Native vegetation (road verges) amendment bill

In Parliament - Thursday, 4 June 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (11:20:01): I rise to speak briefly on the Native Vegetation (Road Verges) Amendment Bill 2015. As the member for Davenport, bushfire prevention is a top priority, not just for my electorate but for the whole of South Australia. It is important to remember that, according to the CFS, more than 35 suburbs on Adelaide's fringes are in bushfire-prone areas, including the majority of suburbs in my electorate, along with over 75 towns in the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island areas.

As legislators, we must do all we possibly can to reduce the ever present danger posed to this state by bushfires. With winter well and truly upon us, it is all too easy to forget the catastrophic bushfire danger this state faces each and every fire season. It was only a mere six months ago that we witnessed the devastation of the Sampson Flat fire, the worst fire to hit the Adelaide Hills since the Ash Wednesday bushfires.The bill introduced by the member for Morphett proposes a sensible solution to the problem of overgrown vegetation on road verges. The first danger to be prevented by the bill is the serious bushfire danger posed by overgrown vegetation on road verges to those who are fleeing bushfires. Overgrown vegetation on road verges can catch alight on both sides of a road and trap those who are trying to flee a bushfire. If the fuel load on road verges was reduced then some of our country roads would not be in the tinderbox situation they are currently on extreme fire days.

By allowing South Australians to reduce the fuel load on road verges it does not just make it safer for residents to flee areas in the path of an oncoming bushfire, it also makes it safer for our emergency services personnel, who are putting their lives on the line to protect us. I have always believed that, as a parliament, we should protect those who protect us.

We are bombarded by advertisements each summer urging residents to have a bushfire survival plan and to clean up around their properties to reduce the risk of a bushfire destroying their home. As a parliament, we should be allowing residents to clear overgrown vegetation on road verges in their own area without filling out a mountain of paperwork. If the bill passes, roads in bushfire-prone areas will be safer to travel on in the event of a bushfire.

There is another danger posed by overgrown road verges which is addressed by the bill. The second danger is the risk to road safety posed by overgrown vegetation on road verges. At the moment, people who are coming onto a road cannot see oncoming traffic safely because of the overgrown vegetation. Overgrown grass is often higher than one and a half metres, and this is all too evident in too many of our peri-urban areas. South Australians should have a legal right, as proposed in this bill, to cut back, within reason, vegetation on road verges that hinders their vision of approaching traffic without filling in form after form seeking approval to do so.

At the moment, many councils are not trimming back road verges, especially on unsealed roads. In the member for Morphett's speech on the bill, he quoted the District Council of Mount Barker's current policy, which can be found on their website, which states:

Due to current resources and budgetary constraints it is current Council practice not to slash the roadsides of unsealed roads.

I can confirm that Mount Barker is not the only council with such a policy. I am attaching no blame to councils by stating this, but it is clear that many councils, especially in regional areas, are unable to keep up with the amount of maintenance that road verges require to be safe during fire season. It makes sense to allow people to clear road verges of excess vegetation so as not to pose a bushfire or road safety danger to the public, as proposed in this very bill.

A further benefit of the bill is that not only will local residents be permitted to clear road verges but so will the CFS, without filling out the onerous paperwork that is required today. CFS members and volunteers are sick to death of filling in form after form after form on many trivial matters.

Senior officers of the CFS have said that some of the best training provided to volunteers was going out and doing burn-offs. As the old saying goes, you fight fire with fire. It is better to have a controlled burn-off and reduce the fuel load than wait for a major bushfire to start on a windy, 40ยบ day and have it potentially destroy lives and property.

The CFS philosophy is that we must 'Prepare. Act. Survive.' It is similar to the scout motto of 'Be Prepared'. Preparation is a key element of bushfire prevention, and anything that helps people prepare their local area for a bushfire should be supported by this parliament. The essence of this bill is to allow local residents to prepare for the fire season by allowing their roads to be clear of overgrown vegetation that, left unchecked, could prove to be a fatal catalyst. I commend the member for Morphett for introducing this bill and I commend the bill to the house.