Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3571 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

was only just avoided. Unfortunately, the wholesale destruction of hundreds of hectares of valuable pine and native bushland was not averted.

Clearly, the ACT community needs to do all in its power to prevent this happening again. Of course, you cannot legislate to rule out risk, but you can always do whatever you can to try to minimise such risk. This need takes on a new urgency, given the explosive conditions I have outlined. I believe that all ACT residents can be satisfied that our emergency services have done all that they can possibly do to prepare for this dangerous season.

Our bushfire and urban brigades have been out and about for months backburning and preparing the field. Where vulnerable neighbourhoods, particularly those fronting on to bushland on their western fringes and perhaps with western gradients falling away, have cooperated with fire units in preventive preparations and education, the fire units have been most willing and they have been proactive.

The same applies to school education. Where schools have been diligent and sought to undertake education on bushfire prevention programs, employing expert assistance, fire units have been willing. Contingency planning by the emergency services has been extensive and we on this side of politics salute their diligence and professionalism, as I am sure does everybody else in this chamber. In short, the emergency services have done about as much as they can possibly do. But, Mr Speaker, have we as a community done all that we can possible do in terms of both pulling our own weight and backing up our fire services and emergency services in general? The community generally could do a lot more, given the grave conditions that we face.

When I speak to the directors, senior officers and field personnel in the emergency services arena, they repeatedly tell me, as if one needed to be told anyway, that the key to combating the threat is prevention and educating ACT residents as to their roles and responsibilities in protecting our community and territorial forests and grasslands. These personnel advise that it is imperative that we hammer home the lesson to the community as a whole and to our youth in particular just how fragile and vulnerable our environment is in the warmer months and therefore make our residents aware of their responsibilities when working, travelling through or playing in this fragile summer environment.

Mr Speaker, let me touch on the very sensitive subject of arson. As was experienced across the country in the cruellest of fashions, a significant number of the fire breakouts that occurred here were also as a result of arson, too often by youths, some apparently in their very early teens. It is simply inexplicable what drives arsonists of all ages to risk starting conflagrations that are of dire consequences. That, too, is an important debate. But in terms of the real time urgency confronting the ACT community this year, perhaps that debate needs to wait just a fraction. From what I can determine, the community has in place reasonable programs for rehabilitating arsonists-the youths and, of course, senior people who are involved in that wretched behaviour.

While the whole subject of offences, deterrence and rehabilitation relative to arson needs re-examination, that is not of urgent concern at this point. Intervention before the act of arson is the most important thing. The emergency services and volunteer firefighters quietly insist that the only way to minimise the risk of arson is through community pressure and education. We desperately need the means to reach into the hearts and

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .