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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 11 Hansard (21 October) . . Page.. 3849 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

Ms Tucker, and get back to you. I am more than happy to provide to you and to the Assembly details of any analyses that were undertaken in relation to Cooleman Ridge or the impact that cattle may have.

In relation to the behaviour of the fire on January 18 vis-a-vis Chapman, it was not an ordinary fire. I do recall reading in the Canberra Times over the last couple of weeks evidence tendered to the coronial inquest that the firestorm that came across the essentially open grassed hill of Chapman and struck Chapman and the winds associated with it reached speeds of between 150 and 200 kilometres per hour. In the context of that and in the context of the nature of the firestorm that struck particularly in that area, one cannot draw any conclusions, I would have thought. The grass was short on January 18; nevertheless, the fire was devastating. We cannot assume that the grazing of Cooleman Ridge and the reduction of the length of the grass will have a similar impact.

The events of January 18 were extraordinary. The fire created a climate of its own, a microclimate that generated a tornado, with the fire front and the fireballs associated with it travelling at speeds of between 150 and 200 kilometres per hour. It was a completely different scenario and a very rare and unique one, which some of us tend to forget from time to time. It was a unique event-a firestorm with winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour associated with it. One is not talking here about an average or common bushfire.

We do now have in a range of areas around Canberra a real issue in relation to grass and the potential for the grass that will grow over this spring to dry out during summer and present a very real fire hazard. To that extent, I think that the major hazard facing Weston Creek and the southern areas of Canberra is, indeed, the long, dry grass that will be a product of the balmy and moist spring that we are currently experiencing. There are real issues around grass and the potential for grass to be a real bushfire hazard over the coming summer. I would imagine that it was in the context of that that the decisions were made, but I will take specific advice and provide a written brief to Ms Tucker.

MS TUCKER: I have a supplementary question. Will you ask Environment ACT to delay construction of the fence tomorrow and, instead, consult with the park care group and other interested members of the community and, as well, allow the Assembly time to see the advice that you will be tabling?

MR STANHOPE: I would be happy to do that, Ms Tucker. I will need to take some advice on contractual provisions and whether contracts have been let and work commenced and those sorts of things. To the extent that there is no real impediment or reason for us not to delay until perhaps the consultation you seek and until I am at least briefed on the issues-I have not been briefed on this matter-I am happy to seek to delay the work. If you will just give me that latitude of checking whether we are under some contractual obligations, having signed contracts, or there are issues such as that. I do not know any of the facts around this matter. I am happy to get to them.

This is a very real and live issue for our community, Ms Tucker. I accept and understand that; but, in the context of the experience of January 18, we are determined to ensure that we protect the community to the extent that we can and must. As a result of that, I have no doubt that there will be decisions of government, as there have been at Oakey Hill, which will be distressing to some residents. I am sorry about that, but I do not apologise

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