Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I wish to raise a matter for the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Minister for Bushfire Response. The matter I wish to raise concerns the recent start to the fire season in New South Wales and the potential challenges our emergency services agencies may face as Victoria begins to prepare for the 2013-14 fire season.
The action I seek is for the minister to provide advice on what is being done in preparation for the commencement of Victoria’s fire season. As members would have seen in the last two weeks, there have been devastating fires across the Blue Mountains and surrounds in New South Wales. They were so severe that the New South Wales Premier, Barry O’Farrell, declared a state of emergency.
To date 330 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and as at 25 October 120 000 hectares had been burnt across New South Wales since the major fires began on 17 October. We also had around 460 firefighters from Victoria join the fight, and I commend and pay tribute to all those who supported the effort and all the emergency services workers who worked so diligently during those fires.
As we know, the fire danger gradually moves southward during the latter months of the year, with January and February considered the months of peak fire danger in Victoria. The Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook 2013-14 was released in early September and provides an early guide to the likely bushfire season ahead for Victoria.
The outlook highlights a number of things, including that over the past 12 months much of Victoria has experienced below-average rainfall, forests are expected to be more flammable than normal due to the lingering effect of the last summer’s extreme dryness and heat, significant underlying dryness is likely to continue to be present in many western and central forests, strong drying of soils and fuels has also commenced in East Gippsland and current expectations are for average to above average grass growth in western Victoria and the north-east of the state. With that in mind, I ask the minister to advise the house as to what preparations have been put in place in Victoria to ensure that our emergency services agencies, staff and volunteers are well prepared and equipped to protect Victorians during the upcoming fire season.
We have debated the Emergency Management Bill 2013 during this current week of Parliament, and we know there has certainly been a strong and cohesive response.
With these matters in mind — particularly some of the issues I have highlighted, such as the fact that we have very dry scrub and dry bushland and that we must be prepared for the looming fire season — I seek advice from the minister as to what he is doing to ensure that Victorians are well prepared for the fire season ahead.