Tuesday 15 March 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Mr Finch (ROSEVEARS) - Mr President, the response to Tasmania's bushfire emergency in January and February demonstrated just how far we have come since our emergency in 1967. I remember vividly that during those catastrophic fires in Hobart, particularly in 1967, I was a young broadcaster at 7HT in Hobart and we were disseminating as much information as we could to the community. It was interesting because the other radio stations, ABC and 7HO, deferred to 7HT, so they did not cover any information about the fires and it was all referenced to 7HT. We were open 24/7 for about three or four days. Ric Paterson was the local hero who ran most of that information. As much information as possible about the bushfire situation was on 7HT.
It was a time of chaos and confusion. Communications between emergency services at that stage were primitive compared to today and nobody really understood the total picture. Things are different today. We have satellite pictures, helicopter water bombing and a highly efficient communication system. However, there is still room for improvement.
One of the big success stories this summer was a highly efficient community relations program run by the Tasmanian Fire Service. It is a statewide program. I would like to explain how it worked in the Nunamara area in the member for Apsley's electorate.
There was a big, deliberately lit fire which raced over more than 800 hectares on the southern side of the Tasman Highway, a few kilometres from Nunamara. Coincidentally, the TFS held a fire information day at the Nunamara Hall a few months before the fire. Residents who attended were given extensive briefings on how to make decisions when their properties were under threat from a bushfire. Many of them arranged for later visits to their homes by the community relations fire officer who ran the briefing that day, David Cleaver. He was able to discuss where a fire threat was likely to come from, how fire around buildings would behave, access for the fire vehicles and crews, and more importantly, the best way to evacuate.
Fortunately, the Nunamara fire which was started on Saturday 16 January was not fanned by high winds and temperatures were not excessive. Nevertheless, it took weeks to control. During that period residents could keep in touch with the situation, not only through the TFS website but directly with the fire brigade headquarters set up at the Nunamara Hall where people were able to get details of exactly where the fire front was moving, expected local weather conditions and a host of other information. David Cleaver was the source of all that detailed information.
It was a good example of the potential for residents to cooperate with firefighters on the ground. Local dams were used for the helicopter water bombing, and because residents were kept fully informed they could adapt their strategies for protecting their properties.
All these present and future developments must be adequately funded. The Premier said last summer's firefighting will probably exceed $25 million. As he said, Tasmania cannot afford that every fire season. Given that prevention is better than cure, the Government must continue to ensure that the Tasmania Fire Service is adequately funded and equipped.
Whenever an acute situation occurs, the ABC local emergency services broadcast those half hourly updates now. This national service has been developed by a former member of the ABC's Launceston news staff, Ian Mannix, with whom I worked many years ago. He would be a special interest story in himself. He is quite a character but has done a wonderful job with what the ABC now presents during the fire crisis times.
We have come a long way since 1967. It is just as well with the predictions of worsening bushfire risk. We await the result of the study announced by the Premier in his Address. We also look forward to technical improvements such as the use of heat imaging drones which will be able to get close to hotspots without risking lives.