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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2214

Senator MURPHY (10.22 a.m.) —Firstly, like the chairman, I would like to thank the secretariat. Without its role in the course of these inquiries, the inquiries would not have been held; and I do not think that we would have a report. So I thank Rob and all the other staff very much. I would also like to thank the other members of the committee, because we ended up with a report that everybody pretty well agreed with. Also, I think it is important to note the contributions that we have received through submissions. Many of them have given us an invaluable insight into the circumstances confronting various types of disasters that have been experienced. I think that role quite often goes unnoticed.

  Personally, it was a great experience to be able to travel around the country and look at some of the effects that have occurred, either as a result of disasters in the past, or in terms of fires that have occurred more recently. It is the question of fires that I would like to deal with. I know that Senator Coulter wants to deal with this same issue, in so far as it relates to aerial suppression. Briefly, I want to say that I found it amazing that—and I still cannot understand why—there is such great resistance in this country and within the firefighting organisations of this country to aerial suppression, in particular aerial suppression by fixed-wing aircraft.

  We had the opportunity very late in the course of this inquiry to get some information. I know that whilst the information has been around for many years, and I understand that Senator Coulter has been pursuing such matters for a long time, being able to see the types of fixed-wing aircraft that are available and the capacity that they have to deal with not only bushfires but also industrial fires would have to leave anyone with any degree of commonsense amazed at the fact that we do not have them in this country.

  Senator Chapman was talking about not spending a dollar to save a million. In this case the aircraft are quite expensive. But if we look at the cost of some of the fires that we have had in this country in very recent times, in many cases that cost would be immeasurable in environmental terms. In terms of lost forest, houses, farmland and so on, what would be the cost of the planes versus the cost of the overall fire? It is just inconceivable that we would be in a position where we would not seek to use—or have and use—the types of aerial fire suppression available.

  With respect to fires like that on Coode Island and other major industrial fires, what has been clearly demonstrated in other parts of the world is the capacity of these planes—which I will leave for Senator Coulter to give a greater explanation about—to provide a very efficient suppressant of fire, whether an industrial fire or indeed a bushfire. It leaves me amazed that there has been such great resistance to them in this country.

  The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government in conjunction with the state governments trial at least four of the CL215 aircraft for water bombing on a shared cost basis and that other uses for these aircraft be fully explored. I think that that is one of the most important recommendations in this report. I urge everybody within this chamber—and of course I will be urging the federal government—to make sure that this particular recommendation is taken up.