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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3576 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

One of the things constantly talked about by the brigades-my brigade was talking about it on Sunday with the new recruits who were coming on line-is that part of the busy season is when school goes back in February. I am not sure and I do not think anybody else is sure as to the reason things suddenly get busy for us then-I guess it is just due to a sense of frustration amongst the kids and suddenly being released from school as they get back into their routine-but there seem to be more fires at that time of the year.

What we want to do, in the context of what happened in Canberra last year and in the context of what happened at Mittagong last weekend, is to see some more education being undertaken now, if it can be, or early next year, as it could be, to see whether we can minimise the number of fires that occur in the ACT. The fuel load is high. The highland clearing and the grassland clearing at the weekend was something like 70 per cent, so there is a bit more drying out to go. That drying out will occur in the next month as the temperatures in the early 30s continue.

What we want to do is to take the opportunity to make sure that we get as much information out as possible. Clearly, one of the ways that you can do that so quickly and so effectively, because of the quality of the education system that we have, is through schools. So, Mr Speaker, it is not unreasonable to request some more education, certainly of students, to be undertaken. A much broader program in the context of the year that might occur, given some of the dire predictions, would be even more desirable, and not just for the kids. A large number of older people seem to like lighting fires, which is a shame. With some education or identification of these individuals, perhaps we could minimise the impact on the community.

What we are simply saying-my brigade has done it before and I know that other brigades do it constantly-is that we would rather be out their educating than fighting fires. We will fight the fires if we have to, but we would like to stop them before they start. Education is a very important part of that process and part of the education process is doing it at school.

MR QUINLAN (Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Business and Tourism, Minister for Sport, Racing and Gaming and Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Corrections) (7.45): I guess you can't get enough of a good thing and, as Mr Smyth rightly pointed out, more would be better, but it is the easiest of politics, even though something is happening, to say, "Let's have some more,"and we have seen some pretty easy and lazy politics this week in this place.

Last year, after the quite damaging fires, I gave instructions to the Emergency Services Bureau that they run an education program at the beginning of this season. I announced that, I think, in the media. Of course, with the drought that we have, the season is on us, effectively, before expected, so there is some fast tracking happening, but certainly the Emergency Services Bureau has been working on a public education program. It is not just for kids; it is for the whole family. It is for people who are out and about and see suspicious activity and says that they should err on the side of conservatism and the side of safety and report it.

I agree with Mr Smyth that from time to time children have been involved in lighting fires. They usually tend to be localised grass fires, but children have been involved. I can also assure this house that all the evidence from last year's major fires points to possibly

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