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NSW Premier explains fire emergency response -

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ANNABEL CRABB, PRESENTER: New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has declared a 30-day state of emergency to deal with the fires. He joined me a short time ago from the NSW Parliament.

Premier O'Farrell, welcome to 7.30.


ANNABEL CRABB: You've declared a state of emergency, which confers quite extraordinary powers on police and emergency services. How realistic is it, do you think, that you will have to forcibly expel people from their homes, switch off electricity and bulldoze buildings?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well I certainly hope we don't get for that. We've planned for the worst, but we hope for the best. But, Annabel, we do know that in these situations at times there are people who resist the requests of emergency authorities to leave. That not only puts their lives at risk, it also puts at risk the lives of the emergency personnel, but also, other citizens that those personnel might've been moving on to. So, you do need to have these, as draconian as they appear, to ensure that people do obey the law at these times.

ANNABEL CRABB: What do you make of the fact that I think now four children have been arrested in connection with these fires?

BARRY O'FARRELL: I'm appalled. I'm appalled that - look, we know I suppose in a sense that kids have always played with matches, but I'm appalled to think that some of the major blazes - major blazes that almost took out hundreds of additional homes were started by children. In one instance over the weekend, we had the community do what we asked them to do, which is to report to authorities suspicious activity, and another two children were picked up, thankfully that fire put out. But these other two blazes really do depress you.

ANNABEL CRABB: Premier, in your opinion, does climate change make these sorts of disastrous events more likely?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well, clearly, I think that's the science. The practical thing for a premier though, Annabel, is how do you translate the science into practical action? So, I understand that if you're planning new developments, if you're planning greenfield sites, you can ensure whether for flood damage or for fire damage, you build in a certain way. How you quite retro-fit that to a community like the Blue Mountains easily, without cost, without telling people to move out of the area, I think is the hard part.

ANNABEL CRABB: Dr Peter Smith, who was formerly the head of your government's climate change science group, says that your government has drastically cut resources to that unit within the public service. How can the public feel confident that you're addressing appropriate resources to preparation for the future?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well we simply have a different approach and that approach is that rather than have the expertise and the science in-house, we try and make use of our fine universities, our fine research institutes to do that work for us. This is a state that has many non-government organisations that have done superb research in this space, and that's what we're commissioning, that's what we're buying the expertise in, but that office still exists. It just is that we believe that we can get better science using the universities and research centres than we could have in-house.

ANNABEL CRABB: So are you directly funding that research?

BARRY O'FARRELL: We are. We are directly funding research, particularly at the present time into marine parks, but also into other parts that affect the climate change issue.

ANNABEL CRABB: Premier, you say that it's impossible to retro-fit an area like the Blue Mountains to prepare for future threats, but there's a lot of very frightened people in the Blue Mountains tonight and it's understandable that they would be pretty frightened about their future as well. What can you offer to them?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well, what we can offer, Annabel, is that in the past two years we've increased the amount of hazard reduction two and a half times. We came to office determined to put an end to a policy that seemed to say you couldn't go into certain areas. There's more that can be done. It's called hazard reduction, not hazard eradication. You can never eliminate the threat completely, but what you can do is ensure that you have well-funded emergency services who are able to respond, that you allow them, with local communities, through bushfire management committees, to determine what hazard reductions occur in quantity, in priority and when and that you also ensure that you educate the public about what to do in emergencies like this.

ANNABEL CRABB: Are you happy with the Federal Government's Disaster Recovery Payment? There's been some dissatisfaction about the fact that it doesn't cover people who have lost power or been trapped in their houses for 24 or 48 hours?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well, look, what I get, Annabel, is that with any sort of assistance that's put on the table, you have to live within your means, you have to target that assistance to the people who are most in need. So, yes, I understand and I've heard first-hand from people concerns about the changes that have been made, but undoubtedly it's about directing maximum assistance to those most in need.

ANNABEL CRABB: Are those permanent changes? Do people who have been kept away from their houses or trapped in their houses or lost power, can they not hope for any assistance in future?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well, you'd have to ask the Federal Government about that. But what I'm aware of is the package that was unlocked on Saturday morning by the Prime Minister and I to people across the existing fire grounds in NSW, I welcome that assistance because we need to help people get back on their feet. It's not only about assistance for families, it's about concessional loans for small businesses and primary producers, but also about providing financial assistance to councils to get some of the infrastructure that's been damaged back up and running.

ANNABEL CRABB: Just finally, Premier, you're the premier of a state in which roughly 2,000 firefighters are presently in harm's way. Presumably you're not getting an awful amount of sleep. Do you get a little bit less when you know that one of them is the Prime Minister?

BARRY O'FARRELL: Well I did ask the Rural Fire Service Commissioner the other day whether the Prime Minister had got through the night safely. Look, I think Tony Abbott leads by example. This is no political gimmick, as some have claimed. This is a long-term commitment to serving his community. He's done it very quietly. I remember him coming to my electorate in 1994 in those fires and the first I knew he was there was when I went down to thank the firies afterwards and suddenly this bloke with a very distinctive voice came out of the crowd and said, "G'day, Barry". So this is a bloke who leads by example. That's happening in communities around this state, it's happening not just with the Rural Fire Service, but with community fire units in streets on bushfire interface areas around NSW.

ANNABEL CRABB: Barry O'Farrell, thanks for your time tonight.

BARRY O'FARRELL: Thank you, Annabel.