Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (15:36): I rise today to speak about a very valuable time for farmers coming into this time of the year and over the next few months—harvest. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a huge discussion in country areas and in city media as well about the cease harvest threshold fire danger rating system. It has shocked me to think that this has come from somewhere in the bureaucracy of the CFS. I acknowledge, as has been acknowledged before, I am a proud member of the CFS. They are a fantastic organisation with their 13,000 members. The dialogue around this has been scary, to put it in plain language.
We have had some interesting different guidelines and different behaviour indexes and rules put in around monitoring fire ban days where we have joined up across Australia with the Fire Danger Rating Index. Over the last decade or so, we have measured the index for ceasing operations on harvesters, that is, the Grassland Fire Danger Index. To complicate matters even further, last harvest there was another measurement put in: the Fire Behaviour Index. No wonder people on the ground are confused.
There have been different numbers put up as to where these measurements are taken and how accurate they are. There are a lot of conversations around that, and I had some strong conversations right up to just before question time today. The minister's answer was interesting, saying that my characterisation of what is happening has not been correct. Well, I believe it as being correct.
The CFS were looking at bringing the fire danger index rating from 35 at two metres down to 28 at two metres, and I have even heard there was some discussion to bring it down to 25 as a measurement at two metres, which can be done with a Kestrel weather meter and that kind of thing. It is very easy to operate, as it is only a small meter.
It then gets confusing, where some people are saying that we should stick to the 10-metre rule. There are not too many farmers who are going to climb to the end of a grain auger and run their Kestrel meter, I can assure you. Yes, there are some Mesonet systems, but even proponents of this change challenge that measurement where there are weather stations put round the country in various areas.
This change, I believe from what I have seen, had the absolute potential to double the amount of lost time for farmers during harvest. I have had dozens of farmers contact me, and dozens of farmers have contacted my colleagues, about what this could do to their harvest. It can have a massive impact on grain quality.
Once you start having rain on crops, they start losing weight, and if you get enough rain you get a shot harvest. I saw it all in 1992, the wettest year I have seen, when I think we had about 28 inches of rain at Coomandook, in the old language, compared with our normal annual rainfall of 16. It was going to cause issues with fatigue for operators on harvesting equipment. People have not thought about the farm firefighting gear that farmers have these days. They have chaser bins that can carry 4,000 litres of water 30 seconds behind the harvester. They have old fire trucks that have 3,000 or 4,000 litres of water. They have ex-military vehicles, like Oshkosh, they have many thousands of litres of water on them. The last thing farmers want is to start an out-of-control fire.
I cannot pick one fire in the last 15 years, whether it is Wangary, Pinery, Yumali-Netherton, Keilira or the many fires at Yorktown or Edithburgh. All of these fires were started by, sadly, powerlines falling into either crop or grassland. At Wangary, it was a car driving through grass, and at Pinery it was a battery short; so I think we have to be real. I congratulate the minister and I congratulate Brett Loughlin on turning this around, on doing a backflip on where this was going, to make sure we get a real outcome for our farming community in South Australia so we can get this close to $5 billion crop off safely.