Keelty bushfire review

Please see me speaking on the importance of the recommendations from the independent 'Keelty Review' into the 2019-20 South Australian bushfires. 

July 23 2020 – Independent Bushfire Review Grieve

Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:47): Today, I rise to discuss the recommendations provided to the state government in the independent bushfire review 2019-20.

I would like to begin by congratulating Mr Mick Keelty AO and the SA bushfire review team for their immense effort conducting the consultation and developing this important piece of work in a very tight time frame, especially during the COVID pandemic of the last couple of months. I was pleased to hear that the state government will commit $20.3 million towards several initiatives outlined in that review and that $16.7 million in federal and state funds are to be invested over five years into the South Australian Disaster Risk Reduction Grants Program.

Deputy Speaker, as you know bushfires are of immediate concern to all of us across South Australia but especially to residents in my electorate, many of whom are situated in peri-urban, high bushfire risk zones across the Mitcham Hills and Mount Lofty Ranges. I would again, as I always do, like to thank the amazing work of the Sturt CFS group and the brigades that make up that group, including Eden Hills, Cherry Gardens, Coromandel Valley, Blackwood and Belair Country Fire Service, for their efforts over the 2019-20 bushfire season, as well as, of course, the Sturt SES volunteers, whose home is at Coromandel Valley. These groups protect life and limb in my community, as well as so many important open spaces, such as Belair National Park, Sturt Gorge and Shepherds Hill Recreation Park.

You know, Deputy Speaker, that I regularly meet and converse with the hardworking and dedicated volunteers in my electorate to understand their concerns from a front-line perspective. In April, I was very pleased to submit a submission to the Keelty review on behalf of my community to reflect the information that I gathered in correspondence with them in the weeks before that. Indeed, I was delighted to see the review make appropriate and relevant recommendations that will help the determined and dedicated volunteers in their line of duty.

Some specific recommendations that were really pleasing in the report included equipping CFS trucks with automatic vehicle location systems—and I know this is something that the crew at the Eden Hills station have raised with me many times—additional funding for volunteer training and improved land management and fuel reduction practices. We know this was a huge part of the review. A really big issue in my community is the fuel load that sits on the floor of places like Belair National Park and along arterial roads in and out of my electorate.

I would also like to draw attention to other areas that I believe worthy of exploring further as part of the review. These include increasing the number of paid CFS staff, upgrading country fire stations and developing a fleet of reserve volunteers for busy times, with more flexible leave arrangements for volunteers. One of the big issues across the fire season we saw in Australia was that volunteers from my community, for example, were fighting fires directly in our communities, such as Cudlee Creek and on Yorke Peninsula, and then, of course, teams were going over to New South Wales as well.

There was a period over Christmas when there were volunteers from my community who missed Christmas and missed spending time with family and friends. They had exhausted all their annual leave but were still out there volunteering for fighting fires. In extreme situations, as we have seen this bushfire season, I think we need to have a structure that looks after those volunteers and the employers who support them as well.

The CFS is powered by over 13,500 volunteers in 425 brigades. These brave men and women employ a vast array of equipment and expertise to ensure all the communities we represent stay safe. It is apparent from both my consultation and from reading the review that the relationship between the volunteers, salaried staff and the agencies themselves was clearly central to the operational successes and at times challenges of the disastrous fires that occurred over 2019-20.

During the Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide Hills, the Sturt CFS brigade provided eight full rotations of strike teams, which translated to 272 personnel, five appliances, one bulk water carrier and command vehicles. The group also sent 84 personnel to Kangaroo Island, three appliances and a specialist compressed air foam system. Once again, I would like to commend the entire Sturt CFS group for their bravery, selflessness and sacrifice. Their tireless work has saved countless lives, animals and bushland.

I note that the Keelty review outlines the psychological impacts of the bushfire season and level of psychological stress on the services. The review outlines the need for adequate mental health support for firefighters and bushfire-affected communities. These volunteers work day and night in times of disaster, and we depend on them in so many ways. It is only fair that the right level of support is available to them, and I would urge SAFECOM to increase resources to the stress prevention and management service to ensure it can provide support when needed.