Page 4292 - Week 13 - Thursday, 17 November 2005

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I should make it clear that I am going to support the amendment bill. I was prepared to support it as it is, and I will support the bill. It proposes straightforward, sensible changes, clarifies the emergency services commissioner’s power by allowing him or her, currently him, to—

MR SPEAKER: Dr Foskey, we have already dealt with the in-principle motion and it would be better if you stuck to the amendments.

DR FOSKEY: I am supporting the amendment to clause 10 about public consultation because I believe that increasing the period to 28 days is reasonable. We all know the problems with public consultation. Interested people are usually busy people and allowing for 28 days seems like a move in favour of improved consultation. I do not think I would die in a ditch about the first part of the amendment to clause 12, concerning subsection 78 (2). It does seem reasonable to have a closing date by which the person must give the authority a draft bushfire operation plan, and 1 June seems sensible because it is just at the beginning and allows that person to plan for whatever it is they plan to do, probably during late winter and spring, before the bushfire period commences, which is usually in summer.

I think that changing “may” to “is required to” in subsection 78 (3) is a good move. “May” is one of those woolly words—a person might do it and might not—and it seems fair enough to require the authority to act. The amendment of subsection 78 (4) to require the authority to approve or reject a plan in writing is a good idea. Requiring it to do so within 90 days of the submission of the plan seems fair enough. But increasing the powers of the authority to direct or to undertake fire prevention actions does need looking into.

During the summer of January 2003 when we had our fires, my own block of land down in far-east Gippsland was surrounded by fire. In my absence, it was not even noted that there was a dwelling in the midst of this bit of bush and preparations were made to burn the whole area. It was only that a neighbour had alerted me to those plans that I was able to let people know that there was actually a house there. I see a few problems with that one and I am not going to support it, but I do suggest that perhaps discussions could be had between Mr Pratt and Mr Hargreaves, or various representatives thereof, and these amendments could be considered at some future time.

Mr Hargreaves: Discourtesy will be treated with discourtesy.

DR FOSKEY: In the interests of good legislation, discussion may well be a good idea.

MR PRATT (Brindabella) (12.05): Mr Speaker, I rise to take on board the comments that have been made here today in relation to these amendments. I believe that these amendments are very important. They go to the heart of good strategic management and holding people accountable for their actions, both those who have a responsibility to maintain land in vulnerable bushfire areas and, of course, our own authorities, to ensure that they do the best they can to prepare the community for coming bushfire seasons. So I believe that these amendments are fundamental.

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