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State Fire Commission Report

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Tags: Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Fuel Reduction Burns, Climate Change

Ms WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise to make some comments on the report tabled today, the inquiry into the State Fire Commission established in October last year.  The inquiry was established with extensive terms of reference.  I want to correct the member for Lyons about the comments he made earlier regarding the terms of reference and to remind him that these were broad terms of reference. 

It is the view of myself, on behalf of the Greens, that the inquiry did not properly conduct itself in terms of the witnesses that were not heard at the inquiry.  Relevant to the terms of reference, I prepared a dissenting report.  Relevant to the terms of reference were funding of fuel reduction burn programs, community safety programs, investigation into Fire Service resources including fire-fighter numbers, the future funding arrangements for the Fire Service and the need for appropriate and modern government practices in the State Fire Commission.

The committee of inquiry did not seek evidence from Forestry Tasmania and Parks and Wildlife Services, two of the three agencies most closely involved in bush fire management.  Neither of these organisations provided written comment or appeared as witnesses and I find that extraordinary.  The average person would wonder why these two agencies did not appear.  Perhaps they were directed not to do so.  I moved a motion on behalf of the Greens to have the inquiry extended so that these organisations could be directed to appear and present evidence, but that motion was voted down by the committee.

In light of the critical interconnection of Forestry Tasmania, Parks and Wildlife Service and the Tasmanian Fire Service in the role of protecting Tasmanians from bushfire, in prevention through fuel reduction, and in the resourcing of bushfire fighting, this evidence in our view has meant that it has not been possible to properly investigate the terms of reference that the inquiry was constituted to investigate.

The other thing that was happening throughout the period of the inquiry over the summer of 2016 were the fires in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.  These were devastating and unprecedented in their impacts and caused irreversible damage in fire-sensitive vegetation within the World Heritage Area.  This terrible bushfire event occurred during the course of this inquiry, but not before evidence was received.  It was entirely possible for the Parks and Wildlife Services and Forestry Tasmania to appear as witnesses before the inquiry because their work had been completed at that point in time, or was essentially coming to an end.

It is the view of the Greens that this is a huge missed opportunity.  The scale of those fires in Tasmania and the level of resourcing that was mounted from people in this state, from interstate, and from overseas sectors was unparalleled in Tasmania's history.  There are many questions about the timing, co-ordination and resourcing of those fires that have been raised in the community and that were tangentially raised by some of the witnesses to the inquiry, but these questions were not properly investigated or answered.

Given the expected increase in bushfires in coming summers due to climate change, from lightning strikes, from heat and dryness, we believe it is a priority that Tasmania grapples with the realities before us.  It is clearly the case that our response this summer was not adequate, given the conditions that occurred.  There are many ways that our prevention, protection and response systems can and have to be improved.  We have lives, communities and natural values that we all want to protect.

It is our recommendation that there needs to be a formal investigation conducted into the level of resourcing required for Parks and Wildlife to conduct fuel reduction burns within Parks properties of the right frequency, intensity, place and timing.  As well as this, a formal investigation must be conducted into the resources and expertise that have previously been supplied by Forestry Tasmania, but which we now find ourselves missing in this state.

We need to look at the conditions and time frames within which the Tasmanian Fire Service engages interstate and international fire-fighting resources.  Clearly, the conduct of those resources, their engagement and timing, as well as the communication protocols and management of those resources were not adequate in relation to the conditions of the incredible firestorm that we found ourselves confronted with in January this year.

It is also the view of the Greens that the fire service needs to assess the impact of global warming on management practices in relation to the timing and intensity of fuel reduction burns from now on.  Also, community education about bushfire risk and protection needs to be focused around face-to-face delivery.  Local volunteers need to be trained and supported in effective education techniques.  We know that it is the most effective form of education in Tasmania, where more than 50 per cent of people are living in high-risk bush areas.

Time expired.