Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill

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I rise tonight in this cognate debate to speak in support of the bill proposed by my colleague the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services. The government’s bill will make Queensland homes safer. Put simply, I am convinced that the government’s bill is the bill that will save lives in this state.

Fire has always called us to collective action. As a community we have always understood that fire has a fury that we cannot control ourselves and so we entrust the hardworking men and women of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services to keep us safe. Their responsibility to keep us safe is about more than just the image of fire trucks and hoses. We also trust them to advise us on what we can best do to prevent fire or give people the best chance of survival when fire occurs. Tonight we are called upon in this House to act on their expertise and advice, to bring our laws up to the safe standards that our community expects.

We know from the experts that fires in homes can progress at an astonishing pace. Fire & Rescue NSW, in conjunction with the CSIRO, showed that a fire in a typical home with modern furnishings can progress from a small localised flame to engulfing an entire room in as little as two to three minutes. Similar tests conducted in the 1970s resulted in a typical time of 10 to 20 minutes. What that shows is that modern life, with all of its convenience, has become more flammable. The fire safety standards considered adequate only a few decades ago are now outdated, and our legislation should be amended to reflect that.

Our laws should reflect that technology has greatly improved as well. Photoelectric alarms, which we have heard a lot about tonight, unlike ionisation alarms, have the advantage of being able to detect smouldering fires. That is a lifesaving advantage. The warning of smouldering fires gives people the chance to protect their families and their property before a fire takes hold. Not only does the government bill seek to require the use of the more effective photoelectric smoke alarms in Queensland homes; it rightly requires them to operate on an enduring power source. That is either wiring the alarm directly into the mains power or having a 10-year lithium battery. This is vital to ensure that alarms do not run out of power or are disconnected on purpose, as we have heard about tonight.

This last point is a significant issue. In evidence to the federal Senate committee on the use of smoke alarms, Julian Yaxley of the Victorian Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board said that fire services often discovered purposefully disconnected smoke alarms. Christopher Orr of the Fire Protection Association of Australia said that 30 per cent of ionisation fire alarms are disconnected by people within two years—within just two years—of installation. An alarm running on a simple nine-volt 

battery can be disabled, as we have heard, with next to no effort. Photoelectric alarms, on the other hand, have a much lower rate of false alarms. That is a good start, because false alarms are the leading cause of disconnection, as we know.

For much of what I have discussed tonight, and which has been indicated by the committee members—in particular, the member for Capalaba—the bills before us are somewhat in agreement. When it comes to the crucial issues of location and interconnectedness, the minister’s bill is far superior to the bill introduced into this House by the member for Kawana. As I said, I urge all members to support the government bill tonight because it is the bill that will save lives.

I am supporting the minister’s bill as a father and as a husband and as a son to parents who are reaching that stage in their lives where getting around their home has become a little bit harder. I am speaking to this bill as someone who has listened to the pain of those who have lost loved ones. I am here to support the best possible protection for Queenslanders. Interconnected systems provide superior protection against tragedy. Likewise, the requirement for an interconnected alarm to be placed in all bedrooms greatly reduces the chance of people sleeping through it. According to Fire Protection Association Australia, if you sleep with the bedroom door closed—which most of us do—as we have heard again tonight, the sound of a smoke alarm in the hallway maybe reduced from 85 decibels to as low as 55. This is especially a risk for seniors in our community or those with hearing impairment. It is a risk for children who at times sleep soundly through significant noise. The member for Lytton pointed out that children and the elderly are four times more likely to die in a fire. That is why the member for Kawana’s bill does not stack up.

It is ill-thought-out policy like this that was rejected by Queenslanders when they rejected the government of Campbell Newman, Tim Nicholls and Jarrod Bleijie. The private member’s bill must be rejected as well. If they want to go out tomorrow and grandstand on this issue instead, then so be it. We all know how little respect members opposite hold for our hardworking men and women of our fire services. We remember when firefighters were defending their rights on the streets of this state, after the arrogant treatment handed out to them by the government led by Campbell Newman, Tim Nicholls, Tim Mander and Jarrod Bleijie. The LNP’s response, minister after minister, member after member, was to claim that they were ‘pretend firefighters’ or ‘dress-up firefighters’. In certain cases they even described them as strippers.

To declare our brave firefighters, our brave men and women—those whom we describe as our communities’ protectors—as frauds and fakes was simply another indication of the gall of the government led by Tim Nicholls, Campbell Newman, Jarrod Bleijie and Tim Mander. They have not changed a bit. When the member for Clayfield gave his faux mea culpa last Friday, when he said that they made mistakes without actually owning up to any, perhaps the arrogance that they showed towards our Queensland Fire and Emergency Services staff was one of them.

On this side of the House, we recognise the professionalism and we recognise the expertise of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and fire services around this nation. Those professionals are in agreement that interconnected alarms in all bedrooms will save lives. For all of the opposition and the member for Kawana’s talk about family values and valuing children, they are simply unwilling in this case to listen to the experts or listen to the coroner and give our children the best chance of survival in a house fire. This shows just how hollow the government led by those opposite were and how hollow they remain today, still mired by the chronic inconsistency of their lofty talk but unprincipled action.

This is absolutely a question of family values, and anyone who has even had the slightest contact with a family that has been impacted by a fire knows this to be true. I am here today to support a bill that will save families from loss and heartbreak. I am also here today to speak in my role as having responsibility for tenants in Queensland’s largest property portfolio. Over 110,000 Queensland families live in our homes, including over 36,000 people under the age of 18. We provide homes to some of the most vulnerable people in this state, including people with a disability and, increasingly, seniors with mobility issues. This is an important demonstration of why we need systems in every bedroom and we need them to be interconnected. This is an investment in saving lives. This is not a matter where we should be considering half-measures. Near enough is not good enough when it comes to setting the right framework for fire safety. That is why I am pleased to support my colleague the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services.

I commend the government bill to the House. 

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