A plan to move weather forecasters interstate has been labelled dangerous — and a risk to Tasmanian lives in emergency situations such as bushfires.
Following a major review of operations, the Bureau of Meteorology announced earlier this month that weather forecasts will in future be produced by teams based in Brisbane and Melbourne. “Customer focused delivery teams” will be located in other states and territories to provide services to the emergency management sector and local industries – but not predict the weather.
This is simply not acceptable.
Tasmania has a complex geography, with many micro-regions which result in distinct and often unpredictable weather conditions. Mainland forecasters will have absolutely no Tasmanian local knowledge and so will not be able to accurately provide decent weather forecasts.
Tasmania’s local forecasters have provided critical insight during emergencies like the Dunalley fires, and the floods in northern Tasmania and, more recently, Hobart. This loss of expertise will affect many Tasmanians – directly and indirectly. If there is more than one major incident happening across Australia, which is a pretty large land mass, then it is natural to fear that the bigger population centres will get the attention first. In fact, there is no doubt that a centralised service could put Tasmanian communities at risk during extreme weather events such as bushfires and floods.
One of the worst affected sectors will be agriculture. Every day, farmers make decisions based on forecasting. These decisions involve significant amounts of money and impact on large numbers of jobs. Importantly, livestock welfare is very dependent on access to localised and timely weather forecasting information.
If the Bureau of Meteorology could absolutely guarantee there will be no diminution of the services provided, then there might be a case. However, it would be a brave person who would bet the farm on that promise.
Based on previous experience, the further away from the centre of activity that people like forecasters are, the less likely we’ll get the accurate forecasting that we need. They may say with computers they can do it just as well, but it is not a big stretch to expect that the centralisation of services will result in less accurate forecasts.
The people who know about this stuff have all condemned the decision.
The United Firefighters Union Tasmania said it was “absolutely crucial to have local knowledge” during reduction burns and high fire danger periods.
“It’s the community’s lives as well as the safety of firefighters that are on the line,” their spokesman said.
The Police Association said it would “seriously compromise” operations, while the unions that cover parks and forestry, firefighters and the State Emergency Service said it was “stupid and short-sighted” to separate forecasters from ground crews.
Senator Nick McKim was quick to stand up for Tasmania, moving a motion calling on BoM to abandon plans to centralise forecasting services. This motion was passed in the Senate, with the support of all Labor and two Green senators. For the record, three Tasmanian senators (Duniam, Colbeck, and Martin) were absent for the vote; and Liberal Senators Abetz and Bushby voted against the motion.
In a statement, BoM said it was consulting with staff on the “proposed transformation” and was committed to providing localised expertise to each state and territory.
“Claims of cost-cutting and job losses are simply untrue and there are no plans to remove the bureau’s local presence from any state or territory,” the statement said.
“A proposed new approach to improve services, which is being discussed in consultation with staff, customers and stakeholders, would involve general forecasting services moving to specialised hubs, allowing locally-based staff more time to provide specialist expertise to key state sectors such as emergency services, agriculture and energy.
New federal Environment Minister Melissa Price said there had been an ongoing business review of what the BOM does throughout Australia.
“I know there have been a few people, especially Tasmanians, [who] are getting very, very excited and obviously a bit concerned that this means a loss of jobs.
“I’m assured that’s not what it means. Like any department, they have a business review every couple of years to see if what they’re doing is delivering a good service.
“But I can assure people that they really do not need to be concerned about this review,” she said.
Oh well, as you were – that’s alright then. I’m sure we’ll all sleep better knowing that some mainland politician has our back when Tasmania next faces a disastrous weather event.