CFS Powers (Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill)
Grain Producers SA responded to the South Australian Parliament's Select Committee on the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill.
The Select Committee found that the CFS should not have the power to direct the cessation of harvesting, and that any such powers need to carefully protect growers who do the right thing.
GPSA strongly opposed the Government's original bill and has secured the Select Committee’s support for amendments which, if passed by Parliament, would mean that SAPOL, not CFS, would have the power to only target producers who blatantly flout their community obligations in fire prevention.
GPSA was represented at a hearing of the committee on Febuary 4, 2019 by Vice-Chairman Adrian McCabe, CEO Caroline Rhodes, board director Peter Cousins, and GPSA staff member Leighton McDonald-Stuart.
What were the main points GPSA presented to the select committee?
In its submission to the Select Committee on the Fire and Emergency Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill, GPSA put forward a number of practical recommendations which would help the grain industry to further reduce the risk of fire during high-risk activities such as harvesting and burning.
These included advertising and marketing campaigns from Government and CFS similar to GPSA’s Know Your Code campaign to build community awareness of fire risk and for Government and CFS to provide funding to support fire prevention initiatives led by farm groups.
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.
GPSA strongly advocated for additional safeguards for growers who do the right thing. Growers who abide by the various codes of practice should not be caught up in these new powers. This allows responsible operators to harvest when appropriate, while directing CFS resources towards recalcitrants who do not operate in safe conditions.These safeguards include consulting the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice and the GFDI.
GPSA also recommended that personnel who are empowered to direct should contact and interact with farm groups to encourage weather monitoring and self-imposed bans, and engage with those groups when deciding to direct that a primary production activity be stopped.
Why was it important for GPSA to present its stance on the changes to the bill?
GPSA was not consulted prior to the Bill being introduced to Parliament. When this Bill was tabled, GPSA was quick to reinforce its commitment to the South Australian Grain Harvesting Code of Practice. Members were concerned proposed legislative changes to regulate harvest activities would penalise them for a decade of good harvesting practice and prudent risk management.
Prior to GPSA’s establishment, the South Australian Farmers’ Federation worked with the CFS to develop the GHCP, which outlines the conditions under which grain harvesting should occur in the paddock, including operating grain harvesters, vehicles involved in grain transport, and grain dryers and augers.
In recent years, GPSA and CFS have worked together on the Know Your Code campaign, which encourages growers to abide by the GHCP.
The campaign provides a simple checklist for growers to ensure they are adhering to the on-farm actions of the code. An easy to read poster sets out five simple steps producers can take to help reduce the risk of harvester fires.
What is GPSA's position on the bill to allow CFS personnel the power to direct farmers to cease harvest operations?
The grain growing community in South Australia has an extremely high awareness of the risks of fire and dangerous conditions for fire, as well as experience and capacity to extinguish them.
Grain growers take their responsibility to harvest in safe conditions very seriously. No grain grower would want to be the source of a fire which causes loss of life and property in their own district.
What is GPSA hoping the final outcome to the bill changes will be?
GPSA is hopeful Government and CFS consider and implement the recommendations put forward as part of its submission.
Grain growers should be rewarded for the past decade of good behaviour, rather than penalised through further regulation.
What did the Select Committee recommend in its report?
The Committee agreed with GPSA's submission and has recommended that SAPOL be empowered to direct that an activity be ceased if, due to weather, it might cause a fire or cause a fire to get out of control. The Committee agreed with GPSA’s suggestion that this only occur after safeguards are met.
These safeguards ensure that SAPOL would be unable to give a direction to stop harvesting unless that decision was supported by the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice and GFDI, as well as the advice of a specialist CFS or fire prevention officer, and the enforcement criteria and guidelines that would be developed with industry.
This means that the vast majority of growers who do the right thing and abide by the Grain Harvesting Code of Practice will not fall foul of the law.
What happens now?
The Marshall Government has committed to seriously considering the recommendations to amend the Government’s Bill. An amended bill must pass Parliament to become law.
The Select Committee’s membership comprised chair Peter Treloar MP, Leon Bignell MP, David Basham MP, Eddie Hughes MP, and Josh Teague MP. This should give confidence to a bipartisan approach in adopting the Committee’s recommendations.
How do Select Committees work?
Select Committees are established by a house of parliament to investigate an important issue. They are made up of MPs from across party lines and provide the wider public with input on sensitive issues.
Committees will normally request submissions and host public hearings. Committee’s will conduct their own research and produce findings in the form of a report. This report is then tabled in Parliament.
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