Page 4287 - Week 13 - Thursday, 17 November 2005
Unfortunately, however, despite all the rhetoric, it is questionable how far this government has really gone to ensure that the ACT has been resourced and has planned enough for evacuations in the event of other disasters, notably a terrorist attack. That is another discussion, another debate, for another day, but further discussion of the government’s failings in that area will have to be returned to at another time.
There are some identifiable benefits to the amendments, including, as I just mentioned, ensuring the authority has a role in planning, not just managing, emergencies. It now ensures that there are an additional 15 days for public comment on the strategic bushfire management plan after the initial 15-day viewing period. I think that is a good move and a good step forward, but I do not think it is enough and I will come back to that later. It also ensures that land managers of unleased territory land and owners of land within a bushfire abatement zone must lodge a draft operational bushfire plan with the authority and that the authority must give the community regular reports when an emergency is likely to happen, not just when an emergency is under way.
It is unfortunate that it took the serious failing of warnings to the community and lack of information flow to the media during the 2003 bushfire disaster to identify this as a significant flaw in the system, a weakness in the system. Nevertheless, it is a welcome improvement and certainly it improves a situation that transcended a number of governments, not just this government; I will make that point before I proceed any further.
Another improvement is that this amendment enables the authority to have more power when the minister declares a fuels emergency, rather than leaving those powers with the fuels controller, and it ensures that the fuels controller provides information about storage, supply and use of fuel when an emergency has been declared to the authority.
These are all welcome improvements to the Emergencies Act 2004. However, despite the minister’s assurances that the changes are for the most part insignificant, it appears some of the proposed amendments do have the potential to impact quite significantly in some areas, which I will discuss in more detail below. The two consecutive 15-day time periods, the first for viewing and the second for submitting written submissions on the strategic bushfire management plan, are simply not long enough. These periods might need to be extended to allow for serious perusal and analysis of any draft strategic bushfire management plan prior to adoption by the authority.
Bushfire management is a serious subject area and one that has the potential for significant impact on the entire community. A flippant 15 days in which to critique the SBMP or bushfire operational plan submitted and then 15 days to respond in writing I think is far too short a period. It is a gesture of consultation but it is not substantial and barely long enough to allow the government to properly analyse the draft BOP, let alone allow for further public comment.
The opposition thinks that at least four weeks or 28 days after the initial 15-day viewing period ends is a much more appropriate time frame and I will be moving an amendment later to that effect. Looking further into the bill, the requirement of public land managers and private landholders in a bushfire abatement zone to provide the authority with a draft operational bushfire management plan every two years is reasonable and we support that.