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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8550


Senator LUNDY (3:16 PM) —The motion to note of an answer on disaster management provides an insight into an intriguing tactic used by the National Party at this juncture in the climate change debate. It strikes me that they are so intent on trying to find some alternative, plausible explanation for extreme climatic events, including bushfires, that they are now pointing the finger at the absence of bovine grazing in our national parks as some alternative to the facts arrived at by the consensus of world scientists that climate change does in fact exist and there are likely to be more of the extreme climatic events that are the precursors of the ravages of the bushfires Australia is experiencing on an increasing basis. It is intriguing to see this tactic. No doubt the National Party are hurting as their own constituents depart from the National Party’s view on the CPRS. Now that farmers have been excluded, with agriculture outside of Labor’s proposed ETS system, the National Party have nowhere to go.

It is important to understand that bushfires are extremely dangerous events and that there is a great deal that the Commonwealth government has been doing, notwithstanding the state and territory responsibilities for managing their parks and bushfire issues. I would like to go through a couple of facts of the matter relating to the Commonwealth government and its activities through the Council of Australian Governments to ensure that all states and territories have considered their preparedness for the current bushfire season. I firmly believe, as the Rudd Labor government firmly believes, that we are all better prepared for this coming bushfire season. In fact, on 25 September, the Commonwealth held its first preseason operational briefing for states and territories on Commonwealth roles and capabilities, including those of Emergency Management Australia and the Australian Defence Force, in assisting states and territories, and this was a recommendation from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

The Commonwealth supports the states and territories with both policy and capability development and while the states and territories, as we have heard from my colleague Senator Polley, are primarily responsible for bushfire prevention and response within their jurisdictions the Commonwealth provides a key and supporting role through policy and capability development as well as supporting those jurisdictions on request. The sort of support that is provided by the Commonwealth includes providing things like meteorological and geospatial information through the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia; funding for bushfire preparedness under the natural disaster resilience program, and, under the Commonwealth Government Disaster Response Plan, assistance to jurisdictions on request, including by closely monitoring the situation and being on standby to rapidly deploy assets if requested.

The Australian government has also provided $14 million per year towards aerial firefighting, an additional $4 million over previous years; aerial firefighting craft leased through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, stationed at various locations around Australia and available for use by any jurisdiction that requires them; and Commonwealth-led development of a new scale of fire danger ratings introduced by the Bureau of Meteorology to better inform and advise the community. We saw the ‘catastrophic’ category of fire warning being used recently. There has also been the development of a national emergency warning system. That has now been established, and the Commonwealth committed over $26 million to assist states and territories to develop a telephone-based emergency warning capability, allowing alerts to be sent by voice and text messages to landlines and mobile phones based on an owner’s billing address. The feasibility of expanding this system to enable it to send messages to mobile phones based on the handset’s location is currently being evaluated with funding support by the Commonwealth. The government has also established an ongoing forum of peak broadcast media organisations to facilitate improvements in the effectiveness and consistency of emergency warnings.

There is no doubt that the issue of the ravages of extremely dangerous bushfires is something that weighs heavily on everyone’s minds. Clearly the Commonwealth is responding to that in conjunction with states and territories, which is the appropriate way. I find it difficult to believe that the National Party are scratching around at the bottom of the barrel to such an extent that they use the reduction in grazing in our national parks as some explanation for the ravages brought about by climate change.