Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Cognate Debate:  Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms)
Amendment Bill 2016

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (9.02 pm): I think we would all agree that lifesaving legislation, by its very nature, must be implemented as a matter of urgency. I also expect most reasonable people would agree that a 10-year time frame to fully implement such legislation is far from expedient nor is it satisfactory.

After reading the Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2016 it appears this government clearly has a lot to say about best case scenarios. However, the actual law is once again overshadowed by glaring gaps in logic. Serious questions must be asked as to the way in which the bill is to be rolled out and, more importantly, concerns raised about the government’s naivety as to how the mandatory requirements of the bill will be taken up by Queenslanders.

The government has given itself 10 years to fully implement its own legislation to make it compulsory for every home to have—and I quote the legislation— photoelectric and interconnected smoke alarms in every bedroom, between areas containing bedrooms and the rest of the dwelling, in any hallway servicing bedrooms and in any other storey of a domestic dwelling.

On present trends, by the time this ambitious plan has been achieved, 10 years hence, 20,000 homes will be destroyed by fire in Queensland and 200 lives lost. There is no debate that the new generation of photoelectric smoke alarms must replace ionised alarms, and they must do so across-the-board regardless of whether the property is owned or rented, without restrictions and as soon as possible. If it is good enough for these alarms to protect us at work and in a commercial setting, as the current law requires, why then is it not as vital that the same safety standard be in place to protect us at home—where we live and raise our children.

More than 12 months ago the minister was advised that the installation of photoelectric smoke alarms, either hardwired or powered by a nine-volt lithium battery, should be mandated. The minister received this advice not once but on several occasions: from the coroner following the inquest into the tragic Slacks Creek house fire which killed 11 people in 2011; from much closer to home for me following the coroner’s investigation into the house fire that killed Noosa celebrity chef Matt Golinski’s wife and his three precious daughters in that same year; and from fire safety experts in Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. All the government has proposed since that time is a cumbersome piece of legislation that will actually take 10 years to come into effect.
 
Conversely, the LNP has introduced a sensible and practical bill that will implement these important recommendations more easily and more quickly as part of a staged, more affordable and more realistic process—all within three years. Stage 1 would see the replacement of all existing less effective ionised

alarms with photoelectric ones which can be hardwired or use a nine-volt 10-year lithium battery. This goal is far more achievable than that of Labor’s which requires additional alarms to be installed over and above what is currently required and for them to be interconnected so that when one alarm sounds they all do.

This costly and overwhelming endeavour that requires a qualified electrician and will simply be impossible for many families to afford. The cost of mandating interconnectivity, together with the complexity of who and when and what part of the community is meant to meet with which time frame, of which there are many stipulated in the bill, is an automatic barrier to compliance. Not every household can afford to move immediately to Labor’s bells and whistles version, which Labor is no doubt aware of and hence that is why they have given Queenslanders 10 years to comply. In truth, we do not need bells and whistles to save lives. We just need to transition from one type of alarm to a better one.

At an average approximate cost of $600 for an easy to wire ground level average home, the installation of interconnected photoelectric alarms in more places than ever before is an overhaul that many people in my electorate and indeed throughout Queensland simply cannot afford. Furthermore, why would they bother when the majority of them have 10 years to comply? A 10-year buy-in is nonsense. It does not matter how rich or poor people are, if they have 10 years to think about an expenditure of a minimum amount of $600 then they are not going to bother to comply until someone starts to remind them about 9½ years from now.

There is a domestic house fire in Queensland every 4.7 hours. Despite the fact that smoke alarms are already required, there are many homes in Queensland that still do not meet the requirement to have a working smoke alarm installed. Whether that is because they have not been installed in the first place or whether they have not been maintained or serviced, we are all at risk of suffering the life-threatening offence of complacency when it comes to fire safety.

The LNP has paved a way for more homes to be protected and more lives to be saved through a simple and easy transition to deliver the necessary changes and in a timely fashion at about a fifth of the cost. It just makes common sense.