I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation a question on the topic of controlled burns.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have been contacted by some constituents in relation to a burn that has been conducted in the past 36 hours in the Ngarkat Conservation Park. I am informed that the department had to contact members of the CFS; and, indeed, CFS brigades were brought out to control the fire. For several days the Bureau of Meteorology has been providing warnings of severe weather and damaging winds. Indeed, the warning that I am referring to states that, for people in Adelaide, the Mount Lofty Ranges, Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island, the Mid North, the Riverland, the Murray Lands, the Upper South-East, the Lower South-East and parts of the Flinders districts, damaging winds averaging 60 to 70 km/h with peak gusts in excess of 90 km/h are forecast in the warning area.
My questions for the minister are: is there a list of criteria for initiating these burns? Was this burn compliant with those criteria, and was the CFS consulted beforehand?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:33): The Department for Environment and Heritage takes very seriously all measures to mitigate and manage fire protection programs, and prescribed burns is part of that management program. It is amazing that we are accused of not doing enough of them and then, when we do them, we are accused of doing too many of them.
I am advised that we have a significant program around our prescribed fire burns program that is managed and monitored very carefully. DEH is responsible for fire management on land under its control, as you know, and that is about, obviously, ensuring the protection of life and property and, obviously, the maintenance of biodiversity values as well. So, we try to balance all of these things. DEH manages in excess of 20 million hectares of protected area reserve across the state. So, it is indeed a very complex task. DEH has committed in excess of $7.3 million in 2007-08 to implement a statewide fire management program and, as at 18 March 2008, DEH staff attended 62 fires across the state during the 2007-08 fire season.
The area burnt totalled many hundreds of hectares, and it involved private and forestry lands. As we can see, the potential threats are very significant for us, so these prescribed burn plans play a very important part in helping to protect these properties. The impact of bushfires and also the prescribed burns is continually assessed through the establishment of monitoring programs to facilitate adaptive management programs, and we do that in an ongoing way.
Throughout the state, 17 prescribed burns were proposed for spring 2007, but drought conditions in parts of the state in early spring and late rains in November impacted on the program, with 12 burns (totalling 1,070 hectares) being completed. Approximately 34 prescribed burns are proposed for autumn 2008, totalling in excess of 7,000 hectares. So, members can see that it is part of a very large program. Research burning associated with project FuSE was undertaken during March in the Ngarkat Conservation Park, with nine of the scheduled 15 burns completed. Record high temperatures impacted on completion of the program. However, researchers were able to gather valuable data from aerial suppression and fire behaviour experiments in the mallee and heath fuel types. Obviously, the—
The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: What has this to do with Ngarkat?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Well, I have just mentioned the program going on in Ngarkat. The honourable member needs to wake up. I have just outlined a program that is being undertaken in the Ngarkat Conservation Park. It is part of a program of prescribed burns, which is part of an overall management program for the state. In terms of the questions around consultation with the CFS, I have been advised—
The Hon. Carmel Zollo interjecting:
The Hon. G.E. GAGO: As my colleague responsible for the CFS says, they are always advised. So, those protocols were adhered to. To the best of my knowledge, the advice is that there is a set of protocols and guidelines associated with these burns, and my advice is that those burns are conducted in a way that adheres to those procedures and protocols.