Question time: NSW bushfire inquiry

10th November 2020

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:06:32): My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Given the recent findings of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and the royal commission into natural disaster responses, what is the Minister's Government doing to enact those recommendations?

Mr DAVID ELLIOTT (Baulkham HillsMinister for Police and Emergency Services) (15:06:52): I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question. I am very thankful that somebody in this House, other than Government MPS, has taken an interest in the bushfire inquiry. The 2019?20 bushfire season was truly a demonstration of the new extreme and has showed us what mega?fires can do and how dangerous they can be for our communities and our firefighters. Those fires tragically claimed 26 lives, destroyed nearly 2,500 houses—

Ms Anna Watson: There are still people living on showgrounds.

Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: I acknowledge the interjection of the shadow Minister, who has not even bothered to ask a question or make a statement about the inquiry.

Ms Lynda Voltz: I've written to you every week, and it wasn't my interjection.

Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: No, you can't write. The fires also destroyed three schools and burnt over 5½ million hectares of land. After every fire there are lessons to be learnt. The member for Lake Macquarie noted the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, which are in addition to a wide variety of local after?action reviews. This Government is determined to learn the lessons of the last bushfire season and to make New South Wales safer from bushfire than ever before. That is why the Premier commissioned the independent NSW Bushfire Inquiry, which was headed by two eminently qualified and capable persons: Mr Dave Owens, APM, former deputy commissioner of the NSW Police Force; and Professor Mary O'Kane, AC, Independent Planning Commission chair and former NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer. I acknowledge their efforts in delivering a report following extensive community consultation.

The inquiry heard from operational experts and community members alike, receiving nearly 2,000 submissions and holding consultations with bushfire?affected communities right across the State. The inquiry's final report made 76 recommendations to improve our State's planning, preparedness and response to bushfires, all of which have been accepted by the Government. Our Government has wasted no time in commencing the implementation of those recommendations. Last month I stood together with the Treasurer and our emergency services commissioners to announce a $192 million investment, ahead of next week's budget, to address some key recommendations. Those recommendations include accelerating the creation of a strategic fire trail network, including funding immediate, shovel?ready programs in 11 regional areas; and extending NSW Rural Fire Service mitigation crews and National Parks and Wildlife Services firefighter positions to deliver more hazard reduction work and to trial new mitigation trucks and posi?tracks.

We also are employing new community safety teams to ensure planning work is completed and agreed hazard reduction plans and compliance activities are enforced. We are introducing new equipment and support for volunteers and firefighters, including additional personal protective clothing, mental health initiatives, fire truck safety retrofits and a trial of new food and ration options for frontline workers. They will be complemented by new extreme fire behaviour analysts, training for firefighters and improvements to public information and communications capabilities, including to the Fires Near Me app, air quality forecasting and monitoring systems and UHF radios to allow RFS trucks to talk to farmers. We are introducing enhanced critical communications for emergency services, including the rollout of integrated dispatches, and providing funding to collaboratively develop an Indigenous cultural fire management strategy. We will be introducing initiatives to help protect the natural environment during and after bushfires, including water catchments, soil protection and wildlife conservation, and initiatives to enhance local emergency infrastructure in local emergency management operations centres.

After question time today, and as foreshadowed a few weeks ago, I will be introducing the Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, which will seek to implement some of the legislative changes recommended by the inquiry. Proposed changes will enhance public safety outcomes through empowering rural landholders with a simplified vegetation clearing scheme. They will also strengthen governance arrangements around bushfire hazard management on public land and improve coordination of bushfire planning and operations. The bill also makes changes to simplify the rebuilding of homes following our Black Summer by providing exemptions from the Biodiversity Offset Scheme. Our Government continues to work with the Commonwealth to work through the royal commission's report and its recommendations.

I make particular note of our achievements in aerial firefighting. Last month I was pleased to attend a showcase of all RFS aircraft at the Royal Australian Air Force base at Richmond. It is incredibly reassuring for the people of New South Wales that this season they will be protected from bushfires by the single largest aerial fleet of any fire agency in Australia. No matter what Mother Nature throws at us, we have the ability to respond. If we experience a wet summer, our fleet of aircraft can assist with rescuing people in floodwaters or they can transport our crews to fast?moving grassfires this bushfire season. [Extension of time]

The New South Wales Government has invested $26.3 million to provide the Large Air Tanker [LAT]Marie Bashir and Citation "Bird Dog" aircraft that will undertake line?scanning operations. Last season the LAT proved its value time and again. RFS and Australian Defence Force aircraft rescued 51 people from imminent danger during the last bushfire. The new aircraft will double that capability and, along with the two BK117 helicopters, enhance our rapid aerial and remote area firefighting operations. We have also unveiled two new Bell 412 helicopters—an investment of $6.3 million that will further enhance capability across the State. These impressive aircraft are just part of the fleet, with more than 100 call?when?needed and contracted aircraft that will support firefighting operations across the State. I am pleased that New South Wales has already allocated additional funds to ensure specialist training and capabilities for night?time aerial firefighting, as per the inquiry's recommendation, and will trial initial aerial dispatch this fire season. Our Government will continue to support the growing need for a mix of aerial assets in our modern?day firefighting fleet. I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his interest.

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