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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1322

Mr SHARP(7.48) —This summer Australia suffered yet another disastrous bushfire season. Many homes, a great deal of property and a number of lives were lost as a result of the bushfires in this country. In the Goulburn area, in the electorate of Gilmore, some 28,000 hectares of property was destroyed as a result of these bushfires. These bushfires are costing the nation a great deal of money. When one looks back to the summer of 1982-83 one can see the cost that this nation is suffering as a result of bushfires. In the 1982-83 summer some two million hectares of forest were destroyed; approximately 5 per cent of the total forest area in Australia. In that summer 2,528 homes were destroyed, 77 lives were lost and the damage bill for bushfires in the State of South Australia alone came to some $209m. What are we doing in this country to try to overcome these losses incurred as a result of bushfires? What is this Government doing to instigate legislation to create some sort of activity in this country to minimise the losses that we suffer, seemingly every summer, as a result of bushfires?

We heard last night the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Martin) speak about the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia introducing the innovative idea of using helicopters and aircraft to save lives. That is a good idea, and I think the Government ought to be doing something as innovative as that. The previous Government introduced a project called Project Aquarius, which was set up to carry out research into bushfire fighting and in particular to research the use of large aircraft in that field. Unfortunately, in its so-called wisdom this Government decided to cease the operations of Project Aquarius and, as a result, there will be no further activity. The research that has been carried out will not be completed and work that could have done something useful for this country will not be instigated. As I said, Project Aquarius was looking into the possible use of large aircraft to fight bushfires. In the United States of America, Canada and France large aircraft such as the Grumman Tracker have for some time been used to fight bushfires. They have been used effectively, efficiently and safely, and have been proven to have a cost benefit advantage to those countries. The Grumman aircraft have a proven track record, and honourable members might wonder why we do not utilise them. Australia does have 17 Grumman Tracker aircraft. They are currently stationed at HMAS Albatross at Nowra and since August of last year this Government has been trying to sell them to the highest bidder. I point out that the highest bidder is probably going to bid only somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000 for each of those aircraft. Yet since August last year Australia has been going up in smoke. We have had one of the worst bushfire seasons ever.

Since January of this year I have been in constant contact with the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and other Ministers of this Government, pleading with them to stop the sale of these Tracker aircraft, to keep them in Australia and to convert them into bushfire fighting units, so that we can save property, homes and lives to the benefit of all Australians. I plead now with this Government to stop the sale of these aircraft. I suggest, Mr Speaker, that while this Government fiddles Australia will burn.