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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 7 Hansard (22 August) . . Page.. 1867..

Emergency services—mobile data communications systems

Debate resumed.

MR PRATT (Brindabella) (4.03): The opposition will not be supporting Mr Corbell's amendment. I think that has already been clearly explained. This is really just a self-congratulatory amendment on what amounts to nothing but inaction. The mobile data system FireLink was supposed to be fully operational in bushfire season 2004-05. This was one of the chief justifications given by the commissioner in the presence of Minister Wood, and later in the presence of Minister Hargreaves, in budget and annual report hearings in 2005 and 2006. How could Mr Corbell move an amendment today congratulating the government on taking a responsible, informed decision to sack FireLink when his two predecessors were present at hearings at which their officials repeatedly advised that FireLink was fine, despite the persistent feedback from the field, from the operational users, that FireLink was simply not settling in?

Why is it so congratulatory that it took this government three years to wake up to the fact that FireLink, whilst a competent capability in other theatres, was just not settling down reliably in the ACT emergency services theatre, for whatever reason there might have been? Perhaps it was too sophisticated, as has been claimed by experienced firefighters. Perhaps it was difficult to train crews in it because of that sophistication. We do know that ministers simply were not vigilant enough.

Let us look at what Mr Hargreaves said. On 16 November 2006, Mr Hargreaves said, "FireLink was fully operational and successfully used."He said that two years after becoming the emergency services minister, despite repeated, early indications during his reign that FireLink was not fully operational. The captain of the southern brigade of the rural fire service told Mr Hargreaves, other officials and departmental officials in JACS that FireLink was troublesome and that his brigade was having trouble with the demanding training required for crews on how to use the in-vehicle boxes. I have it on very good authority that senior officials, in meetings with Minister Hargreaves, were not asked to detail the state of FireLink. In fact, they were repeatedly asked by Mr Hargreaves: "Tell me what I need to say to avoid scrutiny of FireLink's problems. That's all I need to know. I just need to know how I can avoid the tough questions in estimates or in annual report hearings on the shortcomings of FireLink and why the program is simply not progressing."That is why Mr Corbell's amendment will not be supported. His predecessors had ample opportunity to scrutinise the facts and take earlier remedial action in relation to the mobile data system, then called FireLink.

The other reason why we cannot support Mr Corbell's amendment is that it simply does not address the action that must be taken to identify what they are going to do about the mobile data system gap that will exist in the coming bushfire season. The opposition's motion identifies a problem and calls for urgent advice on what action this government will take during the coming bushfire season. We are talking about three bushfire seasons after FireLink was said to be ready to be fully operational—a prime justification for why FireLink was single select tendered. Three seasons later, we have a yawning gap in the communications system. What the opposition and the community want to know is what this government is going to do now to replace FireLink so as to ensure that our services are better equipped for the coming bushfire

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