Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (23 September) . . Page.. 3476 ..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
really could have been anticipated and should have been included in the first round of the budget for this year.
Mr Speaker, with regard to the bushfires in particular, the majority of the members of the committee had some concerns about what appears to be a lack of a strategic overview in the approach to fire management in the ACT. For instance, Mr McLeod recommended that a new structure be set up under a commissioner for emergency services and a process has been put in place by the government to employ the new commissioner, but decisions are already being made which will shape and form the direction the new service will take without the input of the commissioner.
We think that this highlights the lack of a strategic approach to what the government is attempting to do in its response to the January bushfires. In many cases, the answer has been more or less, "McLeod told us so; it was a recommendation by McLeod."When asked what sort of strategic analysis had been done, Treasury officials told us that they had left the strategic stuff to the experts and they had done the number crunching; but when the experts were asked whether McLeod's recommendations had been tested by other experts and what were the thoughts there, the response was that that work had not been done.
What we have is confirmation of what the Chief Minister said some days before the McLeod report was delivered, that is, that the government was simply going to accept almost blithely what McLeod said and implement it. I think that there are some concerns in that, because McLeod seems to be recommending a model which would be based largely on the approach that, say, Tasmania, Victoria or South Australia take; yet the ACT is, of course, an island in New South Wales and the first response units that would ever arrive here would be from New South Wales. I have some concerns about that and the committee certainly had some concerns about that as well.
Other concerns that we had in particular on the bushfire elements of the bill related to the way that some of the recommendations are being implemented. For instance, on page 131 of the McLeod report there is a recommendation that four rural pumpers be added to the fire service fleet, specifically for use in the rural-urban interface. There was a large amount of discussion about those four pumpers. When asked how the number of four was achieved and what analysis had gone into ensuring that that was the appropriate number, the answer that came back basically was that that would give us a pumper for each of the stations on the western side of the ACT. There was no analysis as to whether that was where they were needed. There was no analysis as to whether there should be more or less. It was just that we were told to build four and we are building four. I think that that highlights the government's approach to the response to the McLeod report.
The concern for me is that, even though McLeod does not say so, what will happen is that nine units that the Fire Brigade, the paid metropolitan brigade, currently have will be removed from the Fire Brigade. Three Mercedes units, four light units and two bushfire tankers will be removed from the Fire Brigade and go to a strategic pool or be allocated to the volunteer brigades. At first blush, it sounds like we will have an extra resource, and we will, but we will have removed from the Fire Brigade the flexibility that they have in the approach that they take to combating small grass fires or larger fires that start in the urban area when they are the first response unit.