Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (30 January) . . Page.. 23 ..
MR CORNWELL (11.41): Unlike most members here, I am not in a position to speak of the fire on 18 January because, along with numbers of other people from Canberra, I was not here. In fact, I was a bit further away than most people, in London. By the time I had organised an early return, not only much of what Mr Wood and other ministers have spoken about had occurred but also action was being taken to improve the situation.
Nevertheless, I feel that I can speak in terms of looking ahead. That is why I would like to support my leader's suggestion that some form of inquiry be conducted-not, let me stress, to criticise the magnificent work that was done on Saturday, 18 January and also subsequently, but rather to make sure that either such an event does not happen again or the enormous problems it has caused can in some way be minimised.
I also believe it would be of great benefit to people who have experienced this loss to have the opportunity, if they wished, to put forward their views on what could be of benefit or improvement. For example, I think we need to address the role of environmental and conservation policies, their influences and whether we have given too much importance to these in the past. I appreciate that there should be a balance, but there has been a lot of talk about the fuel that was in the forests. These matters need to be investigated, and I do not believe that a coronial inquest, which is directed at other matters, will bring these out.
We are going to have to have a look at some of our advice. Yesterday I picked up, at the shopfront opposite, this brochure I have here on the Canberra Nature Park, relating to Red Hill. Under the heading "Animals"it states that the livestock you see grazing on Red Hill play an important role in reducing the risk of bushfires. Members will be aware that the livestock on Red Hill has been removed for quite a number of years. I do not give that as a criticism; I simply indicate it as a need to investigate where we are at.
I would like to commend the role of radio-666 and, I understand, 2CC-and the Canberra Times. However, perhaps we need to investigate how information can be given out to a population of 310,000 people in a way that does not rely on the good offices of media outlets to take this very responsible step.
I do not believe that the inquiry will interfere with either the coronial inquest or the practical issues that need to be addressed at the moment. I thank the Minister for Education for her comments on the question of pupils who have been displaced from not only Duffy but also Chapman-and Weston Primary, which was the feeder school for the Stromlo settlement. I thank you for your undertaking that, if they wish to return to their schools, you will facilitate that, irrespective of where they are temporarily located in the ACT. It is important that primary school children in particular have something to hang on to.
Minister, I have raised this question with you, and I will repeat it publicly: there is some concern, in relation to their budgets, about whether these schools will find themselves being charged for extra costs by being open over this non-school period. Further, there is the question of counsellors to assist the children. Whether or not these children have been displaced, they will need some assistance, and I hope that you look compassionately at those issues. I have outlined them in a letter to you, and I look forward to hearing from you.