Page 2409 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 29 June 2005

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Wednesday, 29 June 2005

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Environment Protection (Fire Hazard Reduction) Amendment Bill 2005

Mrs Dunne, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Clerk.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (10.31): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

The Environment Protection (Fire Hazard Reduction) Amendment Bill 2005 is very straightforward. It makes it easier for our front-line firefighters to do the vital hazard reduction work necessary to protect our community. At present the process that firefighters, either from the Rural Fire Service or the land management agencies, must go through to get approval to conduct hazard reduction burns is cumbersome. There is a lot of red tape, especially around the conditions under which firefighters can actually carry through with a hazard reduction burn once they have received permission.

Of particular concern are the conditions that often attach to an authorisation to burn relating to smoke pollution. Most burns are at present subject to the smoke management guidelines for prescribed burning. I am not sure how long the document has been created. Truth be told, its genesis probably goes back to when we were in government. As is the wont of bureaucracy, what should be a simple concept to experienced firefighters with on-ground knowledge of fire behaviour has become unnecessarily complicated by rigid and complex guidelines about when a burn can and cannot proceed because smoke may drift or may annoy people.

This bill essentially requires officers of the land management agencies not to consider the inconvenience of smoke pollution and smoke drift when planning a hazard reduction burn or deciding whether or not to proceed with a burn. Hazard reduction work is critical to preventing the catastrophic impact that bushfires can have on our community. As such, we are of the view that the imperative is to conduct burns in the limited amount of time, or windows, available to conduct such burns and that associated mitigation in the threat of bushfires should prevail over concerns about inconvenience caused to the community by smoke drift.

As all members are aware, the levels of fuel reduction in the ACT have been the focus of much attention, both in the McLeod inquiry and the select parliamentary committee inquiry into recent bushfires. It is important to note that the McLeod inquiry found that, “Something more substantial than the present program is warranted in those areas unaffected by the 2003 fires.” Indeed, the McLeod report states that fuel is the only element of a bushfire that human endeavour can influence.

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