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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2887 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

What has been becoming patently obvious is that the ESB established in recent years has become bureaucratically cumbersome. Hitherto excellent emergency agencies clustered under the umbrella of an overarching bureau have clearly lost their operational edge. Operational standards, camaraderie and morale have clearly deteriorated in all of these agencies because they all lost their operational autonomy and integrity. It has become clear that it is necessary to break out from the ESB all of those agencies and restore their autonomy.

Mr Speaker, the Liberals have come to the view, having viewed the lessons of December 2001 and January 2003, and after a bevy of consultations with the community, that the establishment of the ESB was not one of our finer moments. It was a mistake. We have decided that the ESB, as we now know it, and the under-writing legislation must be dismantled and the whole emergency organisational system restructured. We have come to the view that it is vital to recover operational responsiveness, because fundamentally that is what is needed to restore the integrity of the ACT's emergency capability and to make the ACT a safer place to live.

Mr Speaker, it was patently clear after the systemic failures reported post-December 2001 that the ESB structure was not delivering to the ACT the emergency services that we needed. The dreadful fire conditions of 2002-clearly deteriorating to a point below that of the frightening situation of December 2001-were not being adequately responded to by the ESB structure. The Labor government clearly did not pick up on that, in terms of the ponderously slow response by ESB to the 102 lessons arising from December 2001.

The complacent bureaucratic routine by the ESB through 2002, in what was shaping up to be the worst fire season on record, was not checked by anybody. On the other hand, despite this, ACT emergency agencies worked hard and well through 2002 to do their best to prepare the community for summer. Outstanding, urgent and life saving equipment issues, however, were treated as a routine departmental administrative task. This was particularly the case in relation to communications equipment and systems. Strategic planning by the ESB management to better direct its emergency agencies, in terms of bushfire preventive planning and action, was uninspiring to say the least.

Little was done to prepare vulnerable suburbs and very little bushfire community and schools education was carried out, as recommended after December 2001. The warning bells should have alerted the government about ESB and its failed bureaucracy-and its failed programs-but, alas, nothing seems to have registered.

Generally, the opposition proposes a number of new statutory authorities-and to this point McLeod is right, although he only foresaw one single authority. Where we also differ with McLeod is that we do not wish to see the same old bureaucracy transfer out of JACS intact with the same cluster of agencies reporting to an ESB headquarters, as proposed by Mr McLeod. This is what the bureaucrats want but it is not what the firefighting and emergency agencies community, nor I suspect the ACT community in general, want at all. We do not wish to see a failed bureaucracy replaced with another bureaucracy which will fail.

We propose, as you will see in further detail below, a total break-up with agencies generally "standing alone"and reporting through their own statutory authority boards.

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