Page 3900 - Week 10 - Thursday, 27 August 2009

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fire index was actually just a manual calculator, you twisted a few dials and it gave you the number; it actually only allowed for 0-100. But it has been computerised now. When you feed in the data, you get these extraordinary figures. Remember in Canberra, on 18 January 2003, the fuel fire danger index the night before was 62.

Mr Hargreaves: What about the 2001 fire? What about that one?

MR SMYTH: I do not have that data. Perhaps you could find that out for us, Mr Hargreaves.

Mr Hargreaves: You were the minister at the time.

MR SMYTH: No, 2001.

Mr Hargreaves: No, your government was in. Yes, your government was in power. Your government was in power preparing us for the 2001 fire.

MR SMYTH: Mr Hargreaves forgets his history. It is an important issue, despite the interjections of Mr Hargreaves. So 0-100 is the norm. In Victoria, the Kilmore east fires were 328. A chart on page 157 of the interim report, under the chapter “Information”, gives the fire danger indices forecast for 7 February 2009, moving from locations generally in the west of the state to the east of the state. In the 0-100 range, it was 62 in the ACT out of 100 on 18 January 2003.

The indices for Victoria were: Walpeup, 148; Swan Hill airport, 159; Horsham airport, 137; Stawell, 133; Ballarat airport, 185; Hamilton airport, 128; Mortlake, 102; Bendigo airport, 142; Shepparton airport, 127; Mangalore airport, 131; Geelong airport, 129; Coldstream, 142; Tullamarine, on the western side of Melbourne city, millions of people, 164; Dunns Hill, moving towards the eastern side of Melbourne, 136; Wonthaggi, 79; Albury-Wodonga, 100; Wangaratta, 100; Hunters Hill, 86; Latrobe Valley, 133; east Sale airport, 112; Mount Moornapa, 125; Orbost, 84; Gelantipy, 95; Falls Creek, 56. Every single one of those is above the 50 mark, which makes it an extreme day at the start. Some are two, three and four times that size. And when you go to the grass fire index, they are even higher.

What I think those words from the Brown family “we just didn’t understand what extreme meant” show is that we have to have a very serious think as a nation about what we do with the index. I will finish by reading again what Mr Brown had to say:

When you have an index that normally runs from 0-100 as its top end and it was registering 328, that is a very graphic illustration of the seriousness of the potential event and I think that would have been quite easy for people to understand …

We need to make it easy. I would ask people to look at my bill in light of some of those numbers. What they are forecasting in Victoria is that potentially the coming fire season in Victoria is as bad, if not worse, than what was occurring in February of this year. I think we need to take it very seriously. We need to put things in place quickly, even if they are interim measures, to make sure that we have warning systems in place for the coming season.

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