question on bushfire regulation

Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) -- My question is for the Minister for Planning and is in relation to the new building standards for bushfire protection. Back on 11 March in this place in relation to the CSIRO's research he stated:

This is the highest standard we can achieve on the basis of all the work that has been brought together ...

He also stated:

The national standard has been through an incredibly thorough process. The CSIRO has gone through it with a fine-tooth comb ...

I was therefore surprised to hear on AM this morning the CSIRO expert -- I gather it is the relevant expert -- claiming that this is a significant weakening of the code. Since the minister made that statement, has his government received or sought any independent advice from the CSIRO?

Hon. J. M. MADDEN (Minister for Planning) -- I welcome Mr Barber's question, because it is a very astute question from Mr Barber, given that he is obviously listening to the radio in the morning. It is very useful for him to listen to the radio. I will bet you other members of the opposition wish they had been listening to 3LO this morning as well.

Mrs Coote -- It's not 3LO any more; it's 774. You're wrong!

Hon. J. M. MADDEN -- Thank you very much.

Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT -- Order! Mr Leane!

Hon. J. M. MADDEN -- We as a government have recognised the need for people affected by the bushfires to start the rebuilding process, to return to their communities and to re-establish their lives. That is why we have introduced tougher building standards for homes, targeting high bushfire risk areas, to help better protect lives and property.

We have adopted the highest Australian standard available. It is the most stringent and is better targeted than the previous standard. I just want to make that absolutely clear. The standards committee, of which the CSIRO is a member, considered the new bushfire standard over a number of years and consulted widely.

This standard was agreed on and was due to be adopted nationally in May 2010, but in light of the devastating bushfires we brought forward the adoption date to allow Victorian communities to rebuild their homes to that higher standard.

The new building standard has six risk categories or bushfire attack levels, compared to the current four categories. These new requirements ensure a more detailed risk assessment for each building site, addressing different levels of exposure that could result from different levels of fire attack. I am advised that the CSIRO supported the 1090 kelvin temperature in its formal response to the Australian Building Codes Board consultation regulatory impact statement, the temperature which the majority of other stakeholders, including the fire authorities, supported and which the board, the Victorian government and the Australian Capital Territory government have adopted. I understand that the CSIRO did not raise any other technical or policy matters in that submission. It is worth bearing that in mind.

Can I also reinforce that under the previous standard only homes in certain bushfire-prone areas were covered. The new standard is statewide, allowing for a site-by-site assessment of homes to offer people across the state the highest protection available.

We also announced that the royal commission would inquire into all aspects of the recent bushfires including questions relating to improving fire safety of housing and other buildings, and materials used in construction. If further recommendations or comments or qualifications are made by the royal commission, the government will look at adopting those.

To assist homeowners whose principal place of residence was destroyed by the bushfires, the bushfire appeal fund announced that all homeowners will receive a rebuilding and recovery grant of $50 000. This consists of $35 000 for rebuilding and $15 000 to replace contents and will assist people in meeting any extra or additional costs of rebuilding, particularly if it means raising the standard of the housing in line with the building code. This will allow people more certainty and more confidence. We are committed to ensuring that we do what we can on the best possible advice on the best possible available standard -- that is, a national standard -- and we have adopted this sooner rather than later to assist people with rebuilding their lives.

Supplementary question Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) -- The minister did not say yes or no in response to my initial question. Does he stand by the statement, 'This is the highest standard that we can achieve.'?

Hon. J. M. MADDEN (Minister for Planning) -- I welcome Mr Barber's supplementary question. Can I say that there are a number of areas that put in no doubt at all that this is the highest available standard. One is the flame temperature on which this standard is based, which I understand is 1090 kelvin. That is certainly much higher than any threshold that has been in place before. After investigations into the most recent bushfires we may find, as I think the preliminary advice is, that the threshold will be even greater, because the flame temperature was quite high, between 1300 and 1400, so I would expect that there will be comments made in relation to that.

But in terms of a national approach on a highly technical standard, I think we can have confidence that this is the highest standard.

It is also the highest standard above and beyond what was presented before, because whereas this applied to areas under various planning overlays, or bushfire-prone area nomination, this will be applied to all dwellings for which a building permit is sought going into the future. All dwellings will be considered. Even for people living in the suburbs all dwellings will be considered in this light. Given the description within that standard and the prescriptive nature of the threshold issues and the tests, those issues will either be discounted immediately or people will fall into one of the six risk category areas and the permit will be assessed accordingly. I am confident that this is the highest possible standard that can be attained. I am confident that the scope of all dwellings right across the state makes it the highest possible standard.

No doubt there will always be views on what can or what could or what should happen, in relation to standards. This has been through a thorough process. Standards Australia has voted on it and it has been adopted. If there are those who have either a sense that it should be a higher standard in any particular technical area, no doubt they will have the opportunity to make submissions to the royal commission. If there are any recommendations made by the royal commission, we will consider those thoroughly, with the hope of implementing them in one fashion, if that is possible.

 

-- Greg Barber MLC State Member of Parliament for Northern Metropolitan Ph: (03) 9348 2622 Facs: (03) 9348 2699 Suite G01, 60 Leicester Street Carlton 3053  
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