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MS HORODNY (11.11): I would like to speak to the motion, although I have an amendment to it. I am happy to say that the bushfire management in the ACT is one of the best models in Australia. Our Chief Fire Control Officer, Peter Lucas-Smith, and the members of the bushfire fuel management task force are to be commended for their good work. Our neighbouring shires, however, I believe, hold to fire management practices which, unfortunately, are appalling and affect our quality of life in the ACT.
The Wee Jasper “out of control” burn by New South Wales State Forests some six weeks ago, which created the huge smoke haze over Canberra, was a burn which was badly managed, for a number of reasons. The area burnt, which was over 4,000 hectares, was far too big to control at any one time. Our own Chief Fire Control Officer advised the Yass District Fire Officer not to conduct the burn at that time because of adverse weather conditions, and this advice was disregarded. There was no care taken to protect the wildlife in this huge area, and thousands of animals were incinerated. When the burn-off became out of control, because incendiary devices were dropped into the wrong areas, the fire became a high-temperature burn, destroying the delicate balance of that local ecosystem. It will obviously take many decades, if not longer, for this balance to be restored.
The Wee Jasper fire created a serious enough smoke hazard in the ACT to prompt the Health Department to issue warnings to asthmatics and people with bronchial problems. As we all know, nature does not conform to State or electoral boundaries. The wildlife, the biodiversity and the entire ecosystem in this 4,000 hectares are part of the heritage of all residents in this region, be they in New South Wales or the ACT. The decisions of these shires are clearly an issue for the quality of life of ACT residents. Not only is our natural environment being degraded, but the health of many ACT residents is also affected. As has been shown from recent events, even mild asthmatics can be badly affected by such a smoke haze. This is one of many issues where cross-border cooperation has to be improved. The concept of the ACT as an island within New South Wales must be addressed and overcome. Perpetuating this mind-set affects all ACT residents adversely, I believe.
It is imperative that the Minister for the Environment, Land and Planning and Minister for Emergency Services, Mr Humphries, become involved in discussions with these shires to impress upon them the urgent nature of this issue. He should also be having urgent talks with the New South Wales EPA - it was interesting to hear that there has been some progress in this area - and the New South Wales Environment Minister, with whom he has had some correspondence, to look for permanent solutions to these problems. It is important that the advice of ACT air pollution and bushfire experts is not disregarded by the slash-and-burn brigades controlling some New South Wales bushfire councils. I therefore seek to amend Mr Berry's motion. I move:
Omit all words after “That”, substitute the following: “Mr Humphries immediately establish coordination with NSW Authorities and broaden the parameters to include a more cooperative arrangement concerning comprehensive fire management covering the whole region”.