TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — My question is to the Minister for Environment
and Climate Change, Gavin Jennings. Can the minister update the house on how the
Brumby Labor government is taking action through the package for parks and
biodiversity that was announced in yesterday’s state budget to reduce the risk
of bushfires across Victoria and enable greater preparedness and how this
investment will assist protecting our shared natural assets?
JENNINGS (Minister for Environment and Climate Change) — I thank Ms Tierney for her
question and the opportunity to talk about the significant investments that
appear in this year’s budget statement.
Honourable members interjecting.
Mr JENNINGS — We should have some sort of solemnity in
relation to this matter, so perhaps the only interjection I will take up is that
of Mrs Peulich. I think she is on tone, and I appreciate that.
In relation to the tragedies that the Victorian environment and
our communities have confronted and the very significant price borne by our
community in the past months, there are significant outlays that were required
to make sure we could pay for our fire suppression effort, to secure our
environment and to see the emergency through. The budget paper released by the
Treasury yesterday included outgoings of an additional $338 million spent during
the course of that emergency period bringing the fires under control to actually
restore confidence to our community and to make it much safer from the
conclusion of the fires.
Part of that suppression effort required additional expenditure
of the order of $5.5 million on restoring stream-side integrity of
earth-stabilisation programs throughout the state. We also expended additional funds in trying to assess fire behaviour and
undertake the appropriate research so that we can take the learnings of the
bushfires further in terms of our emergency response and our ability to assess
and respond to those emergencies and become better versed in understanding
bushfire behaviour at times of pending risk in the future due to climate change
scenarios, where there may be more extreme events that we have to take account
of in years to come. That is a very important part of our expenditure.
One of the areas of significant investment that is required to
make sure — —
Honourable members interjecting.
Hon. M. P. Pakula — Stop showing off for — —
The PRESIDENT — Order!
I remind Minister Pakula and the house that it is inappropriate
for any member in here to refer to anyone in the gallery.
Mr JENNINGS — Thank you, President, for punctuating my
response so that I can take a breath to talk about the significant investments
that are undertaken within the budget to improve our emergency response effort
in terms of communications.
Beyond the investments that have been added to enhance the
bushfire information line, a significant investment of $167 million has been
allocated to provide our emergency response teams with paging, radio and
telecommunications equipment. More than $30 million within my Department of
Sustainability and Environment portfolio will be allocated to make sure that
more than 7000 pieces of equipment are purchased to assist in the communications
It is obvious from anyone’s perspective in the Victorian
community that those communications systems were put under great stress when the
emergency was at its most dangerous on 7 February. But beyond that we need to
have confidence about our communications efforts, so that $30 million in my
portfolio will be allocated to support that effort in the years to come.
Despite some rantings from the other side from time to time, I
have been and continue to be committed to our fire mitigation efforts in fuel
reduction burning. In fact if you have a look at my track record, you will find
that while I have been environment minister more fuel reduction burning has
taken place than in any other year since 1993. There is no pride in that, but
that is the truth. That is the reality of this situation and something that I am
determined to drive in future.
Under normal circumstances the fuel reduction program is
actually concluded by this time. We will continue to drive the program as long
and as hard as we can into winter to reduce the fuel load across the Victorian
landscape and to mitigate the risk in the lead-up to the next fire season. That
will continue to be something we will work assiduously to do. Fifty million
dollars has been allocated for that purpose in the forward estimates to enhance
that effort, and I appreciate the contribution of that effort and certainly will
leave no stone unturned to try to reduce the risk in the years to come.