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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 334 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

I was in town when the fires occurred. I remember seeing the smoke and the fires. There was a very strong wind on 24 December. An incredibly dangerous situation developed on that afternoon, as outlined by Mr Quinlan in his remarks. The fires were very difficult to contain because of the wind conditions. I think we all should take our hats off and most sincerely thank the brilliant efforts of so many hundreds of Canberrans and their colleagues who came from interstate to assist us, as we have assisted our colleagues interstate in times of trouble. It was a fantastic community effort not only by our people but by their colleagues from interstate.

On Thursday I understand the government is introducing legislation to crank up penalties and revise arson offences, bringing them back into the modern world and making them more relevant. It is essential that we have current and effective legislation so that we can bring home to people who would start fires the abhorrence of the community and the very serious nature of those actions. Those actions are life threatening. It is absolutely abhorrent that anyone can consider lighting fires. Yet tragically it seems most of the fires in the ACT were deliberately lit, as they were in New South Wales. It is most important that we as an Assembly do all we can to deter people from doing those criminal and obnoxious acts that put in danger the lives of so many decent citizens in this territory.

Numbers have been given for the people involved-615 or so from the ACT, New South Wales and Victoria, nearly 400 of whom were volunteers. Without taking anything away from the men and women of our Emergency Services and the persons whose full-time jobs put them in the line in fighting these fires, I suppose a special tribute needs to be paid to the volunteers who give up their time freely, who are on call and who gave up Christmas with their families to work to save their communities. I think it is most appropriate the Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister is giving a big community thankyou to these hundreds of very brave, very dedicated and wonderful men and women. I join with everyone else in thanking them and congratulating them on a brilliant job well done, and I thank God that they all returned safely to their homes.

MR PRATT (11.57): Mr Speaker, I too wish to add my thanks to the bushfire services and the emergency services, and I concurrently wish to flag an issue of concern. I observed the work of the firefighters on Christmas Eve on Red Hill as the fires burnt down to the edges of Mugga Way. I can report that I and the residents lined up along back fences along Mugga Way spoke extremely positively of the men and women working up the steep inclines of the eastern slopes of Red Hill.

Following this, over the following couple of days, I was to observe the immediate aftermath of the fires that had raged through the eastern zones of the Brindabella Valley and wondered how in blazes, given the robust wind conditions, there was no serious damage caused in those areas. Of course the reason was, again, the professionalism and the clever tactical planning of the emergency services that had responded to tackle those blazes. It is a feather in their cap. We can be extremely proud of these services, both volunteer and full-time professional.

Mr Speaker, as an aside, I would like to mention the grave concern that I have that the lives of these brave firefighters and the residents they were protecting, particularly in Brindabella, may well have been put in jeopardy by people deliberately lighting bushfires. I would flag the need to tackle this deep concern that the community has

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