Continued from 29 October 2014.)
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:20 ):
It gives me great pleasure to rise to make a few brief comments on the Natural Resources Committee Annual Report from last year. It gave me great pleasure for the entire term of the last parliament and much of this year to serve on that committee. It is work that I thoroughly enjoyed doing on behalf of the parliament and behalf of my constituents. I think that this committee, more than any other that I have had anything to do with directly or indirectly or heard about, is one that if people from outside the parliament actually had a look at how it works, what it achieves and what it tries to do for South Australia, they would be very proud of what this parliament does.
It operates in a very positive bipartisan fashion. That is not to say that members of the committee do not come with different views to the table, but it is a very positive committee that does excellent work, and I know that the member for Ashford deserves a great deal of credit for that good work as the chair of that committee and keeps it working in a very positive way.
As well as the work being enjoyable and productive, it is very important work that the committee does overviewing our state’s natural resources. Apart from people, there is really nothing more important that we have in our state than our natural resources. The work is sometimes frustrating because, of course, there are a lot of things we cannot fix, and a lot of things we cannot actually do in the committee, but we can bring a lot of issues to light.
The two staff members, Patrick Dupont and David Trebilcock, contribute enormously to that work as well. The committee, I think, put out 14 separate reports in the previous 12 month period that is canvassed in the annual report, and I think that that probably leaves any other committee for dead with regard to the amount of work that was put in and put out by the committee.
I will just touch on a few things very briefly. One of the foundation pieces of work that this committee does is look at NRM levies, and it is a difficult issue. I have said in this place many times that the work that good people do in the regions—who work within the Department of Water and Natural Resources for the NRM boards and in that sector of the broader DEWNR work—is very good, and is actually endless. You could spend an endless amount of time and an endless amount of money trying to address the issues out there in the environment that need to be addressed. So how to set the levies is nearly an impossible task because you could find a very good justification for extra money for extra work just about everywhere that you look but, of course, it would be completely unfair to burden the taxpayer, the property owners and the water users with paying those levies with endless amounts of money.
So I took a view when I was on that committee until earlier this year that all levies should be locked in at or below CPI, because there is an important principle that the committee could, if it wanted to, endorse levy increases greater than CPI if there was appropriate justification. I think you could always come up with appropriate justification for extra money for extra good work, so I just decided in terms of the one vote that I had on the committee that I would always vote for levy increases below CPI and against levy increases above CPI because I thought that that was an appropriate way to try and find that balance.
Water, of course, is a very, very important issue. At the behest of the member for Flinders our committee put a lot of time and effort into trying to look into water supply on the Eyre Peninsula, and also did a fair bit of work, which is ongoing from pre-2010, into the Upper South-East scheme, which was very important water. We looked at a wide range of things. I will just touch on two more of them.
One was the AWNRM area, and we did manage to visit part of that area, but were not able to visit the other part. We went to the northern area but not the southern or western area. It has been very difficult, I understand, over successive parliaments for that committee to get there, for different logistical reasons. However, I know the members of the committee want to get there and
they put time aside on a few different occasions to get there, and it was local, logistical issues which prevented the committee from visiting.
I do really hope that those issues are able to be overcome in the near future because that is a very important part of the world that deserves as much attention as does any other NRM region in the state. However, if the committee cannot get there to see, feel, touch and taste the issues on the ground, the Natural Resources Committee of parliament cannot support that area as well as it can the other areas that it is able to get to. I genuinely hope that these issues are overcome.
The last area that the committee put a lot of time into, which I will touch on, is with regard to bushfires. Bushfires is a very broad topic, but there was essentially consideration of bushfire preparedness and looking at the risks and the preparedness in the Adelaide Hills, but with consideration to bushfires and other natural disasters more statewide. I will say again what I have said in this place: what I learnt about the risks that exist in the Adelaide Hills was absolutely shocking. I am not a person with great personal connection to the Adelaide Hills, so perhaps it was more eye opening for me than for others, but I am a person with great personal connection to bushfires in my own electorate, in fact in my own home town, and that sort of thing.
In combining my knowledge of bushfires and involvement with what I learnt specifically about the Adelaide Hills area, it is not alarmist to say that there is an enormous risk of a human tragedy occurring. I know that every member of this parliament would take this risk very seriously. There is combination of hilly terrain and extremely high fuel load and narrow, winding streets, which are often blocked by parked vehicles in such a way that a fire truck would really struggle to get up that street, let alone try to turn around and get out of that street if it needed to for its own safety or because it had done its job and needed to get to another section to provide support.
For me, most alarming of all is the risk of people, if they did responsibly heed the warnings and try to leave an area early, getting caught in a fire because the fire came earlier than expected, etc. I am not even talking about the people who just brushed it off and said, ‘She’ll be right, mate,’ and did not try to make an effort. The capacity for that section of metro Adelaide to evacuate in motor vehicles over the few hours in which they would have to do it, ideally in advance of a fire coming, and to get out would, I suspect, be quite impossible, let alone overlaying this with the possibility that it could be happening when the bushfire was actually there and the tragedy that would occur.
There are a lot of issues that really concern me. Of course, most of the work we did was focused on regions, but that work, which covered more than just the last financial year, to me was the most striking and the most alarming. It is what our parliament and our government and our state and local people, who work and live in that area, should address, and it went far beyond anything else that the committee actually did, and there was lots of other important work.