My message to ACT firefighters.

Canberra’s fire-fighters do a tough job. They put their lives on the line, and help others in dangerous situations. They have my respect and admiration.

That’s why as Minister I have made sure Canberra’s rank and file fire-fighters are the best paid in the country. Why I have made sure we have a new state of the art fire training facility at Hume and made the investment in new trucks, equipment and stations to make sure they can do their job safely.

So the current dispute with the fire-fighters union is hard for me to understand. It was made especially hard when I asked the union leadership to meet with me last week to discuss their key concerns and they didn’t raise the issue which has led to the dispute this week. When you ask, in good faith, for someone to tell you their concerns and they don’t mention the issue which leads to a dispute, it’s hard to know what else you can do.

The Government remains open to discussing legitimate work and safety concerns, and working constructively and cooperatively on them. Fire-fighters doing training while on duty has been a accepted work practice for over a decade. While fire-fighters are training, at their station or at Hume, they are available for response. The truck is crewed, they are always ready to go to a fire or other emergency.    Stations are not closed if the stations trucks are fully crewed and available for response. Fire trucks are constantly repositioned to maintain safe and prompt response times across the city.

This work practice does not present a safety problem, either for fire-fighters or the public. According to the Productivity Commissions Report on Government Services the ACT has the best response to containing fires to the room of origin in Australia, at 75.9 %. It has had the best response for years.

Yesterday the union secretary claimed the response to the house fire at Kambah this week would have been delayed if the Kambah crew had been attending training. For the record Kambah, Phillip and Greenway stations all arrived at the fire at 9.24am. In fact all three crews arrived within 20 seconds of each other. Even if the Kambah crew had been attending training, there would have been no delay in response. The union secretary’s claim is wrong.

I have no argument with our fire-fighters, but I do have concerns with how their union is approaching these issues. Yesterday the union had to back down and withdraw its unlawful direction to members after the Government took the matter to Fair Work Australia. I encourage the union to take a more constructive approach. My door is open.

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Driving down property crime

Property crime, like burglary and car theft are the types of crimes most likely to affect Canberrans.   This is why ACT Labor has made tackling property crime a priority.

Following a direction from me to the Chief Police Officer a special ACT Policing team has been established to prevent, detect and prosecute property crime offences.

The result speak for themselves, in the 12 months to March this year, burglary has dropped by 25%, and car theft by 27%.   This means 100’s fewer homes being burgled and 100’s fewer cars stolen.   Even more significantly, the ACT’s motor vehicle theft rate has fallen below the Australian average for the first time in over a decade.

These are great results for our community and my thanks go to the hard-working ACT Policing officers for their dedicated efforts at keeping our community safe.

Labor has plans to build on these results.   Our new Property Crime Reduction Strategy targets a further 10% reduction in burglary and 20% in car theft by 2015.   You can find out more about the new strategy here.

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Big Solar Auction way to go: Grattan Institute

In a report released today the Grattan Institute has endorsed the concept of reverse auctions to drive the deployment of renewable energy at the lowest and most competitive price.   The ACT is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia using reverse auctions to deploy large scale solar generation.

This report is a strong endorsement of the policy approach adopted by the ACT Labor Government to make Canberra Australia’s solar capital.   I have consistently argued the reverse auction process is the best way of providing the certainty needed for investment in large scale renewable energy generation, at the lowest cost for consumers.

Importantly the Grattan Institute also reiterates that such measures are complimentary to a carbon price, and that a carbon price alone will not deliver the investment needed in renewable energy generation.

The ACT Labor Governments Big Solar Reverse Auction is currently close to finalisation, with the successful bid or bidders in the first tranche of 20MW of solar generation expected to be announced in August this year.   A further 20MW allocation is due to be announced early next year.

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Public health or a “nanny state”?

This week I announced the Government would not permit the use of wood heaters in new homes in the development area of the Molonglo Valley due to the significant potential for air pollution from wood smoke.   The decision was based on an independent assessment of air pollution issues for the area .  You can see a copy of the report here.

Not surprisingly there was some criticism of my decision, with the cliche “nanny state” thrown about freely.

It is important to remember that wood smoke is a pollutant, and that there are some areas of Canberra, where due to the local topography, like Tuggeranong and Molonglo ( which are both valleys) wood smoke can become trapped in a pool of cold air closer to the ground and beneath the warmer air above in the winter months.  Wood smoke contains particulate matter and with prolonged exposure can cause serious illness.   Respiratory conditions, such as asthma can be seriously exacerbated, cardiovascular and circulatory conditions can also be made worse from ongoing exposure.   It is the very young and the elderly who are most susceptible, with exposure to the particulate matter in wood smoke known to contribute to chronic lung disease, heart problems and premature birth and death.  Wood heaters can also release excessive levels of carbon monoxide.

So how bad a problem is wood smoke pollution in the ACT ?  The latest Air Quality Report issued by the Environment Protection Authority shows it is the only air pollutant in the ACT to exceed the National Environment Protection Measure standard.   Last year saw 4 breaches of the national standard in the Tuggeranong Valley, and while this is an improvement on previous years, the potential for more breaches would occur if wood heaters were permitted in the Molonglo Valley.

So the choice is simple, knowing what we know about wood smoke being trapped in valleys like Molonglo in the winter months, and knowing that wood smoke can cause illness or make existing illness worse ( particularly in babies, young children and the elderly), do we take steps to help prevent the problem, or ignore the warnings?

I chose to protect public health rather than pander to the shrill cry of “nanny state”.

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Big Solar for the Nations Capital

Last month I announced that the ACT’s large-scale solar feed in tariff auction has reached its final stage with 22 proposals from 10 proponents shortlisted to bid for access to 40MW of renewable generation capacity.

The ACT Labor Governments large-scale solar reverse auction is attracting interest nationally and internationally.  With a high quality and experienced field of renewable energy companies bidding this scheme will deliver the largest solar facilities built in Australia to date.   Currently the largest installed PV solar plant in Australia is 1MW and the largest under construction is 10MW in Western Australia.   In the first stage of this auction 20MW of solar generation will be supported, with another 20MW to be allocated early next year.

Reverse auctions like the ACT scheme have proven effective internationally in delivering the certainty needed to encourage investment in large-scale solar.   Unlike the feed in tariffs used for residential solar installation, the large-scale FIT is determined by a reverse auction, where the Government accepts the lowest and most credible price for a feed in tariff and it is only paid for as long as the price of the renewable energy sold is higher than the wholesale price of electricity.  With the cost of renewable energy rapidly falling, particularly PV solar, Labor’s large-scale solar scheme means price support for renewable energy will only operate for as long as renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuel sources, which is likely to be less than 20 years from today.

We have now reached the final stage of the fast track stream for the large-scale solar auction, with fast track bidders now having lodged their price bids for feed in tariff support.   I will soon receive advice from the expert panel appointed to review the bids and advise the government on who the successful bid or bidders shall be.   With an announcement expected in August this year, ACT Labor will have delivered on its commitment to make Canberra Australia’s Solar Capital.

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Experience, Commitment, Results

The hurly burly of daily life can often mean we lose sight of longer term goals and what we have already achieved. This is as true in politics as in the rest of life.

So it is worthwhile to look back on what you have actually completed, and what remains to be done. To remind yourself of what is important and why you keep putting the energy into the day to day challenges.

Recently I had cause to do just this. I decided to cast back and look at what has been achieved in my portfolio areas since the most recent ACT election.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the achievements that stood out to me:

Looking at this list reminds me of why this job is important, and that as a minister I can sometimes give ideas the push they need to start moving and to create change in our community.
 
So many people help me in this job and these achievements are theirs as well. They are important to look back on, if only to remind why the daily hurly burly is worth it.
 
 
On this website, I’ll be blogging about various government and community issues that I deal with on a daily basis and I’ll be keen to hear your views on these and any other issues you would like to see me discuss.
 
Call or email my office, join the conversation on Twitter (@SimonCorbell); or Facebook, and sign up to my blog to make comments on this site.
 
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Welcome to my new blog

Thanks for visiting my new blog which I hope will provide you with the opportunity to keep up to date on the issues I am passionate about pursuing as a Minister and local member in the Legislative Assembly.

This blog is a chance for you to speak directly with me by responding to my thoughts and observations on issues that matter to me, to our city and to the broader community.

I look forward to reading your comments and following up on questions you raise.

Also, don’t hesitate to get in contact with me through the contact details page on the blog about issues that are important to you.

Simon