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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 3265 ..


MR PRATT: Mr Speaker, my question, through you, is to the minister for emergency services, Mr Wood. Mr Wood, according to a media report yesterday on the New South Wales coronial inquiry into the January 2003 bushfires, incompatible computer services have been blamed for the initial response times to the bushfires. The New South Wales coronial inquiry has heard that a lack of technical coordination between emergency services and agencies caused the problems. It has also been stated that procedures used to record the outbreak of fires were incompatible.

Mr Wood, in relation to the bushfires that hit Canberra in January 2003, was this systemic weakness identified, too, as a factor in Canberra's response to the fires?

MR WOOD: Not that I'm aware of, Mr Speaker. It is a weakness; there's no question about that. We've committed something over $20 million to a new communications system, and that is a system beyond the CAD systems, which was one of the first decisions I took when I became minister.

We would hope that, as we spend that very large amount of money, we can find a system that is compatible, especially with New South Wales but with any other system. But I am advised that that is not an easy thing to do. There are quite a range of complexities around that.

One of the difficulties is that jurisdictions at different times update their equipment. New South Wales updated theirs two or three years ago; we're in the process of updating ours. Technology has moved ahead. It is not easy to get an exact match. There are so many issues involved. The aim is to have compatibility. We'll tell you perhaps towards the middle of next year some time, as we refine our system, whether we're going to be able to marry into other systems.

But I haven't had reports that the difficulties hampered the firefighting effort. There were circumstances where messages were relayed-no doubt about that-from someone on one phone who then passed it on to somebody else standing next to them perhaps. There were circumstances of that nature. While it wasn't a help, I do not believe it was a hindrance.

MR SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Mr Pratt.

MR PRATT: Mr Wood, instead of waiting until mid next year, will you assure this place that we could try to work on sorting these issues out before the approaching bushfire season? Will you work with federal and other jurisdictional counterparts to try to do something about this compatibility problem before the next fire season?

MR WOOD: You've directed my answer from one issue to another. Yes, as a result of last year's fires, a great deal has been done to refine processes to make sure that communications work at their best possible level in view of the differing systems we operate. That is happening or has happened. As we acquire this new system, we will work with everybody and anybody in order, to use your words, to try to achieve that compatibility that is desirable.

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