Uncertainty on whether or not the proposed Country Fire Service powers introduced in the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2018 were necessary dominated discussions at the Select Committee public hearings held across SA last week.
The bill proposes that CFS personnel be allowed to direct persons to refrain from activities that may cause a fire, including at harvest time.
This proposal was mostly not supported by those who attended the hearing held at Balaklava.
Hallett CFS deputy group officer Ben Browne attended the hearing and said previous discussions within the brigade revealed there was no desire for the CFS to obtain this power.
“If it was to go ahead, it was our view that it would be better if it was carried out by the police in consultation with the CFS,” he said.
“We do not want to see a Commodore racing through stubble paddocks at harvest time, so there will be a degree of difficulty implementing the idea.
“If police are dealing with the public calling up regarding people harvesting, then they do not have the resources to be coping with that.
“Our captains and group officers have a fair bit of experience and are involved in agriculture but that is not repeated across the state, so if something was to change within the legislation a very strong public education program would be necessary.”
Member for Flinders Peter Treloar, who chaired the public hearings, said a major concern voiced was which CFS personnel would be given the authority/responsibility to direct within the CFS.
“There is no real agreement on who should have the ‘power to direct’,” he said.
“Another common theme was that a well understood and efficient voluntary code of practice was already in place and the vast majority of grain farmers abided by it, but there were some recalcitrant operators.
“It was also frequently discussed that the bill was not just about grain harvesting operations.”
Grain Producers SA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes presented a submission at the hearing held in Adelaide.
GPSA recommended that CFS personnel who were empowered to direct when deciding a primary production activity be stopped, should interact with farm groups to encourage weather monitoring and self-imposed bans.
“GPSA would also like to see appropriate protocols and operating procedures developed which require SAPOL to communicate any direction in relation to the cessation of harvest activities, on the advice of appropriate CFS personnel,” she said.
The Committee is expected to table its report to parliament by March 31.
Bill amendments too open-ended to benefit
PRIMARY Producers SA State Bushfire Coordination Committee spokesperson Peter White said he had met with many CFS brigades and the overwhelming response was the volunteers did not want to have the proposed ‘power to direct’.
“The amendments are too open-ended, ultimately we are being asked to sign-off on a blank cheque and we are not going to do that,” he said.
New powers to fracture community relationships
KYBUNGA graingrower Dennis Dall attended the Balaklava public hearing because he was concerned the proposed changes could impact the existing positive relationship between the CFS and farming communities.
“I am worried the people really great at the job will walk away because of added pressure,” he said.
“There are not people lining up to do these jobs so we cannot risk losing anyone.”
Farmers have harvest risks controlled already
“Someone in a position of authority is equipped to make the decision but not everyone in the CFS would be trained enough,” Mallala graingrower Sam Irish said.
“These days farmers talk to farmers and educate each other about fire risks. Farmers have it under control themselves when someone is not doing the right thing – within a few minutes the phones are running hot and you would talk to about 10 people.”