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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1455

Senator CROWLEY(3.15) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I rise to make some comments on the annual report of the Commonwealth Fire Board largely because of my continuing interest in matters of safety and occupational health. This report addresses those issues, albeit briefly. I found the report quite fascinating, not least to discover that this Board was first constituted in 1909 and disbanded in 1930 because at the time there was a large reduction in the number of Commonwealth Government buildings being built. I presume the buildings that had been built were still assumed to be a fire danger but curiously at the time the Board was disbanded because of a reduction in the number of Commonwealth Government buildings.

The Board was reconstituted in 1946 and its history over the next few years is one of various comings and goings through government departments. In 1975 with the creation of the Department of Administrative Services the Board was transferred to that Department. The report is a nice little report from a nice little Board. It tells us that the Board lives on the ninth floor of the Commonwealth Government Centre in Melbourne and has a staff ceiling which remains at five consisting of one technical staff, three clerical staff and the full time chairman. It has a nice budget of $200,000. I think the report is a fair credit to a small team that addresses fairly significant issues. The report has some interesting figures on the cost of damage done by fires in Commonwealth departmental areas.

Of course, the principal function of the Board is to review the safety and fire arrangements and provisions in all Commonwealth buildings and plants that come under the responsibility of the Department of Administrative Services. Of course , the Board looks at the ordinary fire and safety provisions in Commonwealth government buildings. As well as that the Board is very interested in research and testing activities. Under the previous Government there was a decision to dispose of the Experimental Building Station to the private sector but on 15 September 1983 Mr Hurford, the Minister for Housing and Construction, who has the departmental responsibility stated that the Federal Government had decided to reverse that decision and that the Experimental Building Station would remain under Commonwealth control, which allows for the continuing and immediate research that the Commonwealth Fire Board judges to be necessary. From a reading of the Board's report quite clearly this continues to be so.

One of the areas the Fire Board is interested in is the implementation of the Australian Uniform Building Regulations Co-Ordinating Council recommendations. The Board collaborated very carefully with the Council. Another matter of interest for the Board is the Hazchem labelling system, that is labelling of hazardous chemicals, and notification on the vehicles transporting those chemicals. This system is fairly universally accepted throughout Australia. Of course, it brings to our attention a dimension of the Commonwealth Fire Board which is largely outside of buildings but which is very significantly a part of its considerations.

The report addresses special buildings. I note that there is considerable input by the Fire Board into the overall fire protection to be installed in the new Parliament House in Canberra. While I am delighted that sufficient planning is going to proposals for fire safety in that building I find it stands nicely against the problems we are having with the provision of child care facilities in the new Parliament House. Perhaps in time we will see sufficient and equal attention given to the provision of child care compared with fire safety matters .

The report also refers to special buildings with particular safety requirements which fall outside the uniform building regulations. I refer in particular to the Commonwealth Centre to be built in Currie Street, Adelaide which apparently has a proposed atrium space which has created unusual considerations for addressing matters of safety particularly in regard to the exhausting of smoke, fire and so on. Mostly the Board lists problems associated with large buildings and Commonwealth offices. But it also looks at the problem of egress from split- level domestic residences particularly in Darwin and Woomera. I presume that multi-storey buildings with many people living in them are a serious fire risk.

The Board's recommendation was that after it had examined the matter it did not see any particular need for extra consideration to be given in regard to people getting out of a building, but if occupants were concerned about their safety the Board suggested they could purchase and install single station smoke detectors to give early warning of fire. I am a little concerned that the Board should recommend that people should instal early detection mechanisms in their own flats but, presumably, that is because the Board feels the building is safe enough under ordinary standards. It has addressed the question that I raised first of all, that is occupational health and safety and it acknowledges--

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Senator CROWLEY —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.