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Speech: Bushfires Amendment Bill

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:32): Bushfires have long been a regular occurrence in our country, there is no doubt about that. They are so common that many native plant species have adapted to require scarification from hot temperatures in order for their seeds to germinate. This is far from a new phenomenon that we are grappling with. What has changed of course is the severity—the increasing severity and scale of these fires—and the ever-shrinking window we have to prepare for them due to climate change.

This bill seeks to enhance some of the measures we take to help us prepare and protect ourselves from these inevitable fires. Prescribed burning, while certainly not the only measure, is an extremely important and valuable tool to be used in reducing the severity of bushfires and one that has been used in various forms for so many thousands of years by Indigenous communities. However, much like any tool, it must be used effectively in order to have the best outcome. There have been concerns raised not only about the underutilisation of prescribed burning by private landowners due to a lack of knowledge of how to safely conduct them but also with burns being carried out in areas that are not critical to protecting our communities.

For prescribed burning to work as effectively as it can, it must be undertaken on both public and private land and in areas where it will have the most benefit. As the Hon. John Darley mentioned in his second reading explanation, using this method effectively requires a large commitment of human resources, physical assets and relevant expertise, which can be costly and therefore not accessible to many people or councils.

The Greens have long supported prescribed burning when it is used appropriately. The topic of prescribed burns is often a tricky one to navigate but it is not something we can afford to toss into the too hard basket, nor is it something we can rely completely upon due to the small amount of time when conditions are ideal to carry out burns safely. The Greens believe there is much to learn from the traditional custodians of this land and we should be listening to those communities about their various cultural fire practices.

Further, we must ensure that communities are educated and that they are trained and provided with the resources they need to adequately prepare for a bushfire, especially those who live in the higher risk areas; that new and existing buildings and spaces in high-risk areas are fireproofed as much as possible and that existing buildings and spaces are too; and that both our country and our metropolitan fire services receive the funding they need to be appropriately equipped and trained while still having the capacity to continuously recruit more workers.

There is no silver bullet with regard to bushfire safety and we must ensure that we are continuously reassessing our toolbox so that we are basing our approach on the best available science, whilst balancing competing social, economic and environmental factors. This bill also seeks to introduce bushfire monitoring and detection cameras. These cameras are intended to help provide for the early detection of fires, which can be crucial and aid in identifying arsonists. This could be a game changer in protecting people, environment and country, as well as property.

Although I support this, I would like to put on the record that we have some concerns that have been raised in enshrining this system in our law without trialling it first and placing this responsibility on the already strained State Bushfire Coordination Committee. This committee has an extremely important and difficult task to undertake and we should be doing all we can to ensure that they are able to carry out their duties efficiently, and not overloading them.

We have seen time and time again the absolute devastation that bushfires can cause, and I am sure the terrifying and heartbreaking images from the 2019-20 bushfire season are still fresh in our minds, as is the memory of that choking smoke. Unfortunately, this of course is only the beginning. As the sixth IPCC report highlighted, extreme fire days are becoming more common. The fire seasons are becoming longer, and the intensity, frequency and duration of fire weather events are projected to increase throughout our nation.

This bill is a step in the right direction, but these measures must be accompanied by serious, immediate and long-term climate action at every level of government—state, federal and local. Some governments are acting appropriately and taking this risk seriously, but others are dragging their feet, risking all of our futures for power or for money. If we truly want to protect people, environment and property from bushfires, then we need to address climate change. Otherwise, that hellscape that was the 2019-20 bushfire season is likely to become an increasing reality.

 

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