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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17126

Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (12:33 PM) —My comments relate to page 68 of the portfolio budget statements relating to bushfire aerial firefighting assistance. I note that the government will provide up to $5.5 million to assist states and territories to meet their aerial firefighting needs for the 2003-04 season. The saga of the national bushfire strategy is one which I think the public ought to be aware of and for which the government ought to be roundly condemned. Early in 2002, in the wake of the 2001 fires, we had ministers making statements about the development of a national bushfire strategy and a national aerial firefighting strategy. There seems to be some confusion within the ranks of the government as to what they actually meant. On 2 April 2002, a press release of the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government said:

Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, Wilson Tuckey said the government was developing a national firefighting strategy ...

The press release continued:

The Australasian Fire Authorities Council, the peak body representing all firefighting agencies in Australia, will be developing the strategy on behalf of the Commonwealth ...

The media release said that that would report to the Commonwealth by June. AFAC did submit a report to the government ahead of the last bushfire season. The opposition pressed the government very heavily on what they were intending to do about their commitment to establish a national bushfire strategy. This is what AFAC had to say when they delivered their report to the government—I believe that it was in about August—about the potential for bushfires last season. At point 8, under `Strategy stage 1, season 2002-03', it said:

Fire season 2002-03 presents a number of special challenges.

It went on to say:

Most importantly, current climate predictions indicate that there is a high probability of an above average fire season in some of the most critical regions of the country, including south-eastern states and south-west Western Australia. There is clearly an urgent imperative to implement as much of the proposed national strategy as can be practically achieved for 2002-03.

The report went on to say:

Again, this emphasises an urgent need to put a national fleet of aircraft resources in place for 2002-03.

Further, the report said:

There remains some deficiencies in both base-load resources.

Of course we all know that the government dodged and weaved on this issue and Australia burned. That is the reality of it.

This minister sat around and did nothing but engage in arguments with the states and have his photo opportunity with some helitankers around this country. He failed to act in any comprehensive way on the report and the strategy which he commissioned and which was delivered to him last year. He did not deal with aerial firefighting resources, and the minister had made a commitment to a national strategy. I note he is at it again. A media release of 30 May 2003 said:

The Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, Wilson Tuckey MP said today, “Since early last year the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) has been working on the development of a national aerial firefighting strategy. To date there is no such strategy.”

Of course there is not one this year—because you got it last year. When are you going to act on the comprehensive AFAC report that was delivered to you last year? It is no good coming into this House or going out into the public arena and making excuses for failing to deliver what you said you would. Last year you said you were going to develop a national firefighting strategy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR —The Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government said that the government was going to develop a national firefighting strategy. He did not do that. The minister received a report on which he could have soundly based a particular strategy—and Australia burned.