Bushfire Preparedness

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (18:28): (626) My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Environment, and it relates to fire towers in regional Victoria. It pertains to the Labor government’s inconsistencies and lack of readiness with regard to staffing fire lookout towers, and the action I seek is for the minister to ensure that all fire towers are actively crewed in Eastern Victoria Region when the fire danger index (FDI) hits 12 and in other regions as designated by their own triggers.

Victoria has approximately 70 fire towers operated by Forest Fire Management Victoria, and approximately 18 are in Gippsland. The role of the fire tower observer is to form that early detection space of bushfires and/or grassfires on public and private land as far as the binocular radius from that fire tower can see. They play a vital role in early detection and early warning, hence mitigation of out-of-control fires. The fire lookout observers are Victoria’s smoke detectors. Our homes and offices are required by law to be fitted with smoke detectors, but rural and regional Victorians are frustrated with the inconsistencies and lack of readiness of fire tower operations. The inconsistencies include that some regional crews have been told they cannot go up those fire towers until they have completed accredited first aid training, yet other staff in other regions have never even heard of the requirement to have this first aid training. Another inconsistency is on the day of the Briagolong bushfire in October towers were left uncrewed even though environmental triggers, including the FDI and weather conditions of hot temperatures and high winds, all pointed to the need to staff those towers. The fire claimed one home and 5000 hectares, and it took several days to control.

Despite those serious fire risks faced by the community, they were not staffed except for one day. We also know that the usefulness of fire towers is not only for detection of fires but also for monitoring of weather conditions and cold fronts. They also ensure that there is coverage and successful communications for first responders such as CFA and harvesters downing dangerous trees and opening up fire tracks. We need to have these fire towers staffed. At a briefing only last month in this place – and I thank the minister for emergency management for putting on that briefing – MPs were assured, and I quote, ‘Victoria is bushfire ready.’ Well, I and many other locals in Eastern Victoria do not share their confidence, so I call on the minister to make sure these important fire watchtowers are crewed.