My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Emergency Services, and the action I seek is for him to coordinate a meeting of government departments to develop a comprehensive plan for fire preparedness in South-West Coast which eliminates cumbersome red tape. Minister, for three years I have had Country Fire Authority volunteers from across the South-West Coast electorate come to me frustrated by the processes which get in the way of them doing what they have always done: managing our roadsides to reduce risk during the fire season. What was once a relatively simple process has over time become a convoluted process that now requires brigades to organise fire services officers, departments like VicRoads and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and local governments to issue permits for roadside burns. A bureaucratic nightmare has developed. These historic practices do not go where native vegetation is found nor are they environmentally destructive. They are an effective way of ensuring the long grass that can serve as fuel for a fast-moving grassfire is reduced and create wider firebreaks to help brigades maintain control during an emergency.
Since the St Patrick’s Day fires my office and the office of my colleague the member for Polwarth have been inundated with calls, letters and representations from people who had horror stories of trying to escape the fire front only to find their way out blocked by fallen trees, which in many instances were not native species. Many feel our roadsides have become unsafe because proper maintenance has taken a back seat in the name of environmental practices. What has happened in the past where farmers took responsibility for the roadsides, making sure they were clear of fallen limbs and long grass, has ceased because people do not know what they are allowed to do. We also need to get VicRoads out there slashing and spraying the roadsides, not just for fire safety but for motorist safety. The time to do this is now. If you do not spray, the grass will grow and get to a point that we have seen over the years where it is beyond spraying and needs slashing.
Last year I had hundreds of constituents come to my office reporting intersections where the grass was so high they could not see what was coming down the road. VicRoads said there was a backlog and they would get a tractor and slasher when they could. This backlog is caused by a lack of planning and lack of spraying. Every year it rains over winter and spring and then the grass grows. It is not a surprise. We should not be caught off guard by something like this. This happens year after year. You would think we would learn, but it is not the case because the departments are siloed and one does not know what the other is doing.
There needs to be a coordinated approach to get a plan in place so that we know, year after year, who is going to do what and when. It is too important for community safety to have a haphazard approach, like we have seen this year.
As I have the honour of having the last word as the last speaker of the 58th Parliament, my message is: listen to the country. Labor clearly do not give a stuff about the country, but I do and I will deliver.