The taskforce to ‘get things fixed’

A TASKFORCE to help prevent a repeat of February’s Hazelwood mine fire crisis is expected to be in place in the next few days.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley will head up the taskforce, made up of the Country Fire Authority, GDF SUEZ, the Victorian Workcover Authority, Latrobe City Council, the Department of State Development and Business Innovation, along with the Environment Protection Authority.

Mr Lapsley said on Thursday the terms of reference of the taskforce were still being established, but it would focus on preparing the region for this fire season, and work beyond that to “make sure that these things that need to get fixed, get fixed”.

As part of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, the government and GDF SUEZ listed a range of actions they intend to take to prevent a similar incident occurring again.

These were separate to the Inquiry’s recommendations.

The 57 commitments include a promise by GDF SUEZ to reduce vegetation in the worked-out areas of the northern batters of the mine and by the state to improve training for career and volunteer firefighters, including lessons highlighted by the Hazlewood mine fire.

“Some of the affirmations have already been done and others need work to be done,” Mr Lapsley said.

“The taskforce is about overseeing and trying to make sure we remove barriers and get true connection between all the agencies.”

Mr Lapsley said the taskforce would not only oversee the commitments, but also assist in implementing some of the Inquiry’s recommendations.

Neil Comrie, AO APM, will oversee the implementation of the recommendations, a timeline for which is expected to be released by the government in October.

Mr Lapsley said the taskforce would look into new technology to monitor hotspots.

He has already committed to conducting fortnightly aerial monitoring of the Hazelwood and Yallourn mines for hotspots.

He said it would also look at getting a compressed air foam system for Victoria by the summer, which enables authorities to lay a sticky blanket of foam onto a fire.

“We used that during the fire, but we haven’t got that (system) in Victoria to the same extent, so we had to bring it in from other states,” Mr Lapsley said.

Victoria is also bracing for an above average fire season.

The Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook indicates the state is likely to see a more active season than last summer, when there were more than 4600 bush and grass fires.

“The area of most concern is central Victoria, but Gippsland should be very mindful of fire,” Mr Lapsley said.