WELLS (Rowville) — I rise to join the debate on the Electricity Safety Amendment (Bushfire Mitigation Civil Penalties Scheme) Bill 2017. I guess everyone in the house remembers certain things and certain events in their life, and Black Saturday was certainly one of those events. At home in Wantirna that afternoon the temperature gauge was sitting at 46 degrees. It was absolutely incredible. I went to speak at a Chinese function that night. I left the Chinese function not realising the severity of what had actually happened. On the way home I was listening to 3AW and the callers outlining just how bad the fires were. People found themselves stuck in places and were waiting for the Parks Victoria and Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers to try to get paths open so that they could get out of those towns quickly and with their lives intact. Unfortunately of course that did not happen everywhere.
I just want to pick up a point made by the member for Yan Yean. I know I should not do this, but the facts are very clear: for every year that we were in government between 2010 and 2014, there was an increase — a record increase — in the amount of money that was given to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and to the CFA. The reason I know the United Firefighters Union (UFU) have such control over Labor members is that they keep using the number $66 million, and $66 million is the same number that Peter Marshall uses at the UFU. It is parroted by Labor members. If it was another figure, I would know that they had mixed up their numbers and had not read the budget papers correctly.
When it comes to the budget papers, I am still waiting for there to be one Labor member of Parliament who is able to come into the house to show where there was a cut. They have not been able to do that. They have been in office for two and a half years and they have not been able to do that, but they still go around telling the story that there was a $66 million cut. It is wrong. There was a record budget in the MFB and the CFA every single year.
This bill is in relation to bushfire mitigation, and the shadow Treasurer made it very clear that, when he was the Minister for Energy and Resources in the previous coalition government, the coalition put in a lot of time and effort into bushfire mitigation, especially when it came to powerlines. When the bushfire recommendations came down — there were 67 of them — the coalition government accepted the whole 67. Yes, it was difficult, but we felt that it was absolutely necessary to make sure that Victoria was as safe as possible in regard to bushfires.
Like the member for Gippsland East, who grew up around the Bairnsdale and Metung area, I grew up around Bairnsdale. Every summer we knew that we were going to get hit by bushfires — absolutely every single year, almost without fail. It is not acceptable to have a powerline system that is not safe. When you look at the 159 of the 173 lives that were lost because of faulty powerlines, you start to think that we have got to do something efficiently and as quickly as possible. We found ourselves in the situation of having to deal with two extra recommendations that the previous Labor government would not pick up — recommendations 27 and 32 — which made sure that we were going to make Victoria safe.
This bill details significant compliance activities that are required to be introduced by power companies. That is a good move. High-voltage powerlines must be constructed or replaced or be put underground and single-wire earth return lines, where possible, are to be fitted with powerline automatic circuit reclosers by 31 December 2020 — absolutely crucial things that need to be done.
It is disappointing that we cannot see — and the shadow minister mentioned this — where there has been consultation with the stakeholders. It seems very odd. If you were going to make such significant changes, you would make those changes in consultation with the stakeholders to make sure that they had a full understanding of the compliance that is required and the roles that they need to fulfil to make this legislation work and work properly.
It is also worth noting that when the bushfires royal commission implementation monitor, Neil Comrie, spoke about the way the previous coalition government was implementing the recommendations, he noted in his final report in 2014:
It is pleasing to record that Victoria is now, for a broad range of reasons, including the implementation of the VBRC recommendations, in a much better state of preparedness to deal with the threat of bushfire and other natural disasters than it was on Black Saturday.
He then went on to say:
… positive progress of the powerline reform program under the direction of the powerline bushfire safety oversight committee …
So they were good, positive steps. We are hoping that Victoria is a safer place as a result of this legislation, although we do note that with the lack of consultation, we are in a position where we do not oppose.