Fire and Emergency Services (Governance) Amendment Bill
Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (17:17): I rise to make a contribution to the Fire and Emergency Services (Governance) Amendment Bill 2020, of course on the back of the Keelty report, on the back of the devastating 2019-20 bushfire season here in South Australia, and also on the back of, I might say, some experience in combating bushfires and grassfires over my previous life as an agriculture producer on Eyre Peninsula.
Following the devastation of the 2019-20 bushfires, the state government commissioned an independent review to identify how South Australia’s response to bushfires can be improved. It was fair and reasonable that we asked questions of ourselves after each and every incident. Of course, it has been well canvassed today, but the season particularly saw fires through the Adelaide Hills, on Yorke Peninsula and at Keilira in the South-East, which the member for MacKillop referred to as the forgotten fire. I do not think it was. Member for MacKillop, I think that the forgotten fire was the one on the outskirts of Port Lincoln, which also occurred during that season.
That said, fires on the outskirts of Port Lincoln have occurred from time to time in the past. I remember the fires in close proximity in late 2008, early 2009 and onwards from there. As well as that, in my own patch on Eyre Peninsula, in the seat of Flinders, there were numerous much smaller fires that were able to be contained during that same summer. Interestingly, the summer that we are experiencing now has had nothing like the extended periods of heat that we saw in the previous summer. Of course, it all comes to influence the bushfire season we have.
The independent review found that the response from our emergency services sector was remarkable. However, there were 68 findings and 15 recommendations as to how South Australia’s emergency services capabilities could be improved. The first recommendation relates to an administrative change, and that was the recommendation that the state government consider amending this act we are amending right now to enable the Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services to appoint an independent chair to the SAFECOM board.
In its response to the review, the state government accepted this recommendation, and I understand there is also broad stakeholder and sector support for this independent chair. There will be indexed funding to support that independent chair. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services will be tabling reports in parliament.
As to the government’s financial and more broad commitments, we will be building on our $48½ million package that was released earlier this year. The Marshall Liberal government has delivered a further $49 million package to ensure that South Australia is as prepared as possible for bushfire emergencies. I think it is a very specific phrase because we can never be totally prepared, but we need to be as prepared as possible. There is a whole range of parameters that defies that preparedness.
There is a $97½ million package to keep South Australians safe. We are investing this nearly $100 million so that our emergency services staff and volunteers have the resources and support they need to protect lives and property. Importantly, we are boosting support for the CFS by employing nine additional regional staff. Nine does not sound too many, but they will reduce the administrative burden on volunteers and particularly, for the first time, include a permanent CFS staffing presence on Kangaroo Island.
Interestingly, last year there was a trial on Eyre Peninsula of auto vehicle location (AVL). I understand that $5 million was made available for that trial, and it has been successful. I was pleased that we were able to trial this equipment on Eyre Peninsula. While we are on Eyre Peninsula in the seat of Flinders, I was very pleased to welcome the Minister for Emergency Services there most recently about three weeks ago and again, not too long before that, just prior to Christmas. He has certainly shown commitment, particularly to our CFS volunteers in regional areas, there is no doubt about that.
He also took the opportunity to visit the SAPOL and MFS stations within Port Lincoln. You are very welcome, minister. I know the volunteers particularly appreciate your taking the time to speak with them and talk to them about what your plans are for the services. They were also very pleased to demonstrate to you their equipment, which for the most part is really impressive. I know there is always a bit of a wish list going on, but from what I can see the CFS groups were particularly well supported by the equipment provided.
As well as that, there is $7.2 million for new CFS appliances, including 25 new trucks for the 2020-21 bushfire season, so there is an effort by government to continue to upgrade and renew this equipment so that it remains state-of-the-art and up to spec for the job at hand. There is also going to be some retrofitting of CFS vehicles with burnover protection and a rollout of thermal imaging cameras. Of course, this is all in the quest to keep our volunteers safe.
The member for Light, who spoke just prior to this, made particular mention of farm fire units. We are nearing the end of the day, but I would particularly like to talk about farm fire units because I was and am a farmer and have seen how incredibly effective and responsive farm firefighting units can be. The example I will give you is the harvest period, when any part of South Australia’s grain belt is wonderfully connected now with mobile phones and UHF radios.
Often, the farm firefighting units come from neighbouring properties or from the property where a fire might have started for whatever reason—it most likely is accidental—and the fire gets away. The response is immediate and quick from the existing and neighbouring properties, and often the fire is under control and out before the CFS is even there in attendance. That said, the CFS often come in, mop up and provide extra water and so on. These are the lesser events, of course, than we saw in the last bushfire season. The bigger fires in the past were beyond the capacity of farm firefighting units, but the units are incredibly important as a first assault on the fires.
It is a lot about fuel load management. I am pleased to see there is $37 million for increased hazard reduction, including prescribed burns on public and private land. It is critical that property owners also make suitable management decisions around fuel load: it may be reducing the fuel load on their properties or installing firebreaks or extra water that could be required later.
My congratulations to the government on their adoption and implementation of the Keelty report. The amendment bill is an important bill. Fire is something that I have been exposed to firsthand. I understand I am still on the volunteer list at Edillilie, although I think it is a while since I have been out on the truck. Come next year, I might need to refresh my level 1 before I am allowed on the truck; I look forward to doing that.
I think the most significant fire I was ever involved with was the Wangary bushfire of 2005. I will not dwell in this place on how the day unfolded; the story is well known. Eighty thousand hectares across Lower Eyre Peninsula were burnt, essentially in a 12-hour period or maybe a little bit longer. From that, as devastating as it was and as critical as it was, we actually saw a change in the way the CFS, the government and the community responded to bushfire. I am going to say that the most significant change that came out of that was the introduction of aerial firefighting capability.
That capability was not there back in 2005 during the Wangary bushfire. Had it been available, I think there could have been a different outcome. It may not have helped us on the particular day of the bushfire, but it may have assisted the day before when the fire first ignited and was wandering around within a swamp. I think aerial capacity, which we did not have then, could have changed that situation. The upshot of it all is that we have had a significant boost in our capability through the introduction of aerial firebombing capability.
I am going to declare an interest here: my son-in-law actually flies for Aerotech. He is a crop duster during the winter-spring cropping season, and of course Aerotech has a contract with the state government to provide that support over the summer.
The plot thickens because one of my boys loads those planes. His ambition is to fly as a crop duster and a firebomber. He is well on the way: he has his low-level rating already, so it is a matter of getting the hours up and having the opportunity to fly. The risks they take, although they are calculated, are quite extraordinary, and the impact that firebombing has on our more general capacity to control fires is really quite remarkable.
With that, I commend the bill and look forward to chairing the committee stage, which I think will be coming up very soon.