Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (26 November) . . Page.. 4691 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
The level of consultation and consideration of those who were involved in the front-line action during the bushfires has been missing from the debate. They seem to be saying that they have been largely dismissed in the process. I know that we have all, as members of the Assembly, gone out of our way to have meetings with different organisations involved in disaster management in the ACT, but that is an individual process that has been happening. There has not necessarily been a coordinated approach. I think that the concerns that have been raised in this chamber again and again about how the people involved in emergency situations are actually debriefed are still valid today.
In looking at the structure of emergency services-in this case, separate fire, emergency services and ambulance authorities-it appears that the people on the ground have been left out and the focus has been more on what is happening at the higher levels than how things will actually work at the grassroots level. I think that we need to work more on trying to understand the internal communications and operations within these units. The question of what level of responsibility should be granted to whom in dealing with a large-scale disaster does not seem to have generated much interest by government and I do not think that it is effectively dealt with by this legislation.
A round table was convened by Ms Tucker to try to get some movement on this issue, but the process seems to have fallen apart due to the reluctance of some participants to work to a consensus. I think that the opposition has become frustrated, as have many others, at this lack of progress and has brought this bill on for debate today to move the debate forward. I hope that that will have some effect and that we will go back and sit down with the people on the ground and ask them what went wrong in their view or what went right in their view.
I think that the problem is that both the opposition and the government have put forward models and said, "This is what we're going to work towards. We will consult, as long as the answer is what we said it will be,"but they have not left open the opportunity for people to say that they think that something worked pretty well and would like it to stay or that they think that something did not work very well, but it could be fixed through a much simpler mechanism than changing the entire bureaucracy.
I note that we have had recently the appointment of Major General Peter Dunn. I think that his role will be quite important in the consultation phase, but he needs to remember that consultation works only if the input that people are putting forward actually has an impact on the decision making process and the decisions are not already made. I wish him luck in working with employees and volunteers to find a sensible and consensus solution to the operational problems that were identified not only in 2003 but also in 2001.
The real test will be the response of the government to the current bushfire season and whether we will be able to rebuild the enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteer bushfire fighters. The whole debate continues to leave some volunteers feeling shut out of the process and unrewarded for their dedication to protecting the lives and property of the people of Canberra. I think that that is a very important consideration in this whole debate, in that we can continue to shuffle organisations around, but we are dealing with people in the end, people who put their lives on the line for our city, and that needs to be respected.