in Gell River in the south-west, but as a result of those thousands of dry lightning strikes that struck this state in the summer months which we all know, although the Premier could not bring himself to say it this morning, are a consequence of accelerating climate change. What we learned from the Premier this morning is that about 95 000 hectares or around 6 per cent of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area has been burned.

We know, according to the part-time Parks minister, that approximately 42 600 hectares or 3.4 per cent of other reserves managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service has also been burned. The Premier says that early analysis indicates that around 84 per cent of the vegetation within the fire boundaries of the TWWHA is fire-adapted and we know that means a substantial percentage of the vegetation inside the TWWHA is not fire- adapted because it is King Billy or Huon or pencil pine, or rainforest which, of course, does not respond well at all to bushfire.

I want to take the opportunity on the adjournment tonight to lay out some of the recommendations that have been put to Government to respond more effectively to bushfires in the future, recommendations that have not been adopted by government and I think this needs to be laid on the record.

The Tasmania Fire Service union and authors Simon Pilkington and Alex Dean presented to Government an excellent and cost-neutral proposal for a more effective and rapid response, particularly to remote area fires. The recommendations put forward by the union include investing in initial attack and sustained attack by establishing four personnel at a career station who are part of the on-shift numbers with go bags and pagers who are ready to respond quickly to any wildfire using on-ground vehicles or aircraft as required. Increased training for fire fighters over and above the current standardised training, including aerial firefighting skills such as hover entry and exit, helipad construction and sling loading, as well as remote skills such as line locater, remote first aid and tree felling. A wildfire-ready doctrine that embeds initial attack and sustained attack into firefighting practices and to establish a tripartite 10-year fire walled budget for firefighting resources.

That is something every member in the House would support. After the devastating January 2016 bushfires, which caused profound scars in our wilderness, the Government commissioned Dr Tony Press, who at that time was at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, to undertake a study which is titled 'Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Bushfire and Climate Change Research Project', a research project to investigate the impact of climate change on bushfire risks for Tasmania's wilderness area and appropriate management and firefighting responses. Of Dr Press' recommendations in 2016 these are the ones that have not been fully supported by government and we believe these are the ones that go to the nub of our response in future to climate related extreme bushfire events.

Dr Press says,

Keep abreast of and incorporate into preparedness and response planning emerging technologies for predicting and detecting lightning strikes and ignitions.

It is clear that we do not have the technological tools at our fingertips that we need as Tasmanians who love this beautiful place.

Dr Press recommends:

That there be investment in infrastructure, which includes identification and evaluation of options for installing new automatic weather stations in the TWWHA and nearby areas to improve weather and data records for the region;

That there be remote area sensors for monitoring local rainfall and soil moisture and early detection facilities such as fire watch installations;

That firefighting equipment be available to fire agencies in different regions of Tasmania;

That is remote firefighting equipment obviously.

That there be improved communication facilities, to enable better communications between agencies and for remote firefighting teams; and

An investment in facilities and equipment to enhance aerial firefighting efforts.

We know that the Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmanian Fire Service and Forestry Tasmania fire fighters had at their disposal some of the aerial equipment that is required, but clearly not enough.

Dr Press goes on to say that there needs to be a regular review of operational practices, fire suppression techniques and technologies and techniques used in other jurisdictions and determine their efficacy for Tasmania including in the TWWHA. Particular attention should be paid to early intervention techniques and technologies such as early detection and rapid attack and continuing to investigate methods and equipment for extinguished ground, that is organic soil fires, through things like spike and pump combinations. Finally, the only supported in-part recommendation by Government that Dr Press made was that the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and other fire agencies should establish protocols for rapid assessment of the impacts of major bushfires in the TWWHA and resourcing of immediate priorities for recovery action.

We want the state of Tasmania and the Government of Tasmania to get it right and we are prepared to work constructively to make sure we do not have another fire season like the last one.