Here’s a speech the Member for Canning Don Randall MP gave to the Federal House of Representatives on February 26 regarding the importance of prescribed burning and also the value of our wonderful volunteer fire fighting family. It’s a long post because we’ve included the whole address, but it’s worth the read.

Thank you Mr Randall!


Sponsor's message

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (10:03): Deputy Speaker Broadbent, I note how generous you were with the member for Throsby, as the clock indicated. It just shows what a generous spirit you are in allowing people to speak in this House! Well done.

I too rise to speak on the appropriation bills. I do so because standing order 76(c) basically outlines not only that we are talking about money bills but that reflection on some of the money bills that are required for this House allows us to also talk about issues in and around our electorates. This gives me an opportunity to focus on measures that are currently relevant to my electorate, and I bring to the attention of this House the issue of fires in my electorate.

We have had devastating fires both in and around my electorate and in Western Australia generally. I know this is often the case in your state of Victoria, Deputy Speaker, where you have had devastating fires. Given that many of our fires are in areas where the population is not as dense, we do not have the same devastating human effect, but we do have a massive effect on property and people and certainly infrastructure.

Recently we have felt the effect of these fires in the areas of my electorate called Waroona and Boddington.

Boddington, for the knowledge of the House, is a town that is probably not well known to everyone, but it would be if they knew that it currently houses the most productive goldmine in Australia. Something like 700,000 ounces of gold a year come from the Boddington mine.

Sponsor's message

Canning is no stranger to bushfires. In 2011, the Roleystone-Kelmscott bushfire caused mass devastation and resulted in large areas being evacuated for more than a week. Both career and volunteer firefighters played a role in assisting my electorate. These professional and volunteer bushfire fighters need to be recognised, and all levels of government need to be aware of the risks that are manifest to these people when they involve themselves in firefighting.

The town of Waroona, in the electorate, is 113 kilometres roughly south of Perth and is accessed from the South West Highway. It only has a population of something like 2½ thousand people. At the end of January they were faced with a very real prospect of losing homes as a result of the fire there after lightning strikes had started these fires. Over the course of a week, both volunteer and career firefighters worked tirelessly to save homes and livelihoods. The community worked together under the common goal of protecting the township.

I cannot commend the volunteers enough. Those who took leave from their day jobs, those who worked during their time off and those whose efforts continued through the night deserve endless amounts of gratitude from the local community and from the wider community. Their dedication is something I cannot speak highly enough of.

My sincerest condolences go to Mrs Sharon Wilson who lost everything, aside from a few items she was able to take in her car before she had to vacate the area. She lost her house in Waroona. This is not to underestimate the losses of those who had sheds, equipment and livestock perish in this fire on some of the outlying properties.

Boddington, another area within the Canning electorate, came under severe threat of bushfire within the town itself. West of Waroona and approximately 120 kilometres from Perth, the district of Boddington has only around 1,000 people within its precincts, although it is an area of over 2,000 square kilometres. Again, under threat of enormous loss, the community banded together in an effort to save the homes of those at risk. At its worst, the perimeter of the Boddington fire was 145 kilometres long. Just think of that: a fire front of 145 kilometres. You can imagine the resources it took for the bushfire brigades to try to bring that under control. Even though the firefighters fought courageously, not everything could be saved. I would like to convey my sincerest condolences to all those who have suffered loss but especially to Councillor Elizabeth Hoke, an elected official of the Shire of Boddington since 1998 and an active member of the community, and her husband, Ray. I have a press-clipping here which unfortunately shows Ray Hoke standing at the front of his house, which is totally burnt down. They not only lost their home but suffered extensive losses in and around the property. Another notable loss was that of Long Gully Bridge, a feature of significant historical value in the area often enjoyed and admired by those
walking the Bibbulmun Track. The Bibbulmun Track is a track from Perth to Albany. It was used by Aboriginal people centuries ago to walk north-south in Western Australia. The Bibbulmun Track goes right over the Long Gully Bridge, which has now burnt down.

One of the best approaches to preventing mass devastation as a result of bushfires is prescribed burning. Vice President of the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades WA, Mr Dave Gossage, attended both of the fires in the zones of Waroona and Boddington, as well as the great fire that was happening further south near Albany in a place called Northcliffe. He noted that where prescribed burn-offs occur, the impact of a fire is significantly reduced. What Dave has said is nothing new; it is well recorded. Low levels of fuel result in low levels of risk. If all levels of government understood the need to create a consistent and audited approach to prescribe burnoffs, some of these fires would not have the same impact. I pause to add that one of our former long-serving members—who was, I might suggest, dearly loved by some of the members opposite—Wilson Tuckey, when he was forestry minister, made this very point: no fuel, no fire. It is the case in certain areas in the Perth Hills and surrounds where, because of the lack of prescribed burning, you can have significant amounts of leaf litter on the forest floor that builds up over the years and, when it eventually catches fire, you end up with a real wildfire with a lot of heat.

The action of prescribed burning is a responsibility of the state government but as a federal government we also need to encourage our state colleagues to be more active in this approach. This is taken directly from the DPAW website:

Scientific research shows that prescribed burning is very effective, especially when managing bushfires. We know from experience over a wide range of weather conditions and vegetation types that direct attack on bushfires with flame heights of more than three meters or where fires are moving faster than 200 metres per hour (in forest) is not likely to succeed. Fire behaviour is directly affected by the amount of available fuel. Therefore, direct attack on the flanks of a fire is likely to succeed where fires run into recently burnt areas of low fuel.

As I have previously mentioned, the 2011 Roleystone-Kelmscott bushfires were also located within the electorate. One hundred and four houses were affected: 72 homes were destroyed and another 32 were damaged. The special inquiry report into the event, titled Shared Responsibility, highlights an example of the effectiveness of prescribed burning. It goes on to say:

The reduced fire intensity and rate of spread observed when bushfires enter a reduced fuel area allows firefighters greater opportunity to effectively combat the fire and to limit its impact. In fact, the Special Inquiry heard evidence that the Roleystone-Kelmscott fire was extinguished on one front when it entered a section of the Banyowla Regional Park that had been the subject of a prescribed burn by DEC— now the Department of Parks and Wildlife— four years ago, as discussed later in this chapter.

The Nyungar people, who are the Indigenous people of the south-west of Western Australia, would conduct a style of prescribed burn-offs called mosaic burning. This was not initially done to control the risk of fire but more as a technique to herd larger animals into specific areas for hunting. However, early European settlers noted the other impact of these burns, which was the regeneration of local fauna as well as the limiting of fuels available for regular fires caused by lightning to become out of control.

I pause to bring to the attention of the House somebody I have a great deal of admiration for, a gentleman called Mr David Ward. David Ward is an expert in this particular area. I refer to his article in News Weekly on 15 February 2014, titled ‘Bushfires rage because of whitefella’s ignorance’. He goes on to point out the prescribed burning methods undertaken by the Indigenous people before white men came. It is a fascinating study into the way the Indigenous people burnt the forest. In this article, and other articles David Ward has published, he tells how you can measure the frequency of burning by the rings on black boy trees, which some politically correct people now call grass trees.

He showed me in my office the rings of burning on these trees. Some of these trees are more than 200 years old and you can see the regular burns on them. As white man has come in and stopped the burning the marks on the stems of the black boys have gotten wider and wider, which shows the burning did not occur as frequently as it did under the Indigenous people. This is why we have ended up with these wildfires. I recommend any people interested in prescribed burning read David Ward. It has to be done more often and more effectively because we will suffer the consequences if we do not.

I admire greatly the volunteer bushfire brigades. I want to once again thank them. When I was going through Boddington the other day I saw signs along the main street saying, ‘Thank you, fireys,’ because they had saved their town.

I want to finish by talking about the Bannister-Marradong Road. The Bannister-Marradong Road links Albany Highway and Pinjarra-Williams Road for regional traffic. It provides intertown access to Boddington from Perth via Albany Highway and from Mandurah and Pinjarra via Pinjarra-Williams Road. The road also provides access for traffic servicing the gold mine at Boddington.

Bannister-Marradong Road is a Western Australian Main Roads operated thoroughfare and there are currently works being undertaken by them in an effort to widen the section of road near the main access point from Albany Highway. While this measure is certainly appreciated and needed by locals who utilise this road regularly, it falls far short of increasing the safety of those entering and exiting the town of Boddington and travelling beyond. Regular feedback received by my office from emergency service volunteers, such as ambulance drivers, reflects that the state of the road prevents emergency service vehicles from utilising this road in a safe manner. This was highlighted during the recent fires.

Despite the obvious wear and tear, which is a result of both increased traffic stemming from the gold mine operations and population increases, Main Roads have not seen fit to resurface the entirety of this road. A recent visit to Boddington allowed me to experience the state of the road and what caused me the greatest concern is that the section of the road with the most bends and a significant number of blind corners requires the most improvements but instead the area that is presently being resurfaced and widened is the straightest section of road, which offers the widest field of view for several hundred metres. I have been informed that that will be where the work will stop. This presents an unacceptable risk to locals and tourists alike.

There are no objections from my constituents of Boddington about the work being undertaken. They would just like to see it done properly. The local volunteers taking people injured in these fires had to take their ambulances many tens of kilometres on an alternate route to get to Perth. It is a safety issue and it should be addressed. I raise it in the House today because I will be  following this up with Main Roads Western Australia when I return.

Mr Don Randall MP | HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES | Thursday, 26 February 2015

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