Heatwaves (5.02.2014)

Written on the 28 February 2014

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- I move:

That this house -

(1) notes that from 14 to 17 January 2014, Victoria experienced an unprecedented heatwave with the hottest four-day period on record for both maximum and daily mean temperatures;

(2) acknowledges with great sadness the loss of life due to this heatwave that engulfed Victoria and offers our sincere condolences to those families;

(3) highly commends the hard work and dedication of staff and volunteers of emergency services, community-based health services, local governments and community organisations who responded to the heatwave emergency in extremely difficult conditions;

(4) recognises that 2013 was Australia's hottest year on record and that climate change is increasing and will continue to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Victoria;

(5) refers to the Legal and Social Issues References Committee for inquiry, consideration and report by 19 August 2014 the heatwave planning, response and recovery with reference to --

(a) the adequacy of the heatwave plan for Victoria to address the threat to health and life posed by the January 2014 heatwave;

(b) the adequacy of emergency services, local government and other key community agencies' heatwave action plans and how effectively they were able to be implemented;

(c) how effectively Victorians who are most vulnerable to heatwaves were protected and supported to manage the heat health threat; and

(d) opportunities for improvement, including considering a whole-of-government integrated approach, similar to that taken for bushfire emergencies.


Heatwaves are of critical concern to Victorians. This motion begins by recognising the extreme heat we have faced over the past month.

The Bureau of Meteorology found that the heatwave that engulfed us between 14 and 17 January this year was mainly focused over Victoria and that numerous records were broken for extended periods of heat. It was the hottest four-day period on record for both maximum and daily mean temperatures. It reached 45 degrees in Victoria on three days during the heatwave. The bureau reported a fivefold increase since 1957 in the average annual frequency of 45 degrees centigrade temperatures. The statewide average maximum temperature exceeded 41 degrees on four consecutive days, surpassing the record of three consecutive days set in 2009 in the lead-up to the Black Saturday fires. These two heatwaves, both of which occurred in the last five years, stand ahead of any others recorded on a statewide basis.

This motion acknowledges with great sadness the loss of life caused by the recent heatwave, and along with my colleagues, and I believe everyone in the chamber, I offer my condolences to families who have lost loved ones.

Current estimates are that more than 100 people died as a result of the heatwave. I await the chief health officer's report on the heatwave for the final toll and for a greater understanding of the circumstances in which people passed away. I would appreciate the government providing us with an estimated time line in which we can expect to see the chief health officer's report. We know that heatwaves have a major impact on human health. People aged over 65, children and those suffering chronic disease are the most vulnerable to extreme heat. The cause of death is often heart failure or heatstroke. Once again I offer our condolences to the grieving families.

This motion commends the hard work of those employed by or volunteering with emergency services, community organisations, local government and community health centres who worked long hours under difficult conditions to protect our most vulnerable residents from the heatwave. Without their work on the front line, I am sure that many more lives would have been lost.

Simple measures can save lives during a heatwave -- providing an air-conditioned space for people to get a break from the heat, keeping swimming pools open later, handing out bottles of cold water and sunscreen, providing health-care and heatwave advice and checking on the welfare of vulnerable people. All of these acts make a great difference.

Some organisations went to great lengths to find temporary alternative housing arrangements for people in rooming houses or high-rise apartments with no air conditioning and no natural ventilation because their windows cannot be opened. Some council workers spent hours on phones, checking the wellbeing of every home and community care client in their area and sending workers to check on residents who seemed to be struggling. We congratulate all those who went the extra yard to look after their neighbours and the people in their care.

The fourth part of the motion acknowledges that heatwaves like the ones experienced in January this year and in 2009 are part of our climate reality today. The Bureau of Meteorology recently declared 2013 Australia's hottest year on record. This follows consistently high temperatures over the past decade. Climate change is increasing and will continue to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Victoria. Heatwaves will only get worse, and the health impacts will continue to grow. CSIRO predicts that heatwave deaths across Australia will more than double by 2020, from around 1100 per year at present to 2300 to 2500, and these deaths are projected to quadruple by 2050.

Given the significant toll heatwaves are taking and will continue to take on the Victorian community, we must respond to heatwaves with the same seriousness, resolve and investment as we do to other disasters. Heatwaves deserve a whole-of-government, integrated emergency response on the scale of our response to major bushfires. After the 2009 heatwave the government took some steps to improve our heatwave response. In 2011 it released a heatwave plan for Victoria. As part of this plan the Department of Health issues heat health alerts to various agencies that choose to subscribe to it.

The government acknowledges that heatwaves require emergency responses, but the system of heat alerts is hardly an emergency response on the scale of other threats such as bushfires.

There is mention of heatwaves in the Emergency Management Manual Victoria, which allocates responsibility for management to the police. In appendix 10 the manual provides a list of detailed multi-agency emergency management plans. There are plans for road rescues, bushfires, earthquake emergencies, flood emergencies, health emergencies, storm emergencies, tsunami emergencies, transport and engineering emergencies, chemical, biological and radiological responses, animal welfare emergencies, human pandemics and marine pollution -- but there is no emergency plan for heatwaves. The manual was last updated in 2013, so it is not as though there have not been opportunities to include a heatwave emergency plan in recent years, especially considering what we saw in 2009.

The federal government's State of Australian Cities 2013 report shows that heatwaves cause more deaths than all other emergencies in Australia, including bushfires, cyclones, earthquakes, storms and floods combined. Since 1890 heatwaves have caused 2887 deaths, far more than the 843 from bushfires, 453 from floods and 124 from storms.

Given that so many lives are lost -- more than from all other emergencies -- it is confusing and alarming that heatwaves do not attract the same level of concern and emergency planning. The government failed to even mention heatwaves in its 2013 emergency management white paper, which is its 10-year vision for emergency management in Victoria. It seems that the scale of response currently afforded to heatwaves would be adequate for a small-scale health threat, but it is not adequate for an emergency that affects the entire state, causes massive strain on the health system and community support agencies and leads to hundreds of lives being lost.

Clearly the government is not taking heatwaves seriously enough, and the Greens are not alone in their concern about that. The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) has also called for a whole-of-government approach to heatwave emergencies using a model similar to that for bushfire emergencies. The VCOSS report Feeling the Heat -- Heatwaves and Social Vulnerability in Victoria outlines concerns that heatwaves are not included in Victoria's emergency management provisions. VCOSS has said that the lack of dedicated planning for extreme heat events puts an extra burden on local government, emergency services and local community sector organisations which are at the front line of responses and often struggle to meet the heightened demand for services. This is exacerbated as heatwaves often correspond with periods of high fire danger.

The previous government did provide funding and support to local government to develop local heatwave action plans. However, no funding has been provided by the coalition government to implement the plans.

The coalition government is relying on emergency services, local government, community health centres, neighbourhood houses and community organisations to put on extra staff, open up air-conditioned spaces and respond to heat emergencies on the ground. The government expects them to simply shoulder the costs, which could run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Some local councils and organisations, as I have said, go to significant effort and expense to respond to heatwaves; however, the lack of funding, together with a lack of statewide investment and coordination, means that the response by local government and other agencies is quite modest in nature and often not commensurate with the seriousness of the emergency.

These responses are not consistent across the state but are rather ad hoc, dependent upon local circumstances and the availability of resources and services. I do not believe that is good enough. During the January heatwave we had many examples of people slipping through the cracks.

There was no statewide plan that considered where homeless people would go to escape the heat. Thankfully the Salvation Army, after identifying the issue on the first day of the heatwave, acted quickly and contacted the City of Melbourne to create air-conditioned refuges in the town hall and other buildings. The City of Melbourne agreed immediately and should be commended for that, but such a scenario should have been anticipated and properly considered in a statewide emergency management plan. Places should have been prepared and promoted in advance of the heatwave to protect the health of those on the street, people who often suffer from chronic health conditions and thus are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat.
The president of the Australian Medical Association Victoria in an interview on the 7.30 Report said that some hospitals were not prepared for the spike in presentations during the heatwave and needed contingency funding to put on extra staff and open extra beds for the influx during heatwave emergencies. He said that the performance of these hospitals suffered as a result of this lack of preparation.

One of Australia's leading heat health experts, Dr Margaret Loughnan, a health geographer at Monash University, said too many vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, were not prepared for such hot weather. While she recognised that we get a few days warning that a heatwave is coming, Dr Loughnan said that it is not enough for people to say that they are heatwave prepared. Being heatwave prepared means making sure your air conditioner is working, making sure that you have got your medication stored at the right temperature and, if you do not have an air conditioner, making sure that you can get yourself somewhere that does. It takes some research and preparation to find where you can go to get a seat in an air-conditioned space for a couple of hours and how you can get there safely in searing heat.

Many people are not prepared to cope with the heat should there be a blackout, as we have seen in South Australia over the last few days. We now know that that is quite common during heatwaves.

Most home phone lines now rely on power to operate as they are cordless systems. During a blackout people are cut off from communication networks and cannot phone for help. With no air conditioner or fan, sometimes for hours, this puts many people at further risk.

Dr Loughnan said that the government could ask people to develop ahead of summer heatwave plans that make them contemplate staying safe at home during the heatwave or leaving, just as people do with their bushfire plans. We all know that these bushfire plans have been extremely successful. The Department of Health should then be able to say, 'We are issuing a heat alert and it is time to activate your heatwave plan now'.

Local radio station 774 ABC is the official emergency broadcaster in Victoria. During the January heatwave there were systematic bushfire warnings at regular intervals during station programming.

However, provision of heatwave health advice was dependent on if and when the presenter mentioned it, and you can safely say that it is not mentioned nearly as often as a fire threat. The two should be linked, although we know that the health impact of a heatwave is far greater. These deficiencies in health warnings are just a few examples of what happens during heatwaves, which are not taken as seriously as bushfires. They are examples reflective of the deeper lack of commitment by the state government to addressing the heatwave health threat.

In response to the January heatwave, VCOSS has also highlighted that a number of other states and cities prone to heatwaves, such as Western Australia and New York, have adopted better approaches. Western Australia has an integrated heatwave emergency management preparedness, planning and response plan. The Western Australian state emergency plan for heatwaves details the arrangements for the control of emergency response in the management of heatwave emergencies.

It is a whole-of-government, consolidated plan that not only identifies triggers for the emergency response but identifies response strategies and establishes clear notification and communication protocols between emergency management stakeholders.

A more detailed example of heatwave planning is in New York. The New York Office of Emergency Management plans and prepares for emergencies, educates the public about preparedness, coordinates emergency response and recovery and collects and disseminates emergency information on a range of natural and man-made emergencies, including extreme heat. When the heat index is forecast to reach a prescribed temperature the Office of Emergency Management convenes a steering committee, which comprises various health, critical infrastructure, public safety and communications agency representatives. The steering committee meets daily to review forecasts, assess the status of the city's infrastructure and its citizens' health and safety and determine what action should be taken.

Depending on the severity, the city may open cooling centres in air-conditioned public community centres, senior citizens centres and public libraries to offer people relief from the heat. It may increase outreach to the homeless and other at-risk populations, or issue evacuation safety alerts for contractors working with underground infrastructure.

In a more severe heat emergency the city's emergency operations centre will also be activated to provide a central point of coordination and communication for various aspects of the emergency response. The Office of Emergency Management provides a free telephone service to locate cooling centres or pools and provides an online location service. Its website also offers information and advice on keeping cool, heat-related illness, conserving energy and other heat-related issues. This is a great example of what we could be doing in Victoria. A consistent and coordinated approach to heatwave is long overdue.

The final part of the motion before the house today calls for the Legal and Social Issues References Committee to undertake a wide-ranging inquiry into the adequacy of the Heatwave Plan for Victoria -- Protecting Health and Reducing Harm from Heatwaves for Victoria to address the threat to health and life posed by the 2014 heatwave. The inquiry must investigate not only the state government's plans but also those of emergency services, local government and other agencies upon which the government relies to deliver life-saving measures.

As I indicated earlier, I believe many of these front-line agencies were hampered in their efforts by a lack of funding and, in some cases, a lack of planning support to deliver all the services that would substantially benefit vulnerable people during heatwaves. The motion specifies that the inquiry must investigate how Victorian heatwave management plans could be improved, including the adoption of a proper emergency management plan such as that which exists for bushfires.

In Victoria we need to develop a better understanding of best practice heatwave management and how it can be applied across the state. The Victorian government is currently undertaking major reform of the state's crisis and emergency management arrangements to create a more disaster-resilient and safer Victoria. It has established Emergency Management Victoria to create an all-hazards, all-agencies approach.

An inquiry by the Legal and Social Issues References Committee into our statewide heatwave response, ahead of the operation of these new emergency management arrangements, would be extremely informative and critical to ensuring that this new agency oversees heatwave emergencies, and does so with greater commitment and investment than we have seen from the government in the past.


Hon. D. M. DAVIS (Minister for Health) -- I am pleased to respond to the motion moved by Ms Hartland. It is an important motion. It canvasses a very important topic -- that is, our preparation for heatwaves that occur from time to time. There are some lessons to be learnt, as there always are out of each and every occasion of this type. As Mr Barber said in this chamber yesterday in speaking on a bill, in 2010 a parliamentary committee looked at the 2009 heatwave impact. The chief health officer at the time, Dr John Carnie, conducted a systematic review of what had occurred then.

It was clear that 374 people had died, and in that sense it is likely to have been the biggest tragedy that has occurred in peace time in Australia in terms of its impact and loss of life. It had a very significant impact. That was under the previous government. It is important to note that through that period there were no heatwave plans and there were no systemic responses or organised responses of any scale. I observed that evidence.

Professor Chris Brook, who is a director in my department, gave evidence at that hearing. I have had many discussions with Professor Brook, who is a very experienced person in disaster planning. He is the state health commander and is somebody of great eminence who has knowledge in this area and strong connections with those who understand how to plan for these sorts of emergencies. I can indicate that Professor Brook and I made contact with authorities in both the United States and Canada on matters surrounding emergency management.

We looked at similarities and challenges in those jurisdictions to understand how to respond in a whole range of circumstances.

There is also the set of very important recommendations that came out of the bushfires royal commission. The now government, then opposition, adopted those recommendations. A number of the recommendations went to greater coordination and arrangements between agencies. We now have a systemic and statewide organisation between different agencies -- between health, ambulance, the fire authorities, the emergency services, the State Emergency Service and so on. There is a systemic approach there that was not there previously. I am not being critical of the previous government; this is from learning that has come out of some of the disasters that occurred in 2009, including both the bushfire disasters and also the heatwave impacts.

I was proud to launch Heatwave Plan for Victoria -- Protecting Health and Reducing Harm from Heatwaves in recognition that from time to time we will see significant impacts on our communities. I want to pay tribute to the current chief health officer, Dr Rosemary Lester, for the work that she and her predecessor, Dr John Carnie, have undertaken in terms of preparation in this area; and also others in my department, Alison MacMillan and Carmel Flynn, who have done enormous work to put this on a stronger and more planned footing, particularly in conjunction with the other agencies. It was interesting that as the recent very hot week came forward, the planning between agencies was stronger than it had ever been before in Victoria's history. There was integration between the agencies. Staff from the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and Ambulance Victoria were integrated into the state emergency response in a way that they had not been before. Ambulance Victoria and my own Department of Health staff and emergency management people were more coordinated than ever before.

Our own small emergency centre has, as a matter of routine and practice now, incorporated links with Ambulance Victoria and personnel are being based there so that the coordination that operates is seamless and the ability to transact data and information and to share the sources of information that are available is much greater. The links with councils were also strengthened, and a set of arrangements were put in place. Councils were asked to plan ahead of time. Each local community has a responsibility in that regard.

Under the system that has been put in place the chief health officer issues the alerts in a timely way, ahead of time, based on the evidence and on an algorithm that enables us to predict the likely results in the different regions of Victoria. For those who have not read the heatwave plan document, I would suggest it is a very worthwhile read. I am not suggesting that there can never be any improvements to this plan; I think there can be and there will be over time. As each occasion occurs we add more coordination and more useful ways forward that protect the public and that put things in place ahead of time to ensure that there are better outcomes for our community. At figure 1 in the document you will see the heat health temperature thresholds and corresponding weather forecast districts. It lays out the municipalities and a number of the key forecasting matrices that will enable the chief health officer to make the decisions that she needs to make.

The warnings go out.

This time there were not just warnings from the chief health officer but a significant and broad communications plan was launched. I want to pay tribute to a number of others, including Ambulance Victoria and particularly Paul Holman, who is a person of great integrity and good sense. He was the one who had the responsibility of coordinating Ambulance Victoria's input with the Department of Health's emergency response team and worked with them in a coordinated way. He was also very good in getting many of the messages out to the community, whether on radio or television or in other forums.

From the start of this process we increasingly found that we were holding joint and integrated briefings for the press and for those we wanted to alert to enable them to get the messages out to the broader community. Paul Holman was very effective in helping to get those messages out.

The chief health officer also took part in those briefings, and on a number of occasions the fire authorities and others were involved, including my colleague the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. Importantly, another approach we took saw the commissioner for senior Victorians, Gerard Mansour, also involved. He sought to communicate with seniors through organisations, individuals and direct communications like email and other mechanisms, including news releases and press appearances around the state, to get the message out that those who are older and, in some cases, much more vulnerable needed to take specific action. Those actions were well detailed. Tips sheets and information were provided across the community very broadly.

It is important to understand that the heat response is somewhat different from other emergencies. It is dispersed across local communities. One of the things we tried to get across is that people should talk to their neighbours, knock on their doors and assist them if possible.

As Ms Hartland pointed out, many of our councils took elaborate steps to contact those in their municipalities who were in the at-risk categories. Obviously the response varied considerably between municipalities. No-one should think that a very small rural shire would have the same response as a major metropolitan municipality. There are different response outlines, different communities and different abilities to respond. We have worked with councils and talked these matters through.

Health services were also notified through the heat health alert system. Health services are required to have heat plans and to put them in place at the appropriate time. Those documents were put in place ahead of time, and they are followed by alerts from the chief health officer or other authorities. They enable the health services to take whatever action is required in the circumstances to put themselves in a position to handle changes that occur. The heat health alert system is an important one.

As I said, the chief health officer issues imminent heat condition warnings, and the updated State Health Emergency Response Plan was issued on 19 November 2013, putting in place many of these related steps.

It is important to note that the period between 13 and 18 January was very hot -- and likely to have been the hottest period on record. Day three of the heat event in 2009 saw mean temperatures of 34.6 degrees, day four saw temperatures of 35.0 degrees and day five saw temperatures of 33.8 degrees. These were very significant mean temperatures, with three days over 30 degrees. But in the 2014 event the temperatures were 35.7 degrees on day three, 34.4 degrees on day four, 34.8 degrees on day five and 32.7 degrees on day six. This was a longer heatwave, with mean temperatures very significantly challenging the community. The important thing is the additional day coming cumulatively on top of three very hot days, which had a significant impact on communities and on older and vulnerable Victorians.

The government was very aware of that, and I can indicate that all the emergency authorities were deeply engaged in getting the messages out. I want to put on record the government's thanks to the fire services commissioner Craig Lapsley for the work he did in assisting in getting these messages out.

Both he and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Kim Wells, were very helpful in enabling a coordinated response and assisting with the task of getting out the detailed messages. I also want to record my thanks to Ambulance Victoria; I think it played a magnificent role here. Additional resources were available, and the relationship that exists with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade enabled an additional first responder capacity to be deployed. There were also staff call-backs to make sure that as many staff as possible were available, and there was flexing up and down by using the non-emergency patient transport vehicle fleet, which can be deployed under the contractual arrangements with those non-emergency patient transport firms when there is an emergency. This enables the fleet to expand as required and to do so in local areas to enable response to greater demand. Those non-emergency ambulances are used specifically for less acute code 3 patients, enabling the Ambulance Victoria fleet to be deployed for the most acute patients. There was a significant effort to have a very fast response on every possible occasion to cardiac events.

The number of cardiac events was much greater than is normally the case, and the number went up as the hotter days rolled on.

There was also close communication with the Bureau of Meteorology and briefings to our centre and to the state control centre to enable an understanding of the likely impacts and timing of those impacts in different regions. The chief health officer, the fire services commissioner, the state health and medical commander and, as I said, the commissioner for senior Victorians and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services worked closely together in a seamless and coordinated way. I think the preplanning paid very big dividends. There is no doubt that there will have been significant impacts, and I can indicate to the house today, as I have done publicly on a number of occasions, that the chief health officer will complete a report on this event, as she did in the case of the 2009 event. That is entirely appropriate and as it should be.

That final report will take some time to complete, because quite a lot of detailed work is required to understand each and every area that has been impacted upon and to do it in a thorough and thoughtful way.

I have no doubt that Rosemary Lester, the chief health officer, will undertake the steps in a coordinated, proper and entirely scientifically based way. It is important that we not jump to conclusions about individual cases or even broad numbers of cases, because there are a number of factors at work here. Public comments have been made which were ill-informed reflex comments which were made in some cases by people not fully briefed about the detail of the state's response, the coordination of the state's response and the thought and effort that had been put in by many people across a large number of agencies in terms of the response. Some of those people have since been briefed, and they took a very different view once they could see the detail and planning that had gone in.

In this context I want to say something about the importance of not confusing the response on individual occasions with broader and more esoteric debates on climate change. I heard Mr Barber's comments in this chamber yesterday, and I understand his points about adaptation and mitigation. I also understand the points that are made about climate change and that there are some people who have particular agendas there. They are entitled to have particular agendas -- it is a free country, and people can say what they wish -- but we ought not confuse the specifics of the response and the specifics of preplanning with a broader agenda.

Some political parties have a particular agenda and see the heatwave as a way of bringing certain issues back onto the political agenda for their own ideological and political purposes. Again, they are entitled to do that, but I am entitled, as are government members and others, to call them on it and say that that is what is going on.

We need to be quite clear that the specifics of planning, the specifics of preparation and the specifics of our response -- both the response of the government and the response of the community -- to these things are incredibly important matters, and they ought not to be mixed up like a great big cake with concepts around climate change and the debates that are occurring there. Where people have political allegiances and so forth, they should declare those up-front rather than, in a few cases, running agendas that are clearly designed in a particular way.

Notwithstanding that, I welcome debate on these matters publicly because it is only by sensible, practical debate that we can actually improve in an ongoing way the response in these areas. There is always something further to learn and additional points to add that will improve and refine the way these matters are dealt with. Of course the chief health officer will undertake a detailed examination, and the heatwave planning will no doubt be improved in individual steps as ideas are introduced. There is no doubt that further steps can be taken to ensure that the state health and emergency response plan, which is now in its third edition and was issued on 19 November 2013, undergoes further iterations.
An example of one little piece of mischief that was run by a group that ought to have known better in this circumstance was putting out that the calling of the code orange by Ambulance Victoria in some way was the wrong thing to do or some mode of crisis. In fact the opposite was true.

It was a preplanned code that brought resources and a clear message to ambulance service people across the state about the likely scale and need for preparation. This was a carefully preplanned calling of a code orange exactly as it was meant to occur. It was to give people forewarning and time for preparation for a particular series of heat events. For a group to go out publicly and seek to indicate that this was in some way a wrong response or something that indicated a crisis or a lack of preparation is mischief designed for political purposes. I was very disappointed to see that particular group go out and make those claims in circumstances where the state was responding ahead of time with appropriate warnings and additional resources being deployed, and we were doing that in an entirely responsible way and in the way it was intended to operate.

Groups that have a particular political agenda need to take a step back and look at the immediate circumstances and the need to make sure that everyone pulls together.

We saw one group seek to play political games about whether additional resources would be deployed. I, along with my ministerial colleagues, very much have the view that where there is a natural disaster or some broad and diffuse challenge, like the heatwave, it is all hands on deck, as it were. It is about everyone not playing demarcation games or industrial games in circumstances like those during a heatwave. I was very disappointed to see one or two groups playing those sorts of industrial games at a time when the state was challenged by a major heatwave.

These are important points to put on the record. I again mark particularly the response of Ambulance Victoria, the paramedics of our state and the volunteers for their remarkable contribution. They all pulled together in a way that saw the deployment of maximum resources and the significant saving of lives and misery through that important preplanning. We will learn from each of these events. Ideas will be taken on board, and I welcome constructive suggestions from wherever they might come.

I look forward to that being done in exactly that mode rather than in the ill-informed mode of a couple of individuals who commented in the public domain -- unhelpfully -- throughout this period. It is likely that we will face further heat impacts in the coming period, and the government and the agencies involved are certainly preparing for those.

I should say something too about local government. By and large across the state local government performed admirably, and it is important to put on record the thanks of the Victorian community for the work that was done in ensuring that older people, vulnerable people and others across the community were supported to a very significant extent in this process.


Mr JENNINGS (South Eastern Metropolitan) -- On behalf of the Labor Party I am very happy to support Ms Hartland's motion before the chamber today and her intention to try to find ways in which we can enhance our ability to respond to ongoing heatwave situations -- something we have witnessed and experienced in Victoria in recent times. By the end of this week we will experience another, and they will be a feature of our lives in years to come. I join Ms Hartland and the Leader of the Government in congratulating our emergency workers, who have responded to the needs of our community in the latest heatwave conditions. I thank them for their contribution and support them in the vital work they will be undertaking on behalf of vulnerable members of the community.

I also join Ms Hartland particularly in congratulating the non-government sector and the local government sector on playing a role and sharing the load within the community.

A point she made well, which was reiterated by the minister, was that there are any number of members of our community who have found there is an important role to play in supporting vulnerable members of our community -- particularly the aged, the infirm and children -- and in responding to the sometimes urgent and ongoing need for them to be provided with a safe environment and the appropriate health provisions and health care in a time of heat stress.

Many members of the Victorian community have had to endure very trying circumstances in recent times. We anticipate that occurring into the future, probably at an increasing rate. I am one member of the Parliament who is not afraid to acknowledge the existence of climate change or the pressures that global warming may have already placed upon people's quality of life, not only in Victoria but also across Australia and indeed around the world. I anticipate that these natural phenomena will increase environmental pressures and the stresses and strains on human habitation in the years to come.

I do not know why politicians such as the Minister for Health claim that this is an esoteric debate. It is a real set of climatic conditions that we have to be alive to, not live in denial of, and that we should take account of in our proper planning for the future, whether that be in health care, in environmental management or in other ways we can mitigate the risks of global warming. We should not at every turn try to absolve ourselves of responsibility for this problem or its consequences by saying that this is an esoteric debate, as the minister has done today and indeed as I heard him say yesterday.

It is important that we concentrate on the coordination of care in Victoria and our ability to respond to emergency situations and human need in our community. That is the measure we should focus and concentrate on, and that is the spirit in which Ms Hartland has raised this motion today. That is the spirit in which I support her in this motion.

I listened to the minister speak for the best part of 20 minutes. Whilst he spoke about issues that were relevant to the motion, he concluded his contribution without making it clear whether he supported the motion or opposed it. I on behalf of the Labor Party indicate within my presentation, which will not be as lengthy as that of the minister, that we will support this motion, not only because of its recognition of issues that are important to our community but also because it calls for further work and exploration of our ability to respond to these issues.

In a totally appropriate way it gives a job to a committee of the Parliament to account to the Parliament and the Victorian people for those issues now and into the future. It is worthwhile that a parliamentary committee should undertake this type of inquiry.

The minister should not be defensive about this issue, because quite rightly he was able in his contribution to identify a range of ways in which the emergency response to heatwave conditions has been enhanced in the last few years. That is a positive thing. That is something for which I congratulate the good citizens of Victoria. The professional public servants and agencies that the minister identified in his contribution are worthy of ongoing support and recognition for that work. But as the minister indicated, he does not assume, as I do not assume and nobody should assume, that the implementation of that work or the further work to be done is without blind spots or awkwardness.

In that spirit I call on the minister to embrace this opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the response of agencies, to evaluate our ability to fund these matters into the future and to have some inquiry into these matters. If that is the spirit in which we can be united, well and good.

I understand that the minister may be anxious about the potential resource allocation that may flow from this inquiry. Ms Hartland's questions yesterday in the Parliament of Victoria concerned whether the Victorian government has the ability to support non-government agencies, the local government sector and community organisations which have embarked on this important work in recent times and may be called upon to do so in the future. The minister is anxious about this matter. He is anxious about the availability of ambulance services at the best of times, let alone in times of emergency or crisis. It is incumbent upon the government to come to terms with these matters. It has to overcome its anxiety in order to examine them.

It must expose itself to external scrutiny and seek the best advice about how these matters should be dealt with in the future.

That is why I encourage the government to participate and to support the motion to enable the Victorian Parliament to undertake the important work that Ms Hartland is asking of it through this motion. I am happy to support her today.



Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise and speak briefly to Ms Hartland's motion. The minister has eloquently outlined to the house the issues and the background to what has occurred with regard to heatwave response in this state. Following 2009 the Department of Health developed a heatwave plan for Victoria. That has been implemented by the coalition government, beginning in 2011. I would like to commend the department and all those who worked on that heat plan. It is a comprehensive plan, and it provides detailed levels of information for some of our most vulnerable groups.

As has been said, many individuals, community groups and other agencies have worked collectively on this issue to ensure that we can get communication out to the most vulnerable people to forewarn them of heatwaves. We have various temperature ranges across the state. As we know, just a few days ago there was an extensive period with high levels of heat. The heatwave continued for six days, with the temperature above 45 degrees Celsius on three consecutive days, so there were significant temperatures across the state, which impacted on a range of people.

I am pleased that along with others the commissioner for older people, Gerard Mansour, has been active in highlighting one of those vulnerable groups, those in aged care. Some very good advice is available for those involved in residential aged care about heatwaves, the resources that are available and what aged-care agencies and services should do to provide the best plans for people in residential aged care.

The other thing I will mention briefly in the time I have is the very good initiative of the Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Ms Lovell, in launching the campaign for not leaving children in cars. Last Sunday the minister launched the No Exceptions, No Excuses campaign to combat children being left in cars in the heat. That campaign has been widely supported, with widespread advertising in the metropolitan and regional newspapers, on radio and in digital advertising highlighting the very dangerous situation if children are left in cars on hot days.

That is an element indirectly related to the subject of the motion, but it goes to safety in the heat.

Whether it be Ambulance Victoria, the State Emergency Service or the fire services, those agencies that all worked very constructively together with the Department of Health in alerting the Victorian community have done a very good job in providing information about the heatwave to service providers and individuals and community groups.

I would also like to commend Lord Mayor Robert Doyle on his initiative of opening public pools to the homeless by providing free passes. That very good initiative of the Melbourne City Council was welcomed. It obviously gave great relief to many people. If more local government and community groups think a little outside the square, if you like, and take initiatives such as that, they will assist many people who might be experiencing heat stress in the future.

Business interrupted pursuant to order of Council.

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