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Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (11.06 a.m.) —I think Mr Kelvin Thomson's speech is another example of the urban community giving advice to the bush, to people who have lived there for hundreds of years.

These are generations of people who have had to manage their environment, who protect their property and who are some of the greatest environmentalists the nation has, because they are reliant on their environment for their income. They must look after that environment. The posturing of urbanites as to what is good for the bush, how fires should be managed and the sudden expertise such people have gained is just incredible.

In my area, we lost 41 homes to a wild bushfire, and that was before Christmas. We regularly have bushfires in our area. Our community lives with bushfires and has a very comprehensive rural fire service. I know the people of my electorate of Mitchell would wish me to extend our sympathy and support to the people and residents of Canberra with regard to what has happened to them. It is a terrible thing to lose your life's treasures and probably the largest investment most Aussies make, their home, when a fire takes hold and destroys your property. It is very sad and traumatic and it takes a long time to recover from that. The people in my district are only now, some two months later, starting to get on with their lives, to rebuild and reconstruct their homes and to look to the future. [start page 401]

I have to say that I agree with the Minister for Science: I do not think that a delay in having a look at the causes of these fires and how we might better manage them should be delayed. I notice the Victorian government is not delaying the inquiry into the train disaster. We have lost many more homes. Two lives were lost in my area, though none were lost here. When a serious thing occurs, to delay an investigation is not a good thing. Information needs to be gathered while it is relevant and fresh in people's minds. We have not concluded the fire season at this point, so there is a limit to the extent of an inquiry and it would be a shameful thing to pull people off the fire front in order to take part in an inquiry. However, I believe that the framework can and should be set in place while all of the occurrences are fresh in people's minds.

I refer the House to a publication of the New South Wales government, which is entitled Burning question: the rationale and the problems. This booklet commences by saying:

Every year in Australia, thousands of hectares of native bushland and crops are destroyed by wild fires. Damage to property and, tragically, the loss of lives does occur. Land managers and fire authorities must therefore look to practises that minimise the impact of fire on the community.

Many strategies have been considered and tested over the years to effectively reduce the number, frequency and severity of fires.

To minimise the adverse impact of bush fires, land managers and fire authorities have to consider the three concepts of fire: prevention, mitigation and suppression. The problems associated with each of these concepts are explored in some detail. Each have their problems and limitations. Reliance on one of these concepts alone will not necessarily achieve the required outcome.

The one strategy that has been the most effective is that of fuel reduction.

This booklet then goes on to explain the processes and the reason why fuel reduction should take place. This is a publication from the New South Wales government; it has the logo of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service on it. It is a government publication and this is what the New South Wales government has been saying.

People like Bob Brown do not count that sort of thing as being valuable. Bob would like to stop dams being built and then complain when houses burn down because we cannot put the fires out. It is illogical. There must be a proper scientific approach to these things. It is just madness to oppose everything that, with a rush of blood, you suddenly want to oppose. Bob was opposing dams and logging and the use of timber, but now he is opposing a potential war in Iraq because that is a politically wise thing to do. I suggest that as soon as the Iraq matter is over he will find something else that he thinks it is popular to oppose.

It is really quite illogical to say that these difficult issues should not be tackled by government. I think the apologists for the state governments in the Australian Labor Party would be better off in trying to come to grips with these issues. Governments have to make decisions and people in the National Parks and Wildlife Service and similar services offered by state governments need to resolve these factors and need to be up front about doing it. There is no reason why we cannot work through documents such as this one and find out why it was in New South Wales, for instance, that the legislation allowing for the management of national parks was not passed until 21 August, a time too late in the season for any preventive burning to be done. The dereliction of duty by the state governments and their failure to focus on the tasks and on these issues must be part of the examination that takes place.

It seems to me that we need to be careful, both for good management and for sensible retention of flora and fauna. From the fires in my district, the intensity of the heat and the speed with which the fires travelled, millions of trees will not recover. Usually, after a bushfire, trees will recover. Thousands and thousands of native animals were destroyed—wombats and wallabies—and bird life of all types because of the extent of the fire and the speed with which it travelled. If we can do anything to prevent that, we will be taking a commonsense interest in our environment. Those are the arguments that the Australian Labor Party choose to misrepresent by saying that we want scorched earth and concrete over Australia. That is not the case. There is no better conservationist than the man on the land.

In today's Herald Sun there is a little story that captures the attitudes of many people in the bush and many people familiar with fighting fires. It is the story of cattleman John Rogers. For 20 years John Rogers has been asking public servants to do something about the build-up of fuel in the Alpine National Park next to his farm. They refused. The article says:

Six years ago, Rogers decided he'd had enough. So he set fire to a bit of the park in a classic fuel-reduction burn, the kind of thing some country fire brigades have demanded Parks Victoria and the Department of Sustainability and Environment do much more of.

But for trying to burn himself some security, he was taken to court and made to pay almost $2000. And the park next door never did get all the fuel-reduction burns it needed. [start page 402]

Now John Rogers, punished for trying to protect a bit of forest—and his farm—has seen that same forest go up in a terrible wildfire, just as he'd always feared.

And, also as he'd feared, his farm went up with it. All he saved was his house. Four sheds, tools, miles of fencing, pasture and a dozen cattle—all gone.

That is the problem we are confronting and that is one thing that we need to deal with effectively. The people in my district have expressed their appreciation in functions held at Galston last weekend and a few weekends before at a function held at Glenorie, where funds were raised in large amounts. Thousands of dollars were contributed by people to assist those who had lost their property. Included were the clubs of the district: the Glenorie RSL Club, the Galston Memorial Club, the Dural Country Club and Castle Hill RSL. I start on a dangerous course in trying to mention the organisations that have come together to assist those who have lost their property. Fundraising has gone on and fire brigades are now looking for additional equipment, some of which is to replace equipment which has been lost but also to supplement the functionality of their sheds and their units.

We were most fortunate in our district to lose just 41 homes. It could have been hundreds; it could have been much worse than Canberra. Fortunately, the weather and wind conditions were such that the fire was able to be contained. It did not move south. It moved across the top strip of Sydney, burning an area of roughly 50 kilometres by 50 kilometres. There were approximately 1,500 firefighters involved in the event and probably 200 firefighting units—trucks and equipment—supported by men and women. All sorts of support units came out for food and emergency support, including the ambulance, the police, professional fire brigades, the SES—a great volunteer organisation—and of course the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. All of these people worked together to try to prevent things getting worse.

Today we are saying how much we feel for the residents of Canberra. I know my people would understand the feelings from this unexpected tragedy in the national capital. But they are saying, `Let's move on and start to do something about resolving this for the future.' They have heard for too long that they cannot do cold burns in national parks. They have heard for too long that sensible programs cannot be introduced. For too long they have heard, like cattleman John Rogers, that it is a crime to try to take preventive measures, but they also understand that the loss of millions of tonnes of timber and huge quantities of precious flora and fauna is not replaceable in the short term. They also understand that sensible measures that they have been practising for years, and which are now prevented by national parks and the state government, hold some of the answers that are needed in these circumstances.

I pay tribute to those involved in fire prevention, fire services and emergency services in our own district. We extend our sincere good wishes and support to the people of Canberra. I know that many people have come down here to fight the fires and give support to those in the Canberra district and in the Eden-Monaro area to the south. We need to start that inquiry and we need to be fair dinkum about it. We do not need to protect state authorities, even if they are run by the Australian Labor Party.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 6th February 2003
Release Date: 13 Feb 2003


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