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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3570..


Universal bushfire prevention and safety education in schools

MR PRATT (5.48): Mr Speaker, I move:

That the ACT Legislative Assembly:

(1) decry the loss of property and the extensive loss of natural bushland and pine forest in summer 2001-2002; and

(2) notes that but for the excellent work undertaken by the ACT Rural Fire Services and Emergency Services greater devastation would have occurred;

(3) notes that the majority of the fires were caused by human intervention and in many cases deliberately lit - an issue this community must confront in order to minimise dangers to the community;

(4) notes that the fast approaching summer contains bushfire conditions that are anticipated to eclipse those of 2001/2002 with severe weather conditions likely to exacerbate a desperately dry situation;

(5) urges the Government to immediately introduce universal bushfire prevention and safety education for all schools in the ACT, planned and coordinated by the Education Department and delivered by Emergency Services personnel and other approved trainers.

Today, we are confronted with an extremely dangerous bushfire threat in the ACT. By all accounts, the conditions-indeed, all the planning indicators-for a bushfire have concentrated in a very cruel way, to the point where they form a pattern which eclipses the situation with which the ACT was confronted in mid-summer 2001-02.

The situation for the ACT stands as follows: we are in the stranglehold of one of the longest and most debilitating droughts on record for the region. There is clearly a huge amount of very dry fuel lying around forests and grassland areas. Regardless of the debate on management of our forests and grassland areas, it is clear that an accumulation of fuel over some years has occurred.

This issue forms the basis of another debate that we can afford to postpone, at least for a while. But today's debate has a real time urgency about it. The anticipated weather conditions over this summer will be crueller than we have seen for some time. I can only hope that that will be proven wrong-I would be happy to eat humble pie on that-but the combination of drought, fuel on the ground and weather spells extreme danger.

Mr Speaker, we all remember the destruction wrought upon the ACT last year. The scars of that destruction are still clearly visible. The landscape in the vicinity of the zoo, for example, previously dominated by stands of eucalypt and pine, now resembles that of Mars. It has been well documented that the ACT fires were started by a combination of human error and carelessness and also by deliberate acts of arson.

I do not need to table the reports that spelt out how severely pushed our firefighting resources were over the critical Christmas Eve-Christmas Day period. I do not think anybody in this place would argue that our firefighters, emergency services generally and the police did a great job to contain a very difficult situation. Indeed, on Christmas Eve on a number of fronts fire teams were successful only when the swirling and gusting north-westerlies abated right on sunset. Severe loss of property at the zoo, for example,


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