Australia–– PROFIT was put ahead of lives by the Federal Government’s refusal to give Victorian emergency services the maximum ability to use hi-tech communication to fight bushfires, Premier Ted Baillieu warned last night.
A war of words erupted yesterday when the Gillard Government offered only half the bandwidth emergency services say they need to respond to disasters such as Black Saturday.
The extended bandwidth would enable helicopters and crews at a fire to beam back live vision to the control centre, so real-time decisions can be made with up-to-date information.
A week after Victorians were warned the state faced the highest risk of severe bushfires since Black Saturday, Mr Baillieu accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of prioritising profit from broadband sales over emergency services’ needs.
As the fourth anniversary of Black Saturday looms, Mr Baillieu demanded Ms Gillard overturn the ruling.
“This decision … is completely unacceptable,” he said. “It fails to provide Victoria’s emergency services with the capacity they need. Worse still, Canberra wants to charge Victoria’s emergency services for broadband and sell the rest at a windfall profit.
“Why would the PM refuse to provide Victoria’s emergency services with the broadband capacity that they need?” Mr Baillieu said.
But federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said it was Mr Baillieu who was playing politics.
“It is a disgrace Mr Baillieu is trying to score cheap political points on an issue as important as protecting Victorian lives in the event of an emergency,” she said.
“The independent experts at the ACMA have identified a dedicated band of emergency services spectrum that meets the needs of Victorian authorities to respond faster and more effectively to disasters.
“This capacity can be scaled up so that the emergency services can operate as they need to in the event of a major disaster.”
She said the Gillard Government was investing more than $100 million but Mr Baillieu had put no money forward.
“This is a distraction by Mr Baillieu who has been busy slashing Victoria’s firefighting budgets,” she said.
Despite the nation’s emergency services telling Canberra they needed at least 20MHz worth of spectrum set aside so they could communicate in disasters, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced just 10MHz was being provided.
The decision means there is more of the highly prized bandwidth to be sold to telecommunication companies.
Police Association secretary Sen-Sgt Greg Davies said the 20MHz requested by emergency services was a bare minimum to cater for the day-to-day operations in Australia’s jurisdictions.
But he warned the 10MHz offered by Canberra would collapse if there were multiple emergencies such as a cyclone in Queensland and a flood in Victoria, or a national terrorist attack. “In times of emergency it is not going to be enough,” Sen-Sgt Davies said.
“They’d rather sell it to a record to make money than let the emergency services have it.
“They’d rather see dollars in the ban, than lives in the bush.”
Marysville local Glenn McFadzean said warnings to communities under threat should be the highest priority. “That was one of the problems with Black Saturday,” Mr McFadzean said.
He said emergency services should be given what they deem necessary especially before “it’s too late and another disaster hits”.
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission repeatedly highlighted communication errors and difficulties on the fatal day.
Last week Victoria’s Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley warned that two summers of high rainfall followed by the return of warm and dry conditions had created bushfire fuel.
A spokesman from ACMA said while only 10 megahertz would be offered for 4G telecommunications, video, voice and data services with higher megahertz would also be offered.
Canberra further outraged premiers by revealing it was going to charge the states a negotiated price for the use of a new dedicated channel for emergency services, which they must also design, build, maintain and operate.