Bush Fire Risk Management

The Hon. PAUL GREEN: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Given the devastation of the recent fires in Salt Ash and public comment by the Rural Fire Service Commissioner that the area had not been back burned for the last six years due to “biodiversity” and “ecological factors” as well as “fuel load”, will the Government further commit to reducing green tape and allow emergency services to take full control of hazard reduction measures across all of New South Wales?

The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: The Hon. Steve Whan would be the first to know, because he was previously Minister for Emergency Services, that emergency services personnel—in the context of this question Rural Fire Services—are very much part of the local decision-making team through the bushfire management committees, not bureaucrats, politicians or people sitting behind a desk somewhere in Sydney. It is those people on the ground locally who have expertise in the risk but, more importantly, the fire ground history of the respective areas for which they are responsible.

In fairness to the mayor, I think it must have been a momentary oversight where he may well not have been reminded at the time that Port Stephens council is very much involved in its bushfire management committee. In fact, Port Stephens council is well over 90 per cent and one of the State’s high achievers in meeting its requirements under the hazard reduction plan for its respective areas. I congratulate councils such as Port Stephens on working closely with experts on the ground such as land managers, public or private, and members of the Rural Fire Service to ensure the history.

I was there when we had discussions with local residents yesterday with regard to the fire that went through that area six years ago. There has been extensive work done in that area and around the State with regard to hazard reduction. The Hon. Steve Whan would be the first to tell us that there are various forms of hazard reduction and one of the most visible is the use of fire to reduce risk in an area. There are also clearances using machinery and work done at a local level advising local residents in respect of reducing the risk around their homes. Many things can be done. The Government gave assurances to the mayor and the poor residents of Salt Ash that their concerns would be addressed.

I visited the area with the Premier and the local member, Craig Baumann. When I spoke to the member for Port Stephens the previous night he was on the fire ground talking to residents at Fingal Bay. I rang him at 6.00 a.m. the next morning to tell him we were on our way and he was already out talking to residents—he works tirelessly for the local community. I can assure those in Government who have concerns for and support the suffering residents of Salt Ash that the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service met with residents, the Rural Fire Service, council and other interested parties to ensure that if there are problems they can be addressed.

The early work has been done. Discussions I have had overnight and this morning indicate that there have not been a significant number of complaints raised in relation to delays with regard to decision making. It is still early in respect of the interrogation of the correspondence holdings within council and with regard to others. We are looking at that. People can be assured that we have a responsive Rural Fire Service that will return—with the commissioner—to communities that feel there is a problem or a perception of a problem and talk to them about those issues— [Time expired.]

The Hon. PAUL GREEN: I ask a supplementary question. Given the Minister’s response, could he elucidate his answer with respect to the six-year interval?

The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: As I was reminded by the commissioner this morning, it is horses for courses. The approach taken by the Rural Fire Service depends on topography, fuel loading and the fire history of the area. The important thing is that it is not done by looking at a map somewhere in an office in Sydney. The local Rural Fire Service controllers work with the council and local residents to identify the risks and to ensure the work is done. I have to say that the amount of hazard reduction work has doubled in the time we have been in Government. In the last 12 months we have doubled what was done under the previous Government. Those figures are there for all to see. The Government will continue to work with communities. The Government has given the Rural Fire Service the encouragement, support and resources to do it. It is up to the Rural Fire Service working with councils, residents and landholders to work out where the risks are and what the priorities are.