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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2154

Mr FREE —I direct my question to the Minister for Science and Technology.

Dr Klugman —Your last question, too.

Mr FREE —Yes, as the member for Macquarie. I ask the Minister: Is it a fact, as has been stated in the media, that the bushfire research program Project Aquarius has been terminated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation?

Mr BARRY JONES —I thank the honourable member for Macquarie for his question. I thought this question might have come from this terrifying Opposition, but it did not. The media reports are wrong and have been denied by CSIRO. CSIRO will spend another $300,000 this summer to conclude in Gippsland fire trials which were interrupted last summer by heavy rains. While the trials will not involve the use of aircraft to drop fire retardant and water as occurred last summer--

Dr Harry Edwards —That is about a quarter of what is needed.

Mr BARRY JONES —Just wait-they will be designed to provide important new data on bushfire behaviour in the medium to high intensity range with accompanying infra -red and meteorological observations. As I understand it, the water bombing was a Malcolm Fraser spectacular. It was expensive; it looked good, but it was essentially premature. The statement that I have from the CSIRO Executive reads:

CSIRO was opposed to the original Fraser Government proposition that there should be a demonstration of the effects of aerial bombing of bushfires in Australia. It believed more knowledge was needed of the behaviour of eucalypt fires of different intensities and that a rigorous scientific evaluation should be conducted. The first stage in any scientific experiment should therefore be of fire intensity and behaviour in Australia in a number of climatic conditions. Following such studies CSIRO proposed to study the relative effectiveness of aerial suppression and conventional ground techniques on eucalypt fires of varying intensity. A cost/effectiveness analysis of forest fire suppression techniques in Australia would then be undertaken.

There are a number of other studies, notably those underway by the Commonwealth Institute of Health, on the physiological stress experienced by fire-fighters. The benefits that have come out of Aquarius are: A computer simulation model showing the effectiveness of air tanker operations under various conditions and valuable information which could lead to revised fire behaviour guides and management practices. The result of this year's fire trials will be used with the computer simulation model to assess the value of using air tankers against high intensity fires. While the researchers have made substantial progress with this model and the economic model, there is plenty more work that can be done to further improve and validate them. Apart from that, CSIRO is also continuing research on protecting houses from bushfires and on the ecological impact of bushfires on the Australian environment.