Select Committee on the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (12:54): I rise to make a contribution in support of the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill in light of what we are directly discussing now, that the report of the select committee on the bill be noted.

 

 

Coming off the land and as a CFS member, I have had plenty of experience with harvests and plenty of experience with fires—with controlled burns, uncontrolled burns and controlled burns that may have not stayed controlled entirely. It does give you a wealth of experience and it helps you understand the vagaries of fire and how you need to be absolutely switched on, especially in permit time after harvest when you are burning off stubble. Not much of it happens anymore, but it is good snail control if farmers get sick of spending tens of thousand dollars on snail bait to control a pest that infests cropping country later on.

Fire can be a very useful tool, but it can also be a very bad enemy, as we saw last week, on 20 November, at Yorketown, at Angaston and in the Mid North, and certainly in some recent fires in the Mallee and on the neighbouring property at Kildare at Coomandook, where, as I indicated the other day, a pile of pig manure spontaneously combusted, which can happen.

The matter of where property owners are directed in regard to a code of practice to manage whether or not they operate their harvesters or whether they operate in paddocks was addressed over a decade ago. It has been a voluntary code of practice which in the main is followed pretty well by people across the board.

As a primary producer, I understand when you are up against it and you just want to get your crop in before it gets spoiled by rain damage or something else. You try to do as much as you can, but you also have to deal with the realities of the risk of fire. I remember that terrible day of the Wangary fire on the West Coast. We were actually harvesting in the morning, but we pulled up pretty quickly because it was getting too nasty. We were on the other side of the state on my lease property at Tintinara.

You do have to deal with the reality of what can happen. That is why we as a government have looked at this legislation and at the powers to direct. As has been explained by other members, there are significant issues around the CFS in general having that direction because you do have people who are friends and neighbours. Everyone is very close in communities and everyone knows who's who in the zoo and who is doing what, but there is also that technology that comes to bear.

For example, people spend significant amounts of money on weather stations so that they know when the fire danger rating gets to the point that they should pull up. I commend those farmers who have done that. I think in one case you can spend $5,000 on a weather station unit so that you know exactly where you are on a fire danger index, whether it is wind speed, heat, etc., and know when you need to stop. These weather stations are also used to guide farmers in their spraying practice, which is absolutely crucial in this day and age. With those remarks, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (15:45): I rise to continue my remarks on the report of the Select Committee on the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill. I was talking earlier about the actions being taken in regard to this report, and the core function I think we are mainly concerned about in this legislation is the act of direction, if there is going to be a direction, to someone harvesting. This can be a very tenuous decision, as I was hinting at before, but the issue is that there is a harvesting code of practice. It has been in practice for over a decade now, was developed in conjunction with Grain Producers South Australia and it is very sensible.The other side of it, as I indicated in my remarks earlier today, is that science is helping us so much more with assessing when we should or should not be operating harvesting machinery, and you can use the same assessment in regard to operating sprayers with respect to farm-based weather stations. They are coming into their own, and I want to speak about that broadly for a little while because this is what is going to drive reality into the future.

When I talk about reality, I mean things like insurance claims. This does not apply to every time I have had dealings with insurance companies, but I did have a time once when a shed blew down on my property. I called my insurance company—I dutifully pay my insurance every year, several thousands of dollars for many, many years, as my father did before me—and they said there was no wind that day.' I said, 'Really?' I said that I knew where two other sheds blew down. So it gets to the stage where sometimes, because people are minimising their risk—I will say it the polite way—or minimising their costs, they will allege that something else may have happened or did not happen.

I think that for people to cover their backside, basically, relying on technical instruments and readings is probably a far better way. To be fair to everyone in the field, some people may not have direct access to weather stations, but with the technology we have now and the communications in the field—so long as there is mobile coverage, and it is getting better under our government—people can have quick communication in regard to whether they should be operating a harvester or a spray unit, which I indicated is the other option that can be worked out under weather station management. So there are ways that people can soon find out.

It is all about wind speed, heat, humidity and a whole range of other factors. The issue is not just about whether you are burning down your crop or your neighbour's crop, or you are putting lives at risk if you do the wrong thing: the simple fact is that we have too many harvester fires. By a long shot, that is not necessarily so because you are operating in the wrong weather conditions: you have a machine that has many moving parts.

The technology behind a harvester, especially the old straw walker models and the initial technology that came out of the Ridley Stripper, has obviously modernised, but the technique of threshing grain has not changed that much, apart from the size of machines and the throughput, etc. Obviously, rotary machines are all slightly different, whether it be a Case machine with longitudinal rotors, a New Holland with twin rotors, a Deutz with the rotor around the other way (basically the thresher), or a Massey machine with a longitudinal rotor that threshes grain out right to the back of the rotor.

Part of the issue is the cleanliness of the machines, not necessarily a bad weather day. I think people are finding out and learning more about better maintenance of harvesters, especially when reaping something like lentils, which I have never grown personally. I understand that you can get a lot of fine material, especially in the flow headers around the rotors, and that is what can cause them to light up—and I have seen what happens when a harvester goes up. There are two rules of thumb: you either put the fire out really quickly or you hope the harvester burns to the ground.

That may sound a bit wrong, but once a harvester burns—there is not that much metal in them, really, as far as side panels and that sort of thing—it is twisted out of shape and all those shafts and bearings get out of line. I saw my neighbour's harvester that basically got fried (I will not mention the brand name because it could be any brand) and they spent a fortune on rebuilding it. They would have been better off walking away from it. However, that would be a matter the insurance company would have worked through, and it would have been part of the condition of getting the insurance payment.

Even with the utmost care and maintenance and a full bearing rebuild, the fact remains that there are many moving parts on harvesters—whether it is a draper front, like the big belt fronts that I think can now go out to about 60 feet or 18 metres, or the old tin fronts that some people used more early on. You have knives working, and you are usually working close to the ground with these big open-front headers, so you are right at the source.

There would be many more than one or two operators who suddenly realised, when they looked in the mirror or swung a corner, that there were little spot fires lighting up as they went along. That could happen on a 20° day with no wind just because something has become hot because the bearing has let go—no matter how good the maintenance regime of that machine. That is exactly why we need to have a harvesting code of practice and control—because stuff happens and it does happen beyond your control. You could get a bit of metal jammed in front that might grate for a while and all of a sudden it can start something up.

There was a lot of discussion on our side of the house about who should make the decision to direct someone to stop. As I indicated earlier, a lot of CFS members or their neighbours are fellow farmers. Without looking at the science or the weather stations and that sort of thing, people have different views on how hot, how windy and how often they blow out a harvester. It takes time to pull up and blow out your machine, and I must commend the many thousands of farmers who have very good systems. A lot of them basically use garden blower equipment. They fire it up, get up the back, get all around it, pull the guards off the side, open the sides up and blow the heck out of it. This is resulting in better outcomes.

The recommendations that came out of this report are about getting the right outcome. The committee noted that primary producers have a proactive approach to fire prevention through producer networks, messaging services and, as I indicated, an increased investment in on-farm equipment, data collection and continuing education. Evidence presented to the committee showed that producers are making use of localised data sources as these become more readily available, and I think that is the secret as we move on. The following sentence in the committee's report sums it up:

Given the microclimates across South Australia, the Committee acknowledges the importance of localised data in responsible decision-making.

Recommendation 2 states:

Clause 23 of the Bill be amended to clarify which officers will be authorised to exercise the proposed powers to direct that a prescribed activity be ceased or not commenced. This power should be limited to South Australia Police officers.

We will probably get some questions on this from the other side at a later time. That will be part of the education process and lining up with the data sources that are available or not, depending on the case. That will certainly assist police if they ever have to make these decisions. If they have not had that direct experience in agriculture, there will be a little bit of training. Training someone in the use of data and science is a lot easier than relying sometimes on just direct experience.

Another recommendation relates to the government developing enforcement criteria and guidelines for the exercise of the proposed powers and the consultation that should go on with that. I think we can get there and get the right results, but we just need to make sure that everyone is on board so that we get the right outcome for the safety of our community. We must also take into account the profitability for people who are in the main self-employed and trying to do the best thing for their family.

At the end of the day, we have to make sure that we keep the community safe. Coming from a small regional area, I can assure members that getting the balance right will be an interesting exercise, but we need to get it right because it is a live issue. As long as we exist on this earth, there will always be harvester fires, but we need to minimise the damage and make sure that we can have a profitable industry into the future and a safe community as well. With those words, I commend the report of the select committee to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.A.W. Gardner.