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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray
10 September 2003
Forecasting, warning about and managing the impacts of severe cyclones that hit Australia's tropical coastlines each year was the focus of a national workshop held in Canberra yesterday.
Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, opened the workshop which included representatives from the Bureau of Meteorology, State Emergency Services, universities, state and local governments, Pacific country representatives, indigenous communities from West Australia and the reinsurance industry.
"Tropical cyclones are the most regular large-scale weather events that threaten Australia's coastal regions and they can have a devastating affect on coastal and island communities," Dr Stone said.
"There is still much we don't know about cyclone processes and how the communities that they impact can be better informed and better managed so their losses can be minimized.
"Perhaps one of the greater unknowns is how global warming will affect cyclone frequency and intensity in the Pacific region and how this in turn affects our coastal environments.
"Research shows that while there has been an overall reduction in the frequency of tropical cyclones, the number of intense cyclones appears to have increased.
"This is particularly worrying when you consider the damage caused by severe cyclones like Tracy, which flattened Darwin on Christmas Eve in 1974, and Zoe, which hit the Solomon Islands last year. In a matter of minutes, these cyclones can destroy homes, infrastructure, commercial plantings and livestock.
"Unlike bushfires, which reduce the likelihood of fires in the seasons immediately following, or droughts, which are usually followed by a few years of kinder weather, the threat of tropical cyclones is ever present every year.
"This workshop has bought together the scientists, the social researchers, the disaster managers and the policy makers to develop better ways to prepare and manage these annual, natural threats."
Some of the research challenges and issues discussed at the 6th Tropical Cyclone Coastal Impacts Program Workshop included:
"The main outcome of the workshop was a decision to form a steering committee to coordinate the further development of this national program. It provided the forum for building and strengthening partnerships within the tropical cyclone community which makes it easier to work collectively and cooperatively."