I rise in support of the motion before the house this afternoon, which is to
note the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission interim report. I begin by
paying my respect to those who lost their lives in the tragic fires of February
I also acknowledge the family and friends who lost loved ones.
Their grief at the time, as it is now and will be into the future, is
unimaginable. I also take this opportunity to wish a speedy recovery to those
who are still injured and are recovering from injuries that they sustained
during the bushfires of early February 2009.
I also take the opportunity to formally thank, again, those in
the State Emergency Service and the Country Fire Authority, personnel and
volunteers; and the police and health professionals who were involved; as well
as the ordinary members of the public who did extraordinary things to combat the
fires. I also wish to thank the bushfire recovery team for the fantastic job it
is doing in the aftermath; departmental personnel, particularly those in the
Department of Sustainability and Environment; the relief agencies for their
ongoing hard work; and community members who continue to do extraordinary things
to support fellow Victorians.
The fires in early February 2009 were not only ferocious, they
were also fuelled by 125-kilometre-an-hour winds, something that has not been
seen in a lifetime of many.
The Premier said yesterday that the disaster of Black Saturday
was such that it actually rewrote the rule book when it came to firefighting and
fire planning. It is in times of crisis such as these that members of the
community look to their political leaders — the people they have elected to
represent them. They look to those people and they demand that they can offer
some hope and some passage to take them forward.
They want their political leaders to really understand what has
happened, they want their political leaders to identify with what has happened
and they want their political leaders to develop strategies that will provide a
way for everything possible to be done — whether it be by humans or by relying
on technology — to ensure, or at least attempt to ensure, the prevention of a
reoccurrence of events like those that took place in February this year. Strong
political leadership at a time of crisis is leadership that demonstrates
compassion, that identifies with the issues and that takes prompt action to
ensure that systems and practices are put in place so that ferocious bushfires
such as those we have had in the past do not have the devastating effect of
February 2009 fires.
Through all of what was happening directly after the bushfires
we had a Premier who acted swiftly.
He was right in there in those communities; he was in there
making sure that they were being listened to, that their needs were being acted
upon and that there were a number of measures put in place to ensure that their
immediate suffering could be alleviated. Then he pulled in a number of other
elements to ensure that there were mid-term and long-term plans for the future
of those families. Part and parcel of that political leadership by the Premier
was that he was prepared to say that we needed a royal commission, that the
Victorian community deserved to understand all the reasons behind what happened
on Black Saturday and that we needed to have the information before us to
ensure that those events do not happen again.
As a result of that three commissioners were appointed: Ronald
McLeod, the Honourable Bernard Teague and Susan Pascoe. Together with a team of
staff and legal professionals, they have done a remarkable job in the time they
have had to furnish the Parliament with this interim report and the 51
recommendations it contains. I thank the community members who have been
absolutely fantastic in making themselves available to provide evidence to the
commission. I also thank all the authors and organisations involved in
presenting what I understand to be 1260 submissions to the commission.
As previous speakers have said, within 24 hours of receiving
the interim report the government was in a position to say it would accept the
51 recommendations contained in it.
It also called on all levels of government, communities and
individuals to work together as much as possible to make sure that Victoria is
fire safe and fire ready leading into the bushfire season, which will shortly be
There are a number of key recommendations contained in the
report, but I do not intend to go through all of them. I start with the
references to neighbourhood safer places. I understand Mr Barber from the Greens
as well as Minister Jennings have spoken specifically on this recommendation,
which needs our immediate attention because it requires that work take place as
soon as possible. It requires our emergency services, our local governments, our
state departments and, importantly, a range of local community groups to be
heavily involved in an engagement process to come up with what will need to be
the most effective plan for their communities.
Of the 52 towns identified, 28 are actually in the electorate I
represent, Western Victoria Region, which covers 13 local government areas. The
28 communities range from the coastal communities of Anglesea, Aireys Inlet and
Lorne to other places like Blackwood near Melton. There are also communities
like Daylesford in the Hepburn shire, which were threatened by fires in
February. It is an enormous geographically diverse electorate; the towns in
western Victoria that are on this list basically cover the length and breadth of
the entire electorate.
Those communities are quite different not just geographically
but also socially. They have particular needs and their complexion is quite
diverse as well. The outcomes that might be finally resolved in one community
might be quite different to those that are resolved at other locations in the
I look forward very much to witnessing that engagement and
dialogue, and I will ensure, to the best of my abilities, that I will be in
contact with and have an understanding of the process of that engagement. Of
course I will forever be on call if people believe I can be of some assistance
in any potential bottleneck.
The recommendations also went to a number of other practical
elements. One is the review of the new fire-risk index to provide clear advice
to communities in the event of a similar set of circumstances to those we found
ourselves in on Black Saturday. We are also looking at introducing a common
alerting protocol, developing guidelines to support CFA and DSE incident
controllers to assess if relocation should occur, and recommend relocation when
DSE and the CFA are to establish procedures to ensure that the
most experienced, qualified and competent person is appointed as an incident
controller for each fire, regardless of where that fire started.
There will also be a review of the fire refuge policy, and work
with local councils and schools to audit existing fire refuges. Victoria Police
will work with CFA and DSE to review guidelines on roadblocks, which was an
issue that was perennially seen in the papers, throughout February in
particular. Also the Country Fire Authority Act will be amended to ensure that
the CFA officer has the responsibility for issuing warnings and providing
information to the community concerning bushfire risks.
Those are some of the key recommendations. A lot of work will
be undertaken between now and the beginning of the bushfire season to ensure
that our communities are safer than they were this time last year. The
government has not sat on its hands waiting for the interim report to be
A number and range of measures have been undertaken by the
government in the last four months in particular which go to leading the
delivery of a national telephone emergency warning system, establishing a CFA
online assessment tool to help residents to assess the defendability of their
property, and replacing the policy of prepare, stay and defend or leave early
with a far greater emphasis on the protection of life.
We have also announced that there will be a whole-of-state fire
action week from 11 to 18 October. There will be an additional 150 community
fire guard groups established across the state. There will also be 700 DSE
seasonal firefighters, with some starting earlier than last year, on the ground
definitely by the start of summer. There is a whole range of activities that
have been put in place now the interim report has come out, and there will be a whole lot of
activity to work on rapidly over the coming short time.
The government has said it will provide the royal commission
with a full implementation plan by 30 September — that is, the end of this
month. So to those on the other side who say, ‘Well, it is another report; the
government is just going to ignore it or it is just going to sit there and
collect dust’, I say this is simply not the case. There is an up-front
commitment, and that commitment will be delivered upon within the next three to
four weeks. I am looking forward to all the hard work that is before us, and
like so many other Victorians I want to play my part in the work that needs to
be done. I want to do it in partnership with a whole range of different
organisations and communities to ensure that Victoria is a safer and more
fire-resilient place than it has been in the past.
Before I conclude my contribution today I wish to make a brief
comment on the Liberal Party’s behaviour on this issue. Firstly, it has not
abided by its own commitment to treat this extremely important issue in a
bipartisan manner. Its up-front and default position has been one of blame. Mr
Davis said this morning, ‘This is a step beyond politics’, and I want to know
what he meant by that. I do not think he is making sure that the politics is
taken out of the system. We have important issues to concentrate on so that
positive action can be built on. Liberal Party members need to turn their heads
to the important tasks ahead.
The bushfire season will soon be upon us — in 55 days, in
fact. So my challenge to the Liberal Party, quite simply, is this: get on board
and put all your efforts into what will make this a safer state that is more
resilient to fires. I beg you, on behalf of Victoria, to work in partnership
with the rest of Victoria.