Page 3052 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 22 August 2017

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In line with the motion, my report will include information on: the rationale behind the changes made in 2011 to clarify response arrangements, as agreed by the then chief officers of ACT Fire & Rescue and the ACT Rural Fire Service; the current command and control arrangements in the bushfire abatement zone, or the BAZ; fuel reduction burning in the BAZ; and actions undertaken by the ACT Emergency Services Agency, or ESA, regarding built-up areas close to the New South Wales border.

I would like to start by informing members that the ACT community, the ACT government and the ACT Emergency Services Agency have learnt a lot from the 2003 bushfires. This includes the scrutiny that came with Ron McLeod’s review, the coronial inquiry, and at least four reviews by the ACT Auditor-General. Information gathered from many other significant natural disasters and emergencies that have occurred across Australia since that time also assists in this learning.

Since 2003 and those bushfires, significant changes have occurred in the prevention and management of emergency incidents in the ACT. One of these changes was the adoption of the BAZ, which was a key recommendation out of the McLeod inquiry. The BAZ is currently reflected in the Emergencies Act 2004 and remains in place exactly as intended following the McLeod inquiry. A BAZ is declared under section 71 of the Emergencies Act to incorporate rural areas immediately surrounding the built-up area where specific measures may be required to reduce risk to life and property in the built-up area of Canberra from fires occurring in that zone.

The changes in 2011 referred to in Mrs Jones’s motion were to clarify response arrangements in the BAZ. These response arrangements were agreed by the then chief officers of the ACT fire brigade and the ACT Rural Fire Service and were considered appropriate to meet the needs at the time.

The Emergencies Act is periodically reviewed to ensure that the ESA is able to continue providing best practice emergency services. On 29 October 2015 the review into the Emergencies Act 2004 was tabled in the Assembly. The review identified that one of the areas for further improvement was the responsibility of fire control in the BAZ. The review stated that the procedure for determining which service has control of a fire in the BAZ was cumbersome and potentially problematic. While the response arrangements were considered appropriate in 2011 by the then chief officers of the ACT fire brigade and the ACT Rural Fire Service, the review in 2015 advised that this was an area that could be even further improved. In short, the review proposed that a single service be given specific responsibility for fire control and planning in the BAZ.

This proposal was put forward through the Emergencies Amendment Bill 2016, which was debated and passed in the Assembly on 9 June 2016. The explanatory statement for the bill detailed the cumbersome and potentially problematic procedures from 2011 that were used to determine the service responsible for incident control in relation to fires in the BAZ. During debate on the bill, the then shadow spokesperson for police and emergency services and the ACT Greens spokesperson articulated the issues perfectly. They highlighted the reasons why amendments to arrangements for command and control in the BAZ were necessary.

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