Hurdle limiting harvest cessation powers

Hurdle limiting harvest cessation powers

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SHARED VIEW: Corbin Schuster, Freeling, said almost all farmers in his area would stop harvesting if the vast farming majority thought conditions were too dangerous.

SHARED VIEW: Corbin Schuster, Freeling, said almost all farmers in his area would stop harvesting if the vast farming majority thought conditions were too dangerous.

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The authoritative power to stop croppers from harvesting on high fire danger days is almost in the hands of SA Police, but a roadblock remains before officers will be able to officially enforce harvest cessation laws.

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The authoritative power to stop croppers from harvesting on high fire danger days is almost in the hands of SA Police, but a roadblock remains before officers will be able to officially enforce harvest cessation laws.

Legislation amendments to the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) earlier this year gave SAPOL the power to hand out expiation notices to croppers who did not cease harvest in dangerous conditions, but SAPOL has confirmed that the laws have not been proclaimed in parliament yet.

A state government spokesperson has confirmed that following final consultations, the legislative amendments and regulations will be brought into operation, which is expected to occur in early 2021.

The spokesperson also reported that fines for the first offence will be $5000 or one year in prison, while second or subsequent offences will attract a $10, 000 fine or two years in prison.

Grain Producers SA recognises that COVID-19 restrictions may have been given by the SA Fire and Emergency Services Commission as a reason for the delay in enacting the amended legislation. GPSA has written to Emergency Services Minister Vincent Tarzia to request that SAPOL cessation powers are brought into force without any further delay.

CFS is an emergency organisation that is getting a lot thrown at it which isn't an emergency. - DAVID LINDNER

"In the absence of these powers, SAPOL have no recourse to prevent harvesting in dangerous conditions outside the SA Grain Harvesting Code of Practice," GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said.

"This (code) underscores the need for the legislation as passed, reserving the power of direction to SAPOL to be used in exceptional circumstances, in the interest of fire prevention and public safety," she said.

While it was initially suggested that Country Fire Service officers would be best-placed to enforce harvest bans, CFS Volunteers Association vice-president David Lindner said there were problems with that idea.

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"CFS is an emergency organisation that is getting a lot thrown at it which isn't an emergency," he said.

"We're there preventing something happening, but in terms of volunteers, where do you draw the line?"

While Mr Lindner believed SAPOL was best-placed to enforce harvest cessation rules, he said low police numbers were a problem.

"We don't have enough rural police, or if you find one, they are often not available to help," he said.

Anyone who wants to do another few laps or finish off a paddock gets hounded by calls, texts and UHF messages, which is enough to make them pull up. - CORBIN SCHUSTER

"If you see someone doing the wrong thing, how do we notify someone who is going to be able to immediately do something about it?

"This is the kind of thing where action needs to take place immediately, not in three hours' time."

PEER PRESSURE STILL PARAMOUNT

Freeling farmer Corbin Schuster recognised the importance of "laying down the law" if a cropper refused to cease harvesting on high fire danger days, but he believed group peer pressure remained an effective way to get people off their headers.

"Following Pinery, we've definitely had a greater appreciation of fire behaviour, as a community we are really fire-conscious and are largely advising each other on high fire danger days, and I don't think that will go away," Mr Schuster said.

"In the past five years, we haven't reached a time when the peer group pressure hasn't worked - generally people come to their senses and stop harvesting before any authority would need to step in.

"Anyone who wants to do another few laps or finish off a paddock gets hounded by calls, texts and UHF messages, which is enough to make them pull up."

If a farmer refused to cease harvest on a high fire danger day, Mr Schuster said both police and Country Fire Service members had their shortfalls, but could work well as a combined force.

"If a policeman pulls up and tells you it's far too dangerous to be harvesting, you're going to listen, because they are capable of handing out a fine," he said.

"But, you'd probably take greater notice of a CFS officer, because you know they've been to multiple fires and understand how fires behave.

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"Perhaps the best system would be for a CFS officer to alert the local policeman to a cropper doing the wrong thing.

"By going through a CFS officer first, that would filter any vexatious, spiteful or unnecessary calls to the police."

Mr Schuster said while almost everyone in his area stopped harvesting in dangerous conditions, one person doing the wrong thing could potentially have catastrophic consequences.

"There are so many moving parts on a harvester these days - all you need is a bearing to go, a knife to hit a rock or something else, and you start a fire, so absolutely everyone needs to be doing the right thing," he said.

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