BUSHFIRE HAZARD REDUCTION
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY:
My question is directed to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the Government's work to minimise bushfire risk?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I thank the honourable member for her question. This Government is committed to supporting and strengthening existing bushfire hazard reduction programs in New South Wales. The State's fire services remain resolute in their commitment to protect life and property from the threat of bushfire. In support of the valuable work carried out by our volunteer firefighters, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service has a range of strategies in place to help minimise the risk of fire, such as hazard reduction works including burns, mechanical and manual clearing, responding to community complaints about bushfire hazards, public education and engagement with at-risk communities, and improving standards for assessing developments in bushfire-prone areas. As I previously announced in the House, the Government will strengthen the existing programs with its own innovative strategy to reduce bushfire risk. The strategy will include the creation of an independent hazard reduction audit panel, as well as an increase in the amount of hazard reduction being carried out overall.
The independent hazard reduction audit panel will use an evidence-based approach to audit the performance of agencies in meeting hazard reduction targets and other mitigation efforts. At this stage panel membership will comprise an independent chair, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner, a representative of the Rural Fire Service Association, an environmental expert to provide advice on managing hazard reduction for national parks, and other experts as requested. As set out in "NSW 2021: A Plan to Make New South Wales Number One", the Government also aims to increase the number of properties protected by hazard reduction works across all bushfire-prone areas by 20,000 and to increase the area treated with hazard reduction activities by 45 per cent by 2016. The Rural Fire Service informs me that more than 6,500 hazard reduction activities in New South Wales were completed in the 2010-11 financial year.
The Hon. Robert Brown:
A top effort.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I acknowledge the interjection of the Hon. Robert Brown. It is also encouraging to know that more than 1,200 hazard-reduction activities have been completed since 1 July 2011, protecting more than 14,000 properties. Because the ability to carry out hazard-reduction burns is dependent on favourable weather, the rain falling over the State in recent months has—as honourable members would appreciate—interrupted planned hazard reduction schedules. With these rains producing ideal conditions for abundant growth of vegetation it will take only a few days of hot, dry and windy weather for fuel to dry out and become capable of feeding major fires.
For this reason, the Rural Fire Service is using every opportunity to complete hazard-reduction works, including burns when the weather is favourable. I am told that this weekend will be no different. For example, hazard-reduction burns are scheduled to be carried out over the next week across the Blue Mountains, up into the Hunter, and down into Eurobodalla and the Clarence Valley. The Government's new bushfire hazard reduction initiatives I have outlined, together with the other ongoing programs of the Rural Fire Service, will contribute to more effective management of this State's bushfire risk.