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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 79

Senator BUCKLAND (2:55 PM) —I refer the minister representing the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads to the devastating impact of the bushfires that swept through New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria in January 2003, and to the onset of the 2004-05 bushfire season. Is the minister aware that the all-party parliamentary inquiry into these bushfires received more than 500 submissions from local governments, rural fire brigades, farming organisations, environmental groups and concerned citizens? On this, the last sitting day of 2004, can the minister tell the Senate why the government has not formally responded to the recommendations contained in the committee report tabled on 5 November last year—more than 13 months ago?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I am not aware of the reason for the government not having responded to the report Senator Buckland has referred to. The Australian Institute of Criminology conducted a study into bushfires and the reasons why people light them. That is something that, in my own portfolio, as minister for justice, I want to take further. Australia experiences bushfires more often than most other countries. A lot of these bushfires are lit deliberately or are caused by the recklessness of individuals. That is something I certainly want to address. The Australian Institute of Criminology has produced an excellent report on this which I will be releasing shortly. That is within my portfolio, and it will be of great assistance in dealing with those arsonists who cause bushfires. As for the reason why there has not been a government response to the report Senator Buckland mentions, I will take that on notice.

Senator BUCKLAND —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that a former minister for regional services pledged to develop a national firefighting strategy in partnership with the states and territories as long ago as April 2002? Could the minister tell us why the government has failed to honour his commitment to Australia's regional communities?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —I do not accept for one moment that there has been a failure by this government to honour its commitment to develop a bushfire strategy. The state and territory governments have primary responsibility for the control of bushfires. The Commonwealth has an important part to play, but it is part of a whole-of-government approach to the issue of bushfires. I will take that on notice and get back to the Senate.