Page 3654 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 26 August 2009

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What did they find? They found that there had been innumerable reports prepared after major bushfires—each an excellent report in itself, each with essentially sound recommendations. But what did they also find? They found that, despite many reports, tragedies arising from bushfires continued to be experienced.

The sad reality is that we do not appear to learn either from the continued experience of bushfires or from the learning that is gathered after the event in the form of an expert report or coronial inquiry—such reports as the royal commission into the 1939 bushfires in Victoria, the royal commission into the 1960 bushfires in Western Australia, the report into the 1967 bushfires in Tasmania, the report into the 1998 bushfires in Victoria, the report into the 2002-03 bushfires in Victoria, the McLeod report into the 2003 bushfire disaster in the ACT, as well as a number of commonwealth and state government inquiries into bushfires. I also note the comments being made in Greece at the moment, with major bushfires burning around Athens, about the lack of preparedness only two years after the major bushfires of 2007.

With this history, in this context I have been prompted to prepare this bill. I have consulted a wide range of experts in drafting this bill, and I am also extremely grateful to the parliamentary counsel’s office for their efforts in translating all the inputs into this bill into a system that works. What I present is a relatively straightforward approach to developing and implementing warnings for major bushfire events.

One significant example of the warnings that I have used is the approach used for cyclone warnings. The cyclone warning system has been used consistently for many years. People living in areas that are susceptible to cyclones are well aware of the use of the warnings and, in particular, the hierarchy of warnings from a category 1 to a category 5 cyclone. The rationale for cyclone warnings has been clearly explained to the communities and they understand what is required when a particular category of warning is issued.

Let me run through the approach to bushfire warnings that I propose. The key to any coherent warning system is to have a sound, technical basis to specify what is likely to happen in the immediate future. The basis that I have proposed is that of using the fire danger index. This is a widely recognised concept within the fire-fighting community, yet largely unknown to the general community. At this time devices such as the forest fire danger meters and the grassland danger fire meters exist that provide a sound, technical basis for projecting what the conditions are likely to be for the coming 24 hours.

The McArthur mark 5 forest fire danger meter calculates the fire danger index by combining the following factors: the number of days since rain, rainfall till 9 am that day, the drought factor, the relative humidity, air temperature and wind speed, to calculate the fire danger index for that day. It calculates an index between one and 100 over five categories. A low index is zero to four. Zero actually means nothing will burn. Moderate is five to 11. High is 14 to 23. And the majority of days in the ACT fall within those three categories. Very high is 24 to 49 on the index, and extreme is 50 to 100. It apparently can generate indexes over 100, but the meter itself is just from zero to 100.

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