Page 2455 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 29 June 2005

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There are thousands of house fires in Australia every year. About a third of these occur during the winter months, when people are using fires, heaters and other electrical equipment. We usually do not hear about most house fires and that is largely because, thanks to the efforts of our fire brigades, the fires are controlled before they result in fatalities. Thankfully, the vast majority of people escape with their lives. Smoke detectors play a vital role in reducing house fire fatalities and can mean the difference between life and death.

I urge all Canberra residents not to wait for legislation but rather to install a device as soon as they can. They are relatively inexpensive. Battery-operated models retail for about $15 to $20 and I understand they are easy to install. It is a small investment when you consider the lives it can save, as well as the property. Every family in the ACT should ensure that they have taken basic precautions to ensure their homes are as fire safe as possible. I commend the motion.

MR HARGREAVES (Brindabella—Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (3.36): I thank Ms MacDonald for the motion. Fire safety and prevention are very important topics and, hopefully, by discussing them, Canberrans will become more fire aware. It is timely that we are discussing these topics because, as mentioned by Ms MacDonald, the number of residential fires attended during the winter months in the ACT rises dramatically. During the height of winter in 2003-2004, July and August, that is, the ACT experienced a 62 per cent increase in structural fires, compared with summer, January to February. I know I am not telling you anything much, Mr Speaker, but there are members here who do not have your vast experience in fighting fires.

The number of fatal house fires across New South Wales and Queensland in recent weeks serves only to highlight the increased danger faced by the Canberra community as the cold weather sets in. It is an interesting statistic—because everyone is very fire aware in the summer, when we are all on the alert for bushfires and we are all feeling the soaring temperatures—that what a lot of us forget is that winter is a danger time when it comes to leaving on electrical appliances such as blankets and heaters.

Apart from the tragic deaths we have seen in New South Wales and Queensland in the past few weeks, there is also a huge financial cost to the community when a home is affected by fire. This includes the cost of response and support agencies and can also result in higher insurance premiums for the general community.

This government promotes the installation of fire alarms in all homes. Smoke alarms give residents a chance to evacuate a burning home safely and provide a warning in those first critical moments of a fire. They should be the first step in home fire safety plans. The government urges every single household to make a decision themselves to install one. It could mean the difference between life and death.

The value of having smoke alarms installed in residential properties was again highlighted last week following a house fire in Macgregor. The lone occupant was asleep when the blaze erupted inside the home, after a dryer caught alight. She was quickly woken by the noise of a smoke alarm and was then able to escape the blaze. This serves

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