August 18, 2015  |  Second reading

Emergency Management (Control of Response Activities and Other Matters) Bill 2015

Mr HOWARD (Buninyong) — I am also pleased to add my comments in support of the Emergency Management (Control of Response Activities and Other Matters) Bill 2015. The bill deserves full bipartisan support from this house in its progression through the house. It is a very sensible bill. It is all about making appropriate reviews of how our emergency management can work and responding appropriately. It is about making changes based on things we pick up from emergency situations where the response might not have worked as well as it should have and adjusting our legislation appropriately.

I am pleased to follow on from the member for Caulfield, who spoke so passionately about the great work that our volunteers do, whether it be Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers, State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers or volunteers in a range of other services across the community who help in emergency situations and other situations in our community. I am very pleased that the member for Caulfield, unlike some members on the other side of the house in speaking on this debate, was bipartisan. He did not play this bill for political one-upmanship, as other members opposite did. He recognised simply that the issue of emergency services management is one that needs good, sound management and good support from both sides of the house.

The bill does a number of things. While many of us think immediately of bushfires when we talk about emergencies — and clearly we have had some pretty horrendous situations over the years with bushfires, where we have needed to get our emergency management up to scratch — we have also had floods to contend with. Certainly in my own electorate, and on my property just outside of Ballarat, I have experienced both. In 2006 I had a fire go through my property. It burnt out half of the property.

On that occasion I was very pleased to have both the local farmers and the CFA come to support my wife, who was there at the time, and then me a little bit later when I came away from a function I had been attending. When I arrived, the CFA were there, and then over the next few days they continued to visit my property to look at issues of potential smouldering and to put out the fires that were continuing to burn on my property.

That was great, but after replacing my fencing over the following couple of years in 2009 and 2010 I then had two major floods through my place. At the same time we had floods further on in my electorate through Creswick, where of course there were serious situations. We know they are clearly major events that can affect us, and how fantastic it is that we know we are supported in these events by organisations such as the SES, the CFA, the police, councils and a range of other volunteer and professional organisations, which all have a role to play.

This bill also looks at issues such as pandemics, exotic animal disease threats and other essential services disruptions that can all occur and that we need to be prepared for. In doing so we need to ensure that all of the organisations understand their obligations and responsibilities and how they need to work with the other relevant organisations at a time of emergency. It was felt that in the previous bills, while those responsibilities had been implicitly outlined, this legislation should go a little further to ensure that those organisations involved understand their obligations and that they are obliged to follow through on their roles. We have got to have clear lines of responsibility and ensure that the cooperation that is required between organisations takes place. I am pleased to see that this bill recognises that that will be the case.

We also recognise in this bill, when we are looking at the SES and issues associated with flooding, that in the past there have been problems where there has been a need to access properties to remove levee banks, put levee banks in place, change levee banks or remove refuse that might be causing problems and cause further damage to property or perhaps to life. In the past the SES has needed the agreement of landholders before it could go onto property. Sometimes that has not been easy to get or has not been agreed to and the situation has been made worse. We have now made it clear that the SES does not need the agreement of landholders to go onto properties to undertake works that it believes to be necessary to protect property and to protect life. Clearly the SES will continue to seek advice from landholders and where possible to work with landholders, but if that is not possible, then the issue would be dealt with at a later time.

This clearly gives opportunities to SES units. I want to recognise the great SES units in my electorate. The Ballarat SES is the main one there now, but I have certainly worked in support of the Daylesford SES unit when it got its new facilities in the town. It was able to provide a great facility to and support for people in Daylesford. I was pleased that it was able to be supported as it was. In terms of the Country Fire Authority, there are something like 20 CFA brigades situated across my electorate.

I was pleased earlier on today to be able to speak in support of the volunteer emergency services equipment program (VSEP) funding. In the latest round that has just been approved, the government has provided funding to five brigades in my electorate to the value of $98 000. This sees the brigades of Elaine, Meredith, Ballarat, Smythesdale and Maude all obtain funding out of this round to help them gain new facilities and equipment.

As was mentioned by the member for Caulfield, the other issue that is amazing with these CFA units is that they do much of their own fundraising. Not only do they get out and support their communities by fighting fires when necessary and are prepared to go off when necessary to support other communities across the state or at times interstate, but they also have a history of great fundraising. They have found a range of ways they can raise funds for their own brigades to put towards equipment. The VSEP funding has been a great addition. I am glad that the Bracks government initiated the VSEP funding that gives those brigades additional 2-to-1 funding to support their own fundraising efforts. If they can get some money to go towards the equipment they think is necessary, then they gain further support from the government. That has been great, and I am very pleased for the five brigades in my electorate that have just gained additional funding.

I also note that this legislation deals with the role of the inspector-general for emergency management. The inspector-general must oversee issues associated with collecting information after we have had emergencies and planning for emergency management. This bill also helps to improve the powers of the inspector-general, and that is great too. However, I was a bit sad when I heard what the member for Ripon had to say. I mentioned that I was disappointed with some of the speeches made earlier, and she tried to imply that the Andrews government is not supportive of our volunteers and only wants to support the United Firefighters Union (UFU). Clearly that is not the case. It was terrific to be out there with the Minister for Emergency Services when she went to Smythesdale recently to attend a function to hand over the keys to a new pumper for that brigade. I have been there with our volunteer CFA brigades on so many occasions, as have so many members on this side of the house. We recognise what a fantastic job they do.

We want to keep seeing them supported. We want to see them work with the UFU and the career firefighters. We want to see all our fire services supported in a strategic way so that they feel good about the work they do and know that this government supports them whether they are career firefighters or volunteers. I do not like to hear members such as the member for Ripon try to scaremonger and create a situation that does not exist. The Andrews Labor government continues to be very supportive of our volunteers in a range of ways, whether they be CFA or SES.

Debate adjourned on motion of Ms SPENCE (Yuroke).

Debate adjourned until later this day.