BACKLASH over proposed changes to the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005, including CFS powers at harvest time, has prompted the set up of a Select Committee to “work to a solution”.
Emergency Services Minister Corey Wingard introduced the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2018 in Parliament last week, to incorporate recommendations from a 2013 review of the Act and “internal reviews undertaken by the emergency services sector” into the Act.
This includes “providing CFS officers with the power to direct the cessation of harvesting or any other actions that, due to weather conditions, may cause a fire if ignited to get out of control”.
But this amendment is causing concern among the farming community, particularly when the SA Grain Harvesting Code of Practice was already working well.
“Graingrowers take their responsibility to harvest in safe conditions very seriously,” GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said.
“They have an extremely high awareness of the risks of fire and dangerous conditions for fire, as well as experience and capacity to extinguish fires.
”Many farmers are volunteers with the CFS. No graingrower would want to be the source of a fire which causes loss of life and property in their own district.”
Ms Rhodes reinforced GPSA’s commitment to the SA Grain Harvesting Code of Practice amid member concerns that the proposed legislative changes would penalise them for a decade of good harvesting practice and prudent risk management.
“In tabling the bill, Mr Wingard acknowledged the need to work closely with GPSA to ensure that there are no unintended consequences to the code, by giving individuals in the CFS greater powers to direct growers to stop harvesting,” she said.
Ms Rhodes said they had since met with the Minister to seek an explanation about how this could work in practice.
“GPSA remains concerned about this bill, because it seems as though grain harvesting is being caught up in a ‘catch-all’ approach to reduce fire risk for any number of activities the CFS deems risky,” she said.
“It does not acknowledge any level of mitigation of fire risk and does not take into account an individual’s capacity to manage fire risk.”
These concerns prompted Member for Flinders Peter Treloar, in Parliament yesterday, to refer the bill to a Select Committee for examination and further consultation with stakeholders.
“The terms of reference for the committee are pretty brief,” he said. “But the proposed bill, particularly the amendment to Section 82 – Power to Direct, has raised a lot of interest.
“We know the CFS works well in the regions, but the government are looking to ensure that it operates even better.
“A Select Committee is a good way for the government and the parliament to have access to a broad range of opinions and we want to give all stakeholders the opportunity to be heard.
“I’m sure the CFS and interested landowners will take that opportunity.”
Mr Treloar expected nominations for the bipartisan committee, which would be chaired by the government, to be put to the speaker in Parliament today.
GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said GPSA would “actively participate” in the Select Committee inquiry.
“We will ensure that any changes to legislation do not undermine the integrity of the existing code, and the industry’s strong commitment to self-regulation,” she said.
Opposition primary industries spokesperson Eddie Hughes hoped the Select Committee would “thoroughly probe the government’s plan to ban harvesting in regional communities”.
“You can’t just develop legislation on the run without consulting with the affected communities,” he said.
Mr Wingard assured farmers that those who complied with the code wouldn’t notice any changes.
“Farmers by and large are doing the right thing, but there are a few that do not adhere to the code and so this amendment is addressing those few that are doing the wrong thing,” he said.
“I spoke with GPSA on Tuesday and we will work with them to get a sensible outcome.
“A Select Committee gives everyone the chance to discuss the change and work to a solution.”