19 November 2020

Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (10:21:19):On behalf of the Labor Opposition as the shadow Minister for emergency services I contribute to the debate on the Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. I accept the amendments as passed in the Legislative Council and support its resolution. I want to make a few points in relation to those amendments. The Bushfire Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 was not the best of bills. I believe that a range of amendments have made it better. It is still far from perfect but I really do believe that those amendments and our efforts have improved it considerably. As the bill was rammed through the Legislative Assembly—with none of our stakeholders consulted—we were rushed and had very little time to negotiate, to secure support and talk to stakeholders about the impact of the bill. I am pleased that we have made several amendments which will strengthen actions coming out of the bill. I will speak to those in a moment.

I thank my upper House colleagues for the work they did with me on this in a very short space of time. I also thank my colleagues present in the Chamber. A number of advisors across the political spectrum have also put in considerable time and effort in a multi-partisan way to achieve the best that we could. I also thank the Minister's staff, particularly Dom Bondar. I make mention of the fact that the removal of industry brigades—the issue is just being shifted down the road a little bit until there can be further consultation—is an acknowledgement that there was no definition for those who are in the business of firefighting, either as professional firefighters or volunteers, and gives them the opportunity to talk about what would work best at the frontline.

There was very serious concern that this was the first step towards privatising fire services, and those very real concerns should be addressed. As some of our fire agencies have pointed out, if there are difficulties with active members in the RFS and with protecting areas of the State then the solution is not to outsource firefighting. The solution is to utilise the resources available which includes our professional firefighters and to look at a collaborative approach. We need to focus on that because that was in the NSW Bushfire Inquiry report and its recommendations.

I turn very briefly to the Bush Fire Coordinating Committee. It was a key component of our negotiations around amendments. Increasing representation on that committee and hearing a range of important voices was essential to that amendment. The membership of that committee should reflect the major stakeholders. Our 6,500 professional firefighters from Fire and Rescue, as the State's peak bushfire body, will have a voice. The committee will have representation from the Public Service Association in regards to RFS staff and National Parks crew and a representative from the volunteer body. It is important that the higher-ups in any agency listen to the boots on the ground. That is the message I have heard over and over again in the last year as I have travelled the State: Listen to the boots on the ground. Further, an important adjustment to this bill is that views will now be expressed in that committee that represent the promotion and the integrity of cultural burning and our Indigenous First Nations people will be heard.

The clearing code needs to be strengthened by other Ministers. Securing a technical amendment in having written concurrence from all the other Ministers is just a form of reassurance to communities, especially those who are very worried. I understand that worry about the environmental concerns. I make note that in the interests of transparency our amendment asks for the Minister to commit to tabling a quarterly report on the status of the 76 recommendations that came out of the Bushfire Inquiry report. This is not an onerous request and it is essential. As I mentioned in this Chamber last week, the final status report to the Special Commission of Inquiry into the 2005 Waterfall Rail Accident Report was tabled only a couple of weeks ago. In line with that sort of transparency and accountability it is good to see that the Minister is now obliged to provide a progress report and a review of amendments.

As the member for Blue Mountains and a proud conservationist, I am still concerned about the lack of scientific rigour in sections of the bill that look at land clearing. Many within our environment movement have pointed out that broad-scale land clearing was not within the recommendations of the inquiry. I believe that the measures to provide a disallowance regulation for the Legislative Council to have oversight over the clearing code and to bolster the voices on the Bush Fire Coordinating Committee will strengthen the voices around any kind of clearing. A rigorous check-point review process will need to be implemented and I think that actually makes it a little tougher to progress any of the land clearing agenda.

I thank all of my colleagues in this Chamber who have spoken to this bill and worked with me on amendments. I thank a number of people from a range of political parties and across the environment movement, particularly the Rural Fire Service Association, the Fire Brigade Employees Union, the Public Service Association, and the many firefighters and environmentalists who reached out to me in a very short space of time to talk to me about their concerns. Sometimes it feels as though we are dealing with huge issues in this place in a miniscule amount of time—and that it is actually not enough time—but the people of New South Wales want us to act. I will finish with a point that I made on this matter in my contribution to the second reading debate. It was a point made by a very senior firefighter for whom I have the greatest respect. I think that it is important to make this point. He stated:

… if the Federal Government and, for that matter, the State Governments took climate change seriously we would not be looking down a loaded double-barrelled bushfire gun.

In conjunction with a committee that oversees planning for bushfire hazard reduction, acknowledging the work our firefighters do across a range of agencies, strengthening the collaborative approach, having committee voices that speak a range of views, and having a rigor in the Parliament to oversee any measures are all incredibly important things. It is also important to acknowledging the impact of climate change. I commend the amendments to the House.