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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17131

Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (12:51 PM) —I reiterate the comment that has just been made by the shadow minister for transport, the member for Batman, on the extension of time. In the very limited time remaining to me can I just make some remarks in relation to the national bushfire strategy, pursuant to the comments that I have made previously in this debate. I address this question to the minister, and I would appreciate him taking it on notice and providing me with some information. Minister, your department told a Senate estimates committee in February that a new proposal was expected from AFAC within a few weeks. Could you be so kind as to inform the House whether that proposal has been received? If it has been delivered to you, are you prepared to table a copy of that latest AFAC proposal?

The second point is: Minister, could you clarify for the House the nature of the government's commitment in this area of policy? Is it just to develop a national aerial firefighting strategy? Is it simply to supplement what is being done by the states with some Commonwealth money or are you intending to develop, in line with your previous press release, a much broader national firefighting strategy? I note also that in the budget papers you made the statement:

Future funding levels will be determined following continuing negotiations with State and Territory governments and with regard to the outcome of the National Inquiry into Bushfire Prevention and Mitigation.

I understand that particular inquiry will not be reporting to the parliament until November, at the earliest. As we know, the bushfire season can start as early as October, especially in the areas of south Queensland and northern New South Wales. I would like the minister to give an assurance to the House and to the states that the $5.5 million that is allocated in the budget will be available for this fire season and that you will not be putting off this expenditure waiting for a committee inquiry report. We are very concerned about that time line.

I now go to the natural disasters mitigation relief arrangements contained on page 69 of that portfolio budget statement. I understand that some pre-existing programs have been drawn together to create this package. Could the minister inform the House exactly what programs have been rolled in? We know that it will incorporate the Regional Flood Mitigation Program. Does it include any other programs?

I note that, on page 70 of the portfolio budget statement, it says that this funding will be conditional on states and territories providing matching funding. I would like to know, through the minister, whether the figure of $68.5 million includes matching funding or is purely a Commonwealth contribution. I also note that it says on page 70 of that portfolio budget statement that the funding will be conditional on states and territories introducing more effective statutory land use planning, development and building controls. How will this arrangement be negotiated? Has a set of standards been developed against which the controls of the states and territories can be judged? Who will be the agency that will judge when a state or territory has its planning controls up to scratch? Minister, do you intend withholding funds from the states if this agency or you determine that the particular controls are not up to scratch?