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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9403

Senator FISHER (South Australia) (16:53): I present the report of the Environment and Communications References Committee on the communication networks' and emergency warning systems' capacities in emergencies and natural disasters, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator FISHER: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I shall make my comments very brief because, while this is a very important report into communications in emergencies and natural disasters, I fear a manmade or very human disaster unravelling from the gallery upstairs if we do not hear from a certain senator imminently.

In terms of this inquiry, early in 2011 I was not unusual in being among a number who experienced a freak storm in Western Australia which had some very unfortunate consequences. Happily in terms of our family farm in Western Australia, when a bushfire started on the boundary of the property that unfortunate consequence was stopped by Mother Nature herself, but not before the power had failed, the landlines failed, the mobile telephones failed, the CB radios failed and something fell short with the VHF communications system.

Mother Nature wetted the system and overnight the fire pretty much dwindled as a result of natural consequences, but it could have been very different. That was at the end of a decade of high-profile natural disasters—not the least of which were the Canberra fires in 2003—resulting in a number of inquiries, including the royal commission into the 2009 tragic Victorian bushfires and the inquiry into the 2010 and 2011 Queensland floods. A common thread, unfortunately, running through the analysis of those natural disasters and emergencies was concern about the ability of communications systems to talk to one another and to appropriately warn comĀ­munities of approaching disasters, to function in a coordinated way during the disaster and to assist with the mop up.

This inquiry focused, in particular, on concerns about the lack of interoperability between various communications systems and on the potential need for emergency systems to have a dedicated part of the spectrum to deal with unfolding emergencies and mopping up afterwards.

I wish to thank the secretariat very much for the hard work they put into this report and also my colleagues—happily, this is a bipartisan report—from all political parties for carrying on the inquiry in much of my absence. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.