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Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government
Wilson Tuckey MP
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Warren Truss MP

26 March 2003

Parliamentary Inquiry into Bushfire Disaster

The Federal Government has today initiated a comprehensive House of Representatives Select Committee Inquiry into the tragic summer bushfires.

The Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, Wilson Tuckey MP, moved the motion in Federal Parliament today establishing the Inquiry.

"I have visited most of the areas affected by this summer's wildfires and can personally attest to the level of damage and distress. We must ensure that this scale of disaster is not able to happen again," Mr Tuckey said.

"This Inquiry is the result of strong representations made by Coalition MP's whose constituents in many cases have been adversely affected.

"They have made it clear that there needs to be an independent Inquiry into State Government land management practices and policies, especially in national parks, and also the way in which firefighting resources were used during the fire crisis.

"Since approximately 1927, State Governments have implemented Inquiries of various types in response to bush wildfires.

"The most recent was the Inquiry of the NSW Parliamentary Select Committee relating to the 2001/2002 fires in that State. As with most other reports this effort was tabled just prior to the Christmas holiday period and its recommendations either ignored or rejected.

"Furthermore, nearly all responses over time have focussed on fire suppression measures, rather than the key issue of fire prevention."

The Inquiry will include a cross party representation of Members of Parliament that will enable an independent examination of bushfire and land management practices. The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry are attached.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss MP, said the Inquiry's focus will be on determining the best land management policies and practices to mitigate the damage caused by fire to the environment, property, community facilities and infrastructure.

"It is also about finding out how best we deal with suppressing fires. The lessons learnt from this summer must be incorporated into the States and Territories fire response arrangements.

"Landowners in many areas hit by bushfires have been concerned for many years that our forests and parks were not being appropriately managed. Volunteer rural firefighters, many of them farmers, have watched as decades of forest management was laid waste to in the abandonment of hazard reduction, maintenance of fire trails and cold burning."

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp MP, said the inquiry would help throw new light on the complex social, economic and environmental issues which surround fire management.

"Fire prevention and mitigation goes to the very heart of how we manage all land tenures and uses. It encompasses, among other things, conservation and heritage management, multiple use forestry management and land management infrastructure," Dr Kemp said.

"This inquiry will help establish the sound science on which we can better manage our national parks and the biodiversity that they are designed to protect."

Mr Tuckey said the nature of the fires seen during the summer raised basic questions.

"There are some simple principles related to wildfire, the most fundamental being that the intensity of the fire is directly related to the available fuel.

"No matter how high the atmospheric temperature or the available means of ignition, no fire can commence or propagate without available fuel of a combustible nature."

The Ministers urged all interested parties in the community to make submissions to the Inquiry.

Media Contacts:
Graeme Hallett (Mr Tuckey's office) - 0419 688 440
Tim Langmead (Mr Truss's office) - (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433
Catherine Job (Dr Kemp's office) - (02) 6277640 or 0408 648 400

Federal Parliamentary Bushfire Inquiry - Terms of Reference

  1. That a Select Committee on the recent Australian bushfires be appointed to identify measures that can be implemented by governments, industry and the community to minimise the incidence of, and impact of bushfires on, life, property and the environment.
  2. That the Committee shall have specific regard to:
    1. the extent and impact of the bushfires on the environment, private and public assets and local communities;
    2. the causes of and risk factors contributing to the impact and severity of the bushfires, including land management practices and policies in national parks, state forests, other Crown land and private property;
    3. the adequacy and economic and environmental impact of hazard reduction and other strategies for bushfire prevention, suppression and control;
    4. appropriate land management policies and practices to mitigate the damage caused by bushfires to the environment, property, community facilities and infrastructure and the potential environmental impact of such policies and practices;
    5. any alternative or developmental bushfire mitigation and prevention approaches, and the appropriate direction of research into bushfire mitigation;
    6. the appropriateness of existing planning and building codes, particularly with respect to urban design and land use planning, in protecting life and property from bushfires;
    7. the adequacy of current response arrangements for firefighting;
    8. the adequacy of deployment of firefighting resources, including an examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of resource sharing between agencies and jurisdictions;
    9. liability, insurance coverage and related matters;
    10. the roles and contributions of volunteers, including current management practices and future trends, taking into account changing social and economic factors.
  3. That the Committee consist of 14 members, 8 members to be nominated by the Government Whip or Whips and 6 members to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or Whips or by any independent Member.
  4. That every nomination of a member of the Committee be forthwith notified in writing to the Speaker.
  5. That the Committee have leave to report from time to time but that it present its final report no later than 6 November 2003.
  6. That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything in the standing orders.
Commonwealth of Australia