You are on page 1of 23

This is an uncorrected proof of evidence taken

before the committee and it is made available
under the condition it is recognised as such.

LEGAL AFFAIRS AND COMMUNITY
SAFETY COMMITTEE
Members present:
Mr ML Furner MP (Chair)
Miss V M Barton MP
Mr DJ Brown MP
Mr JM Krause MP
Ms JE Pease MP
Mrs T Smith MP
Staff present:
Ms B Watson (Research Director)
Ms K Longworth (Principal Research Officer)
Mr G Thomson (Principal Research Officer)

PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY INTO THE FIRE AND
EMERGENCY SERVICES (SMOKE ALARMS)
AMENDMENT BILL 2015
TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS

WEDNESDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2014
Brisbane

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015

WEDNESDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2016
____________

001

Committee met at 9.03 am
CHAIR: Good morning. I declare open this public hearing and public briefing for the
committee’s inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2015. On
1 December 2015 Mr Jarrod Bleijie, the member for Kawana, introduced the bill to the parliament.
The parliament has referred the bill to its bipartisan Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee—
this committee—for examination. My name is Mark Furner. I am the chair of the committee. Other
committee members are Mr Jon Krause, deputy chair of the committee; Mrs Tarnya Smith; Ms Joan
Pease; Miss Verity Barton; and Mr Don Brown.
The committee’s proceedings are proceedings of the Queensland parliament and are subject
to the standing rules and orders of the parliament. The proceedings are being recorded by Hansard
and broadcast live on the parliament’s internet site. Media may be present and will be subject to the
chair’s direction at all times. The media rules endorsed by the committee are available from committee
staff if required. All those present today should note that it is possible you might be filmed or
photographed during the proceedings. I ask everyone present to turn off your mobiles or switch them
to silent. Only the committee and invited witnesses may participate in the proceedings. As
parliamentary proceedings under the standing orders, any person may be excluded from the hearing
at the discretion of the chair or by order of the committee.
The purpose of today is to assist the committee with its examination of the Fire and Emergency
Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2015 introduced as a private member’s bill by the member
for Kawana, the shadow minister for police, fire, emergency services and corrective services. The
government has now introduced its own bill in relation to domestic smoke alarms and it has been
referred to this committee. We will be considering the bill and report on it by 23 May 2016.
We understand from the bill’s explanatory notes and the member’s introductory speech that
the bill aims to introduce a number of legislative changes to implement recommendations from the
coronial inquest into the Slacks Creek house fire that occurred in August 2011, claiming the lives of
11 people including eight children. A number of stakeholders, most of whom have written submissions
to our inquiry, have been invited to participate in the hearing. The program for today has been
published on the committee’s webpage and there are hard copies available from committee staff.

ISAAC, Mr David, Fire and Safety Technologies Pty Ltd
VEENSTRA, Mr Gary, State Manager, Master Electricians Australia
CHAIR: Thank you for your written submissions and for attending here today. We will allow
you five minutes each to make an opening statement—and I will strictly stick to five minutes—and
then committee members will have some questions for you. Before you start, I seek leave to table the
government’s Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill 2016. There
being no opposition, it is carried. Mr Isaac, we will start with you, please.
Mr Isaac: Thank you very much for inviting me to speak this morning, ladies and gentlemen. I
guess I could speak for a lot more than five minutes, but I will try to keep it way less than that so that
you can ask whatever questions you would like to ask. I want to open with a statement that was made
by the Commissioner of the New South Wales fire brigade, Greg Mullins, in the Senate inquiry that
we attended late last year. In his statement he says these words—
The other thing people need to be aware of is that a smouldering fire is more lethal than a flaming fire. There is a qualification
there. A flaming fire will spread quickly and conditions will become untenable very quickly. But most fires in residential settings
will go through a smouldering phase before they become a flaming fire. If you can detect that quickly, people have the ability
to escape.

He continues—
That is in a nutshell, and the last thing is, even with a flaming fire, a phenomenon scientists call ‘smoke ageing’ and ‘smoke
travels’. With smoke travels, the small particles tend to congregate—

Brisbane

-1-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
or what we call agglomerate—
and become larger particles. Research we have just recently conducted in New South Wales found that photoelectric alarms
operated far more quickly than ionisation alarms for smouldering fires—sometimes tens of minutes, sometimes half an hour,
sooner. In a flaming fire, ionisation alarms sometimes operated more quickly than a photoelectric alarm but the difference was
seconds. We very clearly advocate only photoelectric alarms. My personal view is: ionisation alarms should be banned.

That is a pretty powerful statement coming from a commissioner who was a career fireman—
the first New South Wales commissioner who started as a fireman as a young man. In my submission
I put that the most dangerous fires are those that occur at night when occupants sleep, between 8 pm
and 8 am. It is imperative to have multiple alarms. It is no good having a smoke alarm in a home
down the end of the corridor when you are asleep at the other end of the house in a bedroom and the
smoke will not reach that smoke alarm. Particularly if that smoke alarm is an ionisation one, by the
time it reaches that ionisation alarm the smoke particle size is too large for it to activate. They must
be of the photoelectric type.
We also know from research done by the Victorian University of Technology that the waking
effectiveness of smoking alarms is entirely determined by the ability to interconnect or hear the alarm
at the bed head level and so we strongly advocate interconnection. The other thing is that there would
be a huge cost impost on the community to require hardwired smoke alarms, particularly on the built
environment. Technology has gone in quantum leaps forward today, with 10-year lithium powered
smoke alarms that are very effective. They are no less effective than mains powered smoke alarms.
In fact, some will argue, myself included, and some of the manufacturers will argue that they are more
reliable because they are not subject to spikes in the mains power supply that can in fact disable a
mains powered smoke alarm. Obviously the timing of the legislation is critical and how we introduce
it in terms of a cost-benefit basis, and I understand the constraints that governments have in terms of
cost of implication of new legislation. I would like to say that I have since—obviously last night, to our
surprise—found out that the government has put forward another amendment to the bill which
basically enhances the bill before this committee, so you guys started out on the right track and did
the right thing.
CHAIR: Sorry, Mr Isaac, but it is not an amendment; it is a separate bill.
Mr Isaac: Okay. So there is a separate bill which has come out which basically endorses what
this bill does but takes it one stage further with interconnection, and I would endorse that. The parties,
particularly Labor and Liberal, need to work in a bipartisan manner to achieve whatever means we
can to get this change through to the smoke alarm legislation. Thank you.
Mr Veenstra: Thank you very much for the opportunity to comment on the bill. Master
Electricians is the leading industry body and voice for electrical contractors not only in Queensland
but also in Australia. We started here in 1937. We looked at it from the point of the electrical standards
and our knowledge of the standards that electrical contractors have to work to. We were obviously
concerned that it is about non-operable smoke alarms in the house. From our point of view, the
terminology should be ‘working smoke alarms’ because we have seen much evidence of alarms with
batteries removed or completely removed or not being tested.
Looking at the standards from where our contractors look at it, in the standard they still speak
about both alarms and our concern was that was one alarm better than the other? We will bow to the
experts who actually say that one is better than the other, but we know that photoelectrics are for
smouldering type fires, and obviously the smouldering fires do affect and asphyxiate people very
quickly before they have a chance to get out. The information we had was that ionisation were best
for flaming, so we were saying wouldn’t both be better than just one, and there are combination units
that have both in them? But, again, we will bow to the experts on that.
There are many sorts of alarms. There are also heat alarms, there are hearing impaired alarms
and there are carbon monoxide alarms. So you can put many into an installation that can be
recommendations. We actively sought the path of hardwired with the 10-year battery backup, whether
that is a lithium or another battery that will come in the future because, as we know, battery technology
is changing. We believe that would be much better than a battery-only smoke alarm, only because of
the evidence that we have seen and personally myself in a tenanted property and from our electrical
contractors—that is, they go to the houses and the batteries have been removed. So with sealable,
tamper-proof batteries that will be fine. You must not be able to not remove it. How far do they go if it
keeps alarming? Do they pull it off the ceiling? We cannot comment on that.
The other issue that we see coming out of that is that our priorities are electrical safety and we
have been advocating electrical safety in many areas. The home insulation scheme obviously has an
effect on fire as well, as does the solar scheme because we know that over 200 roof fires have come
Brisbane

-2-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
from that. Then there are non-conforming products, and I am on the non-conforming product
committee—that is, looking at faulty products from cables to even the iPhone chargers to hoverboards
to every product that is being imported. The fact is that we see the effect of all of this. We have
standards, regulations and legislation and they need to be modified and adjusted. There is then
compliance of manufacturers, importers, suppliers, installers, home owners, landlords and tenants.
There is not any inspection or policing of this anymore to see that they all comply. Anyone can bring
a product in and supply a document, as with the hoverboard case which caused fires but did not
comply.
There is then the maintenance. We know absolutely that people do not maintain their house.
They maintain their car. They will spend hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars a year
on maintaining their car, but when it comes to maintaining their house there seems to be an issue in
that. Even when our members suggest it, they view it as the member trying to extort them of money,
and I guess that is an education program. We used to have a lot of education programs floating
around about testing of safety switches and testing of smoke alarms—and continually, not just doing
it once but every rates notice, every electricity bill or whatever. We keep reinforcing it with the
television, which everyone watches, and the media.
002

I guess overriding that is, obviously, the almighty dollar and what people want to pay and what
people do not want to pay and what the industry wants to charge. I went on the website yesterday
and looked at a hardware shop that is still advertising a nine-volt ionisation for $9.98 battery only.
Knowing electrical products as we do, you get what you pay for. We cannot believe that a $9.98
smoke alarm meets all the requirements of the standard and testing and everything that has to be
done to make sure that it actually works. That would apply, obviously, to a photoelectric. If it is very
cheap, it is cheap. So they are our concerns.
CHAIR: Okay, thank you. The bill that we are discussing today, which is the private member’s
bill from the opposition, refers to compliance with Australian Standard 3786 of 1993. However, it does
not refer to the recent superseded Australian Standard 3785 of 2014. Are either of you familiar with
those standards at all and why it would reference only the inferior standard?
Mr Isaac: I think it is a typo, what you are referring to: 3786:1993 was the smoke alarm
standard in Australia prior to 2014. From 1993 to 2014 it had four amendments. It is the traditional
smoke alarm standard that we know. I am a member of the Australian standards committee that wrote
those standards. In 2014 we adopted the international standard, which was amended for Australia
and published in 2014 still of the same name, AS3786:2014. It was called up in the BCA in May last
year. So in 2015 the 2014 standard became part of the legislation.
Smoke alarms can comply with either of those two standards. Essentially, the standards are
the same. The test fires that the alarm is tested to are different. The later 2014 standard uses the ISO
test fires, or the European test fires, which is a series of test fires, whereas the previous version, the
1993 version, used an Australian smouldering smoke test, which used masonite as a smouldering
media to check the effectiveness of the smoke alarm.
CHAIR: So does that result from the change of the furnishings and those sorts of things?
Mr Isaac: No, it did not really. It is just that there was an international standard. Australia, under
the World Trade Organisation, has an agreement to adopt international standards where they are
applicable for Australia. Most of the work that we do on product standards is look at the international
standard, which evolves from the European standard, the EN standard. We look at its suitability for
Australia and we may publish it, adopt it as it is as an Australian standard, in which case it will become
an Australian Standard—AA/ISO and the number of the standard. If we need to do substantial
modifications or editing to the standard, it adopts the Australian Standard name, but it is based
fundamentally on the ISO standard.
CHAIR: You both appear to support the view of having a photoelectric interconnected alarms.
I was wishing to hear your opinion on having the additional backup off. I think you, Mr Veenstra, made
reference to power surges and the failure of that—
Mr Isaac: That was me.
CHAIR:—on the basis of further backup, of having the nine-volt lithium battery. Ideally, that
would be the primary coverage—to have both interconnection and the nine-volt battery; would that
be correct?
Mr Isaac: Yes, absolutely. There are basically three factors. The absolute priority is to have
photoelectric. The second priority is to have multiple photoelectrics and coupled with that they must
be interconnected so that if any alarm activates it activates all of the other alarms. A 10-year lithium
Brisbane

-3-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
sealed alarm—they have a 10-year lithium battery which is sealed; that battery cannot be removed—
is not a problem with photoelectric, because photoelectrics do not nuisance alarm to anywhere near
the same extent that ionisation do.
One of the biggest community objections that you are going to get to the legislation—and it
comes, basically, from ignorance—is that they think, ‘My God, my smoke alarm goes off every time I
cook the toast or I open the oven door. It is really not a smoke alarm; it is a toaster alarm. If I
interconnect and I now have to have seven of these damn things, if Jimmy comes home at 10 o’clock
at night and cooks toast he is going to wake up the whole household.’ The public have not been
educated to understand the difference. If we mandate photoelectrics, the nuisance alarm rate will
almost disappear provided the alarms are installed correctly.
Mr KRAUSE: Mr Isaac, I take what you said about the nuisance rate of photovoltaic smoke
alarms—
Mr Isaac: Ionisation ones, yes.
Mr KRAUSE: Versus the ionisation ones.
Mr Isaac: The ionisation ones have a significant nuisance alarm rate. That is what Mr Veenstra
is finding in the field in the majority of disconnections in our experience. There have been world
studies done on this. In Australia we know that, for example, 30 per cent of ionisation smoke alarms
are disabled by the consumer within two years because of their propensity to be nuisance alarms.
Mr KRAUSE: What about the other ones?
Mr Isaac: No, they do not. Photoelectric will nuisance alarm with steam. I have seven in my
own home. I have one in the kitchen within three metres of the cooktop and they are a fairly
sophisticated radio interconnected smoke alarms. I have never had a false alarm in my home.
Mr KRAUSE: In your opening statement you said that there might have been a few seconds
difference between the reaction of an ionisation alarm and the photovoltaic alarm in relation to a
flaming fire.
Mr Isaac: Yes.
Mr KRAUSE: Just a few seconds.
Mr Isaac: Yes, just a few seconds—10 seconds, maybe 20 seconds—and that depends. That
is not even a fair statement, because an ionisation alarm will be effective only when it is in the room
of fire origin. So if the ionisation alarm is remote from the fire, it becomes less effective. But ironically,
the reverse occurs for the photoelectric, because as the smoke particle size increases as it travels
away from the fire, the photoelectric becomes more sensitive to the larger particle size and the
ionisation becomes desensitised to the particle size.
Mr KRAUSE: We have had one submission which urges us to have mandatory ionisation and
photovoltaic smoke alarms in houses, but it seems to me what you are saying is that that would add
little, if any, further smoke fire protection.
Mr Isaac: It adds no benefit at all. In fact, I would argue and AFAC argue in their policy
statement in June 2006—and if you do not know what AFAC are they are the Australasian Fire and
Emergency Service Authorities Council, which represents all emergency services and fire brigades
across Australia and New Zealand—that combination alarms added cost and were of no benefit. Also,
when you add the ionisation component it will still false alarm. So the consumer will want to remove
the battery again, but when they remove the battery then they have lost all protection whatsoever.
Mr KRAUSE: You recommend the installation of the nine-volt lithium batteries, lasting around
10 years.
Mr Isaac: Yes, yes.
Mr KRAUSE: Another submission that was put to us went to the point that the installation of
those batteries, which last for a long time, might lead to a set-and-forget culture, where we should be
encouraging people to check their smoke alarms regularly to make sure they are operational.
Mr Isaac: Yes.
Mr KRAUSE: Do you have a view about whether about these photovoltaic smoke alarms fail
over a 10-year period, because we do not want to lead people into a false sense of security here.
Mr Isaac: Just to start with, the standard requires that a smoke alarm has to be designed for
10 years and should be replaced after 10 years. I note that one of the submissions—I cannot
remember whether it was this one or the one that was tabled yesterday—makes the replacement of
a smoke alarm legislatively compulsory after 10 years.
Brisbane

-4-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
The set-and-forget mentality, I think, is not one that has any real value applied to 10-year lithium
batteries or to any other smoke alarm. Many of the mains powered smoke alarms have rechargeable
batteries in them—the ones that are installed today—and the battery stays permanently in the smoke
alarm. It keeps being recharged by the 240-volt power supply. So you never get a chirp warning you
that the battery needs to be replaced.
Set and forget is a problem with anything like this. You need to vacuum the smoke alarm at
least once every six months to a year to check that it has not been blocked with just debris from the
atmosphere in the home. So we need to embark on a public education campaign.
Mr KRAUSE: I was just going to say that. It sounds like there is an awareness program waiting
to be had.
Mr Isaac: Absolutely.
Mr BROWN: Thank you, gentlemen, for attending today. With the ionisation alarms, with the
lithium battery for 10 years and the radio connection, do you need to have the hardwire option?
Mr Isaac: No. There are two ways of interconnecting smoke alarms. The old traditional way
that Gary and I are very familiar with that goes back in the early days was that the smoke alarms were
interconnected with cabling. So smoke alarms were typically connected to light circuits in the house
and you had another wire that went between the two smoke alarms. It became problematic when you
had a house with an upstairs lighting circuit on one phase and the downstairs circuit on another phase.
You could not then interconnect them. One of the great advantages of the modern smoke alarm is
that they can be a stand-alone stationed alarm connected to either mains or 10-year lithium powered
stand-alone and the interconnection is done with a radio frequency.
The good-quality smoke alarms have a separate radio module with their own battery in it. For
example, one of the brands on the market has the little plug-in radio module. So if they are concerned
about cost, the consumer can purchase one alarm one month. The next month they might buy another
and put a module in and connect the two together. Then the next month they can buy another and
connect that. The consumer can put that up himself. He does not need a licensed electrician to put
in a 10-year lithium powered battery, if that makes sense.
Mr BROWN: Yes, it does. If you get the right alarm and you interconnect it with the right rooms,
you are not losing any safety value?
Mr Isaac: No, you are adding significantly to safety value, because if you consider that you put
multiple alarms in a home—one in each bedroom, one in the hallway and one in the living area, so it
is five alarms—and they are interconnected with a radio frequency, all the consumer has to do is
literally stick them on the ceiling, read the instructions, set the home code, tune them all into each
other, lock them and any one of those alarms activating will turn on all of your alarms in the home.
Mr BROWN: So with a unit complex or a body corporate, would that also benefit from
interlocking units as well?
Mr Isaac: We never interconnect units, because you would have a situation where an alarm in
one apartment would then set off alarms in all the other apartments. In principle we do not do that.
We treat that as a fire isolated sole-occupancy unit. So there is no need to do that. If a fire breaks out
of the sole-occupancy unit into the public area in a unit complex there is a separate smoke alarm or
detection system in the public spaces that will call the brigade—or may not call the brigade, but it will
at least activate the building warning system. We treat units only as separate sole-occupancy units.
Mrs SMITH: Thank you, gentlemen, for coming in today. I am interested in how you would see
this rolling out. As you said, there are so many different alarms on the market. I have lived in a couple
of homes. At the moment, I have the nine-volt battery but a previous resident wired it all through with
alarms. As you pointed out, a lot of consumers out there, if they have the battery ones, once the
battery has run out they pull it out. I did not know that I should be vacuuming my smoke alarm. From
a cost point of view, how would you envisage this rolling out? I am just be interested in your thoughts.
Mr Isaac: I think education, explaining what the bills will mean when they are finally adopted
by government, is absolutely critical. Social media went berserk yesterday. I had the ability to talk to
Louie Naumovski from the Logan House Fire Support Network on their Facebook page. The
responses from the public clearly indicate that they do not understand and they have the concerns
that I mentioned before—‘My God, we’re now going to have seven that are going to nuisance alarm
instead of one’—not understanding the difference between the technologies.
I commend the parliament and the opposition and the current government for moving in this
direction. This is a quantum leap in the right direction. But we need people such as me who
understand to write clear documents that the public can understand so that they know what the
requirements are. The public are going to be concerned that they are going to have to get a licensed
Brisbane
-524 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
electrician in and they will not be able to afford it. Many people will not be able to afford to pay out
$1,000 and have this done immediately. But with a bit of coaching they can understand it. As I said,
they can buy one alarm at a time—one month, two months later, another. By the time the period of
the legislation comes to its close they would have complied. So there are lots of things that they can
do.
Yes, there are lots of types of smoke alarms on the market, but the legislation, from what I have
read, will clearly spell out the type of smoke alarm that they are allowed to use. With a new home, it
has to be hardwired battery backed. In an existing built environment, you can use lithium battery
powered or, if you want to go to the expense, you can hardwire them. So there is a lot of choice there.
The interconnection is a spectacular move forward and the multiple alarms is equally so. I just
compare that with a hotel, a hospital or a shopping centre. We have photoelectric smoke detectors.
In this building, right above you there is a photoelectric analogue addressable smoke detector. We
have that in every room in this building. Any one of those alarms activating will set off the building
emergency warning system. We do this in commercial buildings. We do not kill anybody in commercial
buildings. With structural fires in commercial buildings, people do not die. Yet look at the statistics on
residential fires. It is horrendous. Yet we think that putting one smoke alarm in one spot in the house—
typically remote from the most common fire source—is going to work. I do not understand that logic.
I am an electrical engineer and it is completely illogical to even think that. It is tokenism. It is absolute
tokenism.
CHAIR: Gentlemen, unfortunately we are out of time and I thank you for your attendance here
this morning. Thank you very much.
Mr Isaac: Thank you.
003

Brisbane

-6-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015

TEMBY, Mr Warwick, Housing Industry Association
CHAIR: Good morning. We thank you for your attendance and for your submission. We invite
you to make a five-minute opening statement and then we will have some questions from members.
Mr Temby: Thank you, Mr Chair, and thank you for your welcome. Our submission is not
questioning in any way, shape or form the policy intent of this particular bill. Our concerns are
exclusively around the implementation of the intent and the avoidance of practical difficulties in the
industry with the implementation. Our biggest concern is around the interaction between the proposed
bill and the Building Act and how that will impact on new home building in particular and whether we
are not falling into a trap of setting up two sets of rules—one set of rules for new dwellings, particularly
in terms of where the devices are located and how they are connected, and a separate set of rules
for established houses. For us, that is probably the biggest concern.
The current act makes it very clear by drawing on references to the Building Code of Australia—
now called the National Construction Code, about what sorts of devices you have and where they are
put. It is very clear. There is one set of rules and people know how they work. The current act works
well in that regard. My very quick look at the bill that was introduced yesterday suggests that that
makes a better fist of sorting out those conflicts between the two bits of legislation than the bill we are
talking about here this morning.
In general, I think a lot of the content of the bill probably would be better located in regulation
rather than in legislation. The previous gentlemen were talking about technological developments. I
learnt this morning, for example, that you can interconnect smoke alarms wirelessly or without a piece
of cable somewhere. That technology was not there, as far as I am aware, five years ago. I think we
need to be designing this legislation for a longer time frame.
The Building Code of Australia is constantly updated. I think, particularly in terms of the location
of the devices, the Building Code has a lot more detail. While the language in the bill very much
reflects what the Building Code of Australia says today, you do not want to have to be coming back
in two years, three years or six years time to adjust the legislation to reflect what is happening in the
Building Code of Australia. I think it would be better to cross-reference to the Building Code of
Australia rather than develop your own frame of words about technical issues such as where these
things should be put in a separate piece of legislation. I think there is some potential for confusion
there.
There is also a lot more detail about location built into the Building Code. There are lots of nice
diagrams, pictures, alternative solutions and those sorts of things which really are not possible to be
done in a piece of legislation. If the legislation is made more generic in that way, referring to other
bits of code and legislation and putting some things in legislation, even about the types of smoke
alarms, I think that should be prescribed in regulation rather than built into the legislation because
who knows what is around the corner in terms of better systems of detecting smoke alarms. That is
probably the biggest issue.
In terms of implementation, we have had a lot to learn over the last couple of years from the
insulation program which was rolled out far too quickly. A much better model to work in terms of
phasing in those sorts of things is what a string of governments in Queensland have done with pool
safety legislation and pool-fencing legislation. The approach to how that has been phased and the
education programs that have gone along with it I think is a very good example of what should and
can be done in this space, because we are talking about changing the smoke detection arrangements
in close to two million homes in Queensland. That is class 1 buildings that are there now. The other
thing to bear in mind is that at any one time eight or nine per cent of those dwellings are empty. So
who takes responsibility? The owner is responsible but it is certainly not front of mind. There are
practical issues about implementation, but in a legislative sense our concern is predominantly around
the interaction with the Building Act.
CHAIR: I want to pick up on the point you made about the number of alarms. Your submission
refers to an information sheet that you put out, I take it, to your members. It gives an example of
putting one in the hallway. I understand there is evidence, and I refer particularly to Australian
Standard 3786, which requires an emission of 85 decibels from a smoke alarm. No doubt the further
away from an alarm a person is—if you place an alarm, for example, in a hallway of a standard home,
and the occupant closes the bedroom door—it could very well be reduced to the mid-30s and hence
fail in respect to alarming a person of an imminent fire. I would like to expand further on your view of
the government’s bill that was introduced yesterday, in particular, the mandating of a smoke alarm in
each room.
Brisbane

-7-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
Mr Temby: I would defer to the experts on that topic. I am not a fire engineer. I do not know
what the best science is on that particular issue. My only plea would be that, if there are
advancements and refinements in the technology around where best to put smoke detectors and
what type of smoke detector to have, that be done through variations to the Building Code. We would
have one set of rules that is hopefully Australia-wide. That is one of the key advantages of the Building
Code: that it is Australia-wide. Queensland has often led the way in improvements in the Building
Code, and I think this could well be another example of that. In terms of how many are needed and
where they should be put, that is very much a matter for the experts. As I said, my plea is that we end
up with one set of rules and not more than one.
Mr KRAUSE: Mr Temby, thanks for your submission. You represent the Housing Industry
Association. Do you have any idea in the construction industry for residential developments what
proportion of photoelectric alarms and ionisation alarms are installed in new premises?
Mr Temby: We surveyed our members nationally for the purposes of the Senate inquiry into
this. We did do some surveys. My recollection—which I am now trying to find—is that less than 30 per
cent of home-building clients actively chose a particular type of smoke detector. They left it to the
builder to decide. I cannot find it here—
Mr KRAUSE: I have just found it. It is at part 3 of your submission on page 6. Forty-five per
cent choose ionisation types. Sorry for asking a question on something that was in your submission.
Mr Temby: I am sorry I did not know the answer.
Mr KRAUSE: Fifteen per cent specify photoelectric types. You were here earlier and heard
some evidence from the experts about fire alarms. That does seem like a low figure in terms of
installation of photoelectric fire alarms. Is there space in the Building Code for specifications about
what types of alarms there should be?
Mr Temby: Yes. It does not specify one or the other at the moment. Builders either rely on
what their clients tell them or their own choice. Unfortunately, the competitive nature of the
home-building industry is that because the ionisation systems are currently cheaper than
photoelectric ones people gravitate to those. But I have noticed even in the last six months, as there
has been more community discussion about this, possibly driven by some of the aspects of this bill,
in talking to a number of our committee members who are active in this space, a lot of them are now
thinking of moving away from the ionisation systems as a matter of course. They are starting to accept
the technical knowledge that they are better than alternative. Builders are not fire engineers either;
they will go by whatever is in the code.
Mr KRAUSE: The awareness is out there.
Mr Temby: It is starting to increase. If tomorrow all new homes had to have photoelectric
smoke detectors, assuming there was an adequate supply of them, I do not think you would get very
many ripples from the building industry. A few people would be anxious if they had to go from putting
in two, which is typically what people do now, to putting in 10, or whatever the number might be. In
the overall scheme of things and the public benefits that come from it, I think people would wear that
willingly.
Miss BARTON: Warwick, one of the things a previous witness talked about was the impact of
cost. If memory serves, it talks about $1,000 in terms of the potential impost of implementing the
changes. What impact will that have, do you think, not only in terms of your members and new
dwellings but also based on your industry experience with existing dwellings and how that will lead to
compliance?
Mr Temby: Adding $1,000 to the cost of a house is clearly not a good thing at any time. There
has been a lot more media about the cost of housing, housing affordability, negative gearing and
capital gains tax than there has been about smoke detectors. The industry and our organisation are
acutely concerned about regulatory creep, I guess you would call it, where every little bit does not
sound like a lot but over time they add up to fairly significant imposts on the cost of a house. A lot of
these things are never reviewed. Once they happen, they are assumed to be a good thing forever,
they get built into the fabric of life and things go on. We certainly are concerned about the cost, which
is why I think the previous witness’s suggestion that people could do this incrementally—and, again,
that goes back to the phasing—is a pretty good suggestion. If the technology is up to that kind of
staggered approach, I think people will wear it. The cost of the pool safety legislation, as a
counterexample, was much, much more than this but that has really been 20 years in the gestation.
That approach to pool legislation first started back in the nineties, and it has taken a long time but I
think the community has accepted that you really do need to do something about pool safety.
Brisbane

-8-

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015

004

I suppose one of our criticisms of the bill and yesterday’s bill is that this there has not been any
regulatory impact assessment along those lines. It is assumed that even if it costs $1,000 it will be
worth it, and it may well be, but it would be good to have that kind of rigour around the cost of these
things. This probably is not a good example, but very frequently regulatory creep in our industry
comes from people’s emotions, feelings and senses rather than any rigorous analysis. I think there
has been a bit more analysis around this particular one about what is a good detector and what is
not. We are concerned but, if you will excuse the pun, not alarmed.
The other thing that I think we need to be very mindful of in this exercise—and, again, bearing
in mind the experience particularly with the insulation program—is that every smoke detector expert
in the universe will come out of the woodwork as soon as this legislation is passed. They will be
knocking on doors, they will be advertising photoelectric smoke detectors for 25 cents if you buy them
online and if you buy 100 of them. I think that is something, too. The practical implementation of this
legislation in lots of ways is much more significant than what is actually written in the bill, although
the bill will drive that obviously. It is a concern but not an overriding concern in this case. If you ask
me about $1,000 for some other bit of regulatory frippery, I might have a very different answer.
Miss BARTON: I pick up on something that you said in terms of transition and incrementally
being able to install new smoke alarms. You obviously drew a comparison between insulation and
the pool fencing regime. Without putting you on the spot, do you have a particular transition time
frame in mind—whether it is three years or five years—based on your experience of the industry, that
would be enough to run a good solid education campaign as well as allow people time to actually
become compliant?
Mr Temby: I am about to contradict myself. In one way it does not really matter how long the
transition program is because, as we found with the pool legislation—
Miss BARTON: People always leave it to the last minute.
Mr Temby: It became a shock on 1 December that something had to be done. As you would
know just as well I do, attracting people’s attention about anything is very complex and complicated
and expensive normally. In that sense, I do not think the length of time is all that important. In a
practical sense, it is getting the message out to people that, yes, you can install these things yourself;
no, you do not have to have them hardwired; yes, you have this amount of time unless you are
renewing a lease or changing a lease or selling your house or whatever. Selling your house is always
a good trigger because there is so much going on at that stage that $1,000 could easily get lost in the
costs of moving.
That was the situation with pool fences. If you can align the trigger points with what is going on
in another regulatory space I think that is probably helpful as well. What is on my checklist of things I
have to do when I am selling a house? I have to make sure the pool is right. I have to make sure the
smoke detectors are right. I have to do whatever it is I need to do. I think that is probably a good
system of alignment as well. I think realistically the sorts of time frames that are in the bill that was
introduced yesterday looked okay.
CHAIR: Your submission to the Senate inquiry into this matter relates to the installation and
mandatory requirements in the Northern Territory, being the only state or territory in the nation that
mandates the installation of photoelectric smoke alarms. Are you able to supply to the committee
some feedback on how your organisation dealt with the implementation of that particular initiative?
Mr Temby: From all that I know about what happened up there, it did not hit our members’
radar at all. It was just a regulatory change that said, ‘Stop using this one and start using that one.’ It
just happened.
It is much easier in new dwellings than it is in established dwellings. In new dwellings people
are being bombarded with regulation on a daily basis. They go to their electrician and their electrician
knows what to do. They tell them what sort of detectors need to be installed. There is an inspection
regime built into that process by the certification process—whether it is a local authority or a private
certifier. There are checking systems built in there. It happens all relatively seamlessly. It is much
more difficult when you are trying to retrofit into two million houses.
CHAIR: But you would have gone through a process of informing your members?
Mr Temby: Absolutely.
CHAIR: There were no issues associated with that?
Mr Temby: The biggest issue for a builder in any of these sorts of changes is getting sufficient
warning of the change to be able to cost it and build it into their quotes. The thing that annoys the
industry more than anything else is if a piece of regulation comes in midway through a contract and
has to be implemented at that point. Twelve months notice is more than enough for most building
Brisbane
-924 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
projects, particularly domestic building projects, to be able to factor in the changes that they are going
to have to be making. We advise our members of those sorts of things through all sorts of media and
events and other things that we have.
CHAIR: Do you recall when the territory introduced those laws?
Mr Temby: No, I cannot, I am sorry.
Mr KRAUSE: You may not be the right person to ask this of so forgive me if you are not. Do
you have any idea about the cost of retrofitting, say, six photoelectric smoke alarms in an existing
premises? Do you have a rough estimate?
Mr Temby: The only piece of cost information that I am able to provide you—I think the
previous witnesses were probably better able to answer that than I am—is a message that I got from
some of our members just last week. Apparently the price gap is closing between the different types
of systems. It was about a $5 difference. From a new perspective, it is not all that much. I would defer
to the previous witnesses on that one.
Ms PEASE: You said that specific mention of the type of equipment may not necessarily be
appropriate given that the technology is changing. Can you elaborate on that further please?
Mr Temby: All I was suggesting is that the legislation should simply say ‘installation of an
approved smoke alarm is required’ and that what is an approved smoke alarm should be built into a
regulation rather than the legislation. So if some whizzbang technology arrives tomorrow you would
be able to quickly update the regulation to say you can have a photoelectric or you can have the
Acme smoke detector if that is a better one than the one that is there now. That is all I was suggesting.
Ms PEASE: Probably a good example of that is that once upon a time hardwired interconnected
was all there was for interconnection. Now there is radio and bluetooth technology available for those
sorts of things.
Mr Temby: Exactly.
CHAIR: I do not think there are any further questions, Mr Temby. Can I thank you for your
submission and for your appearance before the committee today.
Mr Temby: My pleasure, Mr Chair.

Brisbane

- 10 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015

GOLINSKI, Mr Keith, Private capacity
NAUMOVSKI, Mr Louie, Founder, Logan Fire Support Network
CHAIR: I welcome Mr Louie Naumovski and Mr Keith Golinski. Thank you for your appearance
today and for your submissions. We would invite both of you to make a five-minute opening statement.
We do have some extra time, so if you would like more time we are happy if you take a little longer.
We will then hand you over to the committee for questions. We will start with Mr Naumovski.
Mr Naumovski: Thank you for letting us appear today. I had every intention to write out a
statement up until the surprise new bill was introduced yesterday. Everything we have been working
on went out the window. What we were going to state was pretty much what was introduced
yesterday. We want photoelectric alarms in every bedroom, hallway and living areas and we want the
10-year lithium battery operated ones to be included.
We were the ones who met with the opposition leader and the shadow emergency services
minister late last year for that bill to be put before the parliament. We applaud the opposition for
highlighting the important subject of fire safety.
Our issue has always been to protect lives. All this nonsense I keep hearing about cost should
never come into play. I go to house fires on a daily basis to pick up the pieces after the emergency
services have left. Tarnya, you would recall that you donated an iPad to a family where the mother
cradled her 11-year-old boy who sadly passed away in a house fire. He passed away because there
were three hardwired ionisation alarms in their home that failed to activate. She luckily got her two
daughters out. She went to go back in to get her 11-year-old autistic child out and he never made it
out.
We have been to numerous fires. We have been to numerous fatalities. We are currently
working on two fatalities right now. We are arranging two funerals for two families and possibly a third
from two nights ago at Goodna. We are still waiting to hear the outcome of that one. He is in a critical
condition.
What is common in all these situations is the ionisation alarms did not activate. That is how
simple it is. We do not want to hear any nonsense about the cost. Cost never comes into play. We
want this to be implemented as soon as possible. It is as simple as that.
When we had discussions with the shadow emergency services minister late last we were
looking at implementing a requirement that from 1 July this year all brand-new homes must be done,
1 July 2017 all rentals must be done and 1 July 2019 all other residents must be completed. That is
a three-year phase-in period. Last year there were 1,908 house fires in the state of Queensland and
we had 23 fatalities. I do not know about you, but I do not want another 6,000 house fires over the
next three years and I do not want to lose another 50 lives. With the new bill that was introduced
yesterday, which would have a 10-year phase-in, we are looking at a further 20,000 house fires and
over 200 deaths. If we had any other incident like this in this state, legislation would be passed so
quickly with fewer fatalities. Some 230 Queenslanders could potentially die over the next 10 years.
Cost does not come into play.
At the earliest possible opportunity that we can implement this it has to be done. Education and
awareness is a must. As Mr Isaac pointed out, we saw on social media last night on our page people
saying, ‘My one alarm already goes off. Now I am going to have six or seven of them going off.’ The
people do not understand the difference. We need to educate them on the difference between
photoelectric and ionisation alarms. I have even had ministers and those in the media who do not
know how to say ‘photoelectric’. That is the sad reality of it all. I have all sorts of words being used. It
is photoelectric. If it is drummed into people’s heads it will work. It is common sense. It is a no-brainer.
We always say it is a no-brainer.
I remember talking to the opposition leader. I was told I had five minutes to stimulate his mind.
I had a 15-minute interview with him. I was there for 45 minutes, which was unbelievable. I could not
believe I was sitting in front of the opposition leader for that long. At the end of the conversation he
said, ‘Louie, it is a no-brainer.’ Of course it is. We need to implement this. We need to put it out there.
The figures tell the story. We have had enough. When we heard yesterday an implementation
period of 10 years, I was horrified. The emergency services minister got up in parliament and said
that we have had 150 deaths over the last 10 years in Queensland, so let us give it another 10 years
before we make it law. He is basically saying, ‘I do not care about the next 150 Queenslanders who
are going to die.’
CHAIR: With respect, I do not think that is the case that the minister is presenting.
Brisbane

- 11 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015

005

Mr Naumovski: I am an advocate for fire safety. This is what the public are telling us. This is
what we are hearing. This is what the public believes. I understand what you are saying there. I am
sure he does not believe that. That is the general gist of what is happening out there. As we heard
Mr Temby say, with the pool-fencing requirements everyone panicked on 1 December. We are going
to allow this until 31 December 2026 and then once again everybody is going to panic. We will have
10 years where people are going to keep dying. That is what I am getting at.
Mr Golinski: Thank you for allowing me to speak. I am going to read because I have it in some
order. It is better on paper than in my head. On Christmas Day 2011 my partner and I joined Matt,
Rachael and their three children for brunch. As Rachael brought out some candles for the Christmas
table, which we were later dismissed by the investigators and the coroner as the cause of the fire,
ironically I said to her, ‘Are your smoke alarms working?’
If I had known then what I know now, I would have known that I was asking the wrong question.
I would have asked if their smoke alarms were photoelectric or ionisation. As far as they were
concerned, they fully believed that the two alarms installed in their house would have warned them
in time in the event of a fire. After all, there was no reason to believe that they would not be effective
as they would always go off if the toast burnt or even if the jug boiled. Does that comment sound
familiar?
Of course it would have been too late to do anything at that stage anyway, as 15 hours later
Rachael and my three grandchildren had perished. Matt had lost his immediate family and whilst
trying in vain to save them had received horrible burns to 40 per cent of his body and spent the next
four months in hospital—two months of that in a coma in intensive care.
However, it is not too late for others. If I can do anything to save others from horrors such as
this, I am happy to do what I can. I will have at least some satisfaction in knowing that three beautiful
grandchildren and their beautiful mother achieved a lot in their short time and I will have another
reason to always be proud of them.
I am not qualified to give an explanation as to why in the majority of house fires ionisation
alarms simply do not warn the occupants in time whereas photoelectric do. There are others who can
do that. I know there is a mountain of evidence including from experts who have been fighting for
change in the regulation for decades. Anyone who looks at the Channel 9 60 Minutes story from
November 2014 labelled ‘The Alarming Truth’ has to be immediately convinced. That was when I first
knew of the differences in alarms and I was shocked. All of the recommendations that I have seen
from authorities such as chiefs of emergency services recommended change.
After Australia’s worst house fire, at Slacks Creek in 2011, the coroner recommended change.
That was hugely reinforced by the coroner in his report into the Tewantin fire that took the lives of
Matt’s family. I enclose a copy of an article by Nicole Hasham from the 10 January 2016 Sydney
Morning Herald which bears the headline ‘Fire authorities warn of inadequate smoke alarm laws’. I
do not know if or why we have to do anything to convince members of parliament that change is
essential. It seems plain to everyone else. You will no doubt be aware of the Senate inquiry into
smoke alarms from late 2015.
Change is essential, public awareness is essential and legislation is essential. I have given a
snippet as to why change is essential. For years people have been told that smoke alarms save lives.
Ionisation alarms have been accepted as being effective and in fact are the type that have usually
been recommended. It is now firmly fixed in our minds that we are protected by the ionisation alarms,
which are fitted to over 90 per cent of homes. I have likened this before to Russian roulette. Without
even being aware of it, people are playing Russian roulette not only with their own lives but also with
the lives of their families. Do any of us think our house is going to be the one that burns down? That
only happens to other people.
Legislation is necessary. I had a new house built which I moved into in May 2011. Even after
all that I had gone through, I am ashamed to say that it was not until March last year that I thought to
check to see what type the one alarm in my new house was. I simply accepted that in a new house
things must be done right these days. It would not burn down anyway. I was a bit horrified to find out
that it was still an ionisation alarm. I went out and bought two photoelectric alarms, which is still not
ideal but definitely safer. Several other people I have explained the problem to have also gone out
and bought PE alarms. People simply have no idea. I agree with others who suggest that people have
been lulled into a false sense of security. Even if PE alarms became mandatory, it will take years for
changes to come into full effect.
I would like to see a public awareness campaign begin immediately to warn people so that at
least they can make an informed choice to adequately protect their family or just take their chances.
I believe there were nearly 2,000 house fires in Queensland last year, no doubt some of them
Brisbane
- 12 24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
fatalities. Please look at these changes as a matter of extreme urgency. Every month delayed might
mean another 200 fires in Queensland and possibly deaths. I know it does not do any good to say ‘if
only’, but I cannot help thinking, ‘If only we had this chance for change before Christmas Day 2011.’
When interviewed on changes to the laws regarding alcohol fuelled violence and lockout laws on
ABC’s 7.30 on 12 February, the Premier said—
I do not want to see more tragedies and we must do something.

...
How can anyone sit by and not have a conscience when it comes to these laws? These laws are about public safety.

The Premier was speaking about the lockout laws. Is public safety any less important when it
comes to not just smoke alarms but also fire protection in general? I have heard people mention cost.
The cost can be very little, but I would always like to suggest that when it comes to Christmas,
birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days—any time anyone would like to give a gift—give a
photoelectric smoke alarm. It is a small cost, but it could be the gift of life. Please do not let this
chance for change pass without urgent action now.
There are a few points in the coroner’s report that I would like to go back to if you would like to
ask questions on that. I would like to just skim on a couple of those.
CHAIR: I have a question regarding that. One of the recommendations by the coroner was the
need for interconnected alarms. I would like to hear your position on that recommendation.
Mr Golinski: As has been mentioned here today, one photoelectric alarm is an improvement
on what a lot of people have now. Interconnection, going further, having one in every room and seven
in a house, is going to an extreme that might put people off. It might put legislation off because it
might not win a lot of votes; I do not know. Perhaps I should not say that, but it is a reality. It will be a
bit of an impost on some people—I know that—but it was also mentioned that it can be done in stages.
As I said in my address, a gift of a smoke alarm might be $20 or $50. Interconnection is what we
would all hope for, but it is not absolutely essential. There are other things that will do the job until we
get to that stage.
CHAIR: Appreciating you are probably not in a position, Mr Golinski, to be aware of the
government’s bill, which requires the interconnectivity of smoke alarms in every bedroom and
between areas containing bedrooms and hallways servicing bedrooms and in other storeys of the
residential dwelling as well, I assume that is something you would be supportive of.
Mr Golinski: Yes, definitely. We are all for those changes. It is simply the time frames and the
type of alarms. All of the details really have not probably been perfected yet. I think consultation and
more work in studying what is really required is probably a good thing.
CHAIR: Mr Naumovski, what is your view on the coroner’s recommendation of
interconnectivity?
Mr Naumovski: Basically, we are of the belief that it is certainly not necessary right now due
to the cost. We have done some research. There are probably only two companies out there at the
moment that do the radio frequency photoelectric smoke alarms for existing homes. As we said, we
are concerned that we want it implemented as soon as possible. We want the photoelectric smoke
alarms in every bedroom, hallway and living area as soon as possible. Whether it be interconnected
or not, we are not fazed by that as long as they are in all rooms.
As Mr Golinski just pointed out, certainly we want them in all rooms but with the ionisation stop
the false alarming and stop being disconnected. Statistics are telling us 30 per cent of Australians will
go to sleep tonight unprotected because they are disconnected because of the false alarms. Getting
photoelectrics in there is a start. Certainly we want to push for the bedrooms for children, where they
sleep, for the earliest possible warning. Interconnectivity is debatable for us. Certainly eventually,
absolutely, but cost-wise I think that is going to be the issue right now with interconnectivity.
CHAIR: Are you aware of what the cost is?
Mr Naumovski: At the moment for a 10-year stand-alone sealed photoelectric alarm you are
looking at about $70 and the radio frequency is about $115, so you are going to be looking at about
$180 per alarm to interconnect radio frequency-wise. I think Mr Krause asked earlier about the cost
of the hardwired at the moment. You can go to Bunnings and get a photoelectric smoke alarm
hardwired. You still need to be mindful that you need an electrician. You are looking at $49 for that
photoelectric 240 hardwired, or an ionisation is $45. We are talking $4 difference at the moment, so
that is the cost-effectiveness there.
Brisbane

- 13 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
As I said, for existing homes I think we might have an issue with the cost, but certainly in terms
of supply and demand—and obviously now with all this discussion—I am sure you are going to see
lots of manufacturers scrambling for technology and you are going to get more and more. I did hear
overnight that there is a third player coming in. They are not readily available, but people are moving
forward on it. Also, by this legislation going we are mindful of making sure that it is not going to be
rushed and we are going to have issues. So ideally it would be photoelectrics in every bedroom but
interconnection is debatable.
CHAIR: Do you have a position on the backup of lithium batteries in interconnected
photoelectronic alarms?
Mr Naumovski: Obviously the 10-year sealed tamperproof alarms cannot be disconnected, so
cook to your heart’s content and nothing is really going to—as I said, they are never going to stop a
false alarm. Even with photoelectrics it would be stupid to stand here and say it is never going to
happen. It will happen, but technology is improving. Even with your 240 hardwired there is your
long-life nine-volt battery that is available, but our concern with that is because it is still running on
power, in 10 years time people are going to be neglectful of it, whereas a 10-year sealed lithium
battery inside will start chirping at the 10-year mark and it will keep chirping until you have to replace
the whole unit. That is why we are pushing more for the 10-year sealed rather than the 240 hardwired.
Mr KRAUSE: Mr Golinski and Mr Naumovski, thank you for being here. Mr Golinski, can I say
it is great to see you here and thank you for telling us about your loss a few years ago. I can relate
personally: I built a new house a couple of years ago and ionisation alarms were installed. After seeing
some media about the issue we had to go and retrofit photoelectric alarms. Louie, I apologise, I
referred to them as photovoltaic alarms before. There is confusion out there. Thank you for the work
you do in Logan.
I just wanted to take you, Mr Naumovski, to your comments about the time frame in both the
government’s bill and the bill before us here today. You had some comments about that. Do you
agree with the time frame that was set out in the member for Kawana’s bill before us today?
Mr Naumovski: Absolutely. Yes, we fully support that. We were supportive of that. Obviously
when we had discussions with the shadow emergency services minister we did point out that we were
looking at more alarms in the home. We loved the bill; it was all great. As I said, up until yesterday
morning my position here was going to be fully supportive of the 2015 bill but with the inclusion of
bedrooms and living areas. That was what our argument was going to be this morning.
Mr KRAUSE: I represent part of Logan City, out at Jimboomba, and we all feel the loss in the
community when there is a house fire, so thank you for the work that you do and for your advocacy
here today.
Ms PEASE: Thank you both very much for coming in. My condolences to you, Mr Golinski. I
know what a tragic time it was for your family. You spoke about public awareness and how to raise
the profile of potential changes. Do you have any suggestions as to how we might progress that?
Mr Golinski: My first suggestion would probably be not to follow some of the things that have
happened in the past along those lines, because on some things a lot of money has been spent and
very little word has got out there. It has to be something that is going to work with people. As we just
heard, as soon as someone has heard about these smoke alarms—and it has only just happened
with the Senate inquiry. Before the inquiry was actually over we had people ringing to get their
electrician to go out and check their alarms.
It is simply word of mouth. I have told a few people, and they are just absolutely staggered and
they go out and do it. Word of mouth is one thing, and I suppose I am not a PR expert but there has
to be something fairly dynamic to hit people, to tell people, to inform people. It is not just a matter of
saying, ‘Look, you are going to have to change your smoke alarms.’ You have to explain to them the
reasons. I knew nothing about this. I had no idea. But now that I have learned from some of these
people who have been involved in it for years, I do understand the differences.
006

Ms PEASE: Further to that, one of the previous witnesses talked about commercial properties
and how we can walk into any commercial property and they are all hardwired, they are all
interconnected and we are all safe, yet when we go into our own homes we do not have that. The bill
that the government introduced yesterday is planning to legislate for interconnected alarms. What
would your commentary be on that?
Mr Golinski: As I said, I am not a technical expert, really. I think a lot of these things probably,
before any bill goes through, have to be tossed around a lot more and get a lot more consultation
with the people who have been involved in these industries for a long time, because we cannot just
Brisbane

- 14 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
guess at it and say, ‘This is going to be better than that.’ It has to be studied; it has to be tested. There
has been a lot of testing going on, but we have to accept that those tests are all right. I think
interconnection is preferable; I do not think it is absolutely necessary. I think the first thing to do is to
get people at least one alarm and then more and more, if they can—whatever they can put in—to
spread the cost out. There is going to be some cost, but it is a relatively small cost, I think. It can be
a relatively small cost. It does not have to be the thousand dollars that we are talking about.
Ms PEASE: Particularly in light of the fact that the other costs that might be associated with it
far outweigh that.
Mr Golinski: Yes, that’s right.
Mrs SMITH: Thank you both for coming in and presenting today. Louie, we spoke last year
after the tragic Westlake fire. Within the community, a lot of people would be thinking that if their
alarms are hardwired, a power surge or a power blackout may disable the alarms. Is that currently
what happens? Can you explain a little bit more with regard to the hardwiring and the fires that you
have actually been involved in?
Mr Naumovski: We get that out of the public, obviously: ‘I’m hardwired, so when there’s a
blackout what am I going to do?’—and all the rest of it. You have to explain to them that, no, that is
why you have your nine-volt battery in there, to back it up. They say, ‘But I don’t replace it.’ Once
again, we constantly hear that they do not replace it. That is why we are going down the path of the
10-year sealed. Your 10-year sealed is just perfect and it will be there all the time. We are constantly
hearing that.
The first thing that goes in your house when a fire erupts is your power. If you have that nine-volt
battery and you have not changed it for a couple of years and it has slowly died, that is it: you have
no warning as soon as that fire has erupted. Basically, we do not want to take that chance anymore.
That is why there is a move away from the 240. In the time frame that we are looking at trying to get
it done—I think someone mentioned earlier that you are going to get these cowboys coming out and
taking advantage of this legislation. The industry needs to be overhauled on that side of it, also. We
do not want to see that. We do not want a repeat of what has happened over the years when
something has been implemented and someone comes up with a brilliant idea, goes to Bunnings,
gets a stepladder and a cordless drill, and away they go. That is when we are going to start having
problems. Ten-year sealed, two screws—people can do it themselves. As Mr Golinski said, slowly
but surely, one room at a time, the home owners can do it. As he mentioned, some people will buy it
as a present. It can be affordable.
Mrs SMITH: Is there anything else that we can be doing or looking at to reduce the incidence?
Mr Naumovski: We have all said education and awareness. We were consulted by the
opposition; that was fine. We have tried to talk with the current government. We have had no
consultation. It is not that we are special or anything like that, but talk to the people who are on the
ground. We are the ones out in the communities nearly every weekend handing out brochures, and
we seem blocked. I feel that we are blocked because we are speaking out. We are here to try to save
lives. As you said, we met at Westlake. Six funerals we have arranged recently—six funerals. It is not
cheap. We are there to assist these families to make sure that we take the burden away.
Emergency services do a fantastic job. We will never take that away from them. The boys and
girls on the ground are fantastic, but they have their job to do and then they disappear. Once the fire
is out, they are gone. We are there to pick up the pieces and continue to pick up the pieces, organise
the funerals, go to the funerals. That all has to stop. There should be education and awareness. Talk
to us as stakeholders also. Get our input. I do not know who the stakeholders are in all these things.
We would like to know who the stakeholders are. Who is making all these decisions? As I said, we
are the ones at the coalface who are seeing this. Include us in it. Do not exclude us. We are trying to
work together, but we seem to be blocked. Every time we ask for something, brochures or whatever
from QFES, we seem to get a roadblock. We are doing your job for you for free; do not block us.
Mrs SMITH: I appreciate that. As I said, all the help that you gave that family—my son goes to
the children’s school, so we knew about it—and everything that you did there was very much
appreciated. I thank you for the work that you do.
Mr Naumovski: You are welcome.
Mr BROWN: Mr Naumovski, I am more interested in levels of education, especially in Logan,
which is a low socioeconomic area. You touched on education pamphlets and so on. If you had more
resources, what would you do with regard to boosting education in those areas?
Brisbane

- 15 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
Mr Naumovski: We have to get into the school curriculum. Children are like sponges: they
absorb a lot of things. If we can try to get into the schools and start talking—and not just to little
preppies but start going constantly, just like the Morcombes do. They constantly go out there and that
issue is constantly in the public eye and people know about it. If we could do that, we could have little
forums, we could have family days and all the rest of it. As you said, in low socioeconomic
demographic areas and multicultural areas, certainly we need more and more emphasis on that. We
need interpreters to start coming along with us, to try to talk to those different multicultural
nationalities.
If we had the resources we could certainly do it but, once again, we do not seem to get it. We
have found sometimes the government wishes to hold a forum and hand out these smoke alarms,
because we are doing a good thing. We see them at the markets a few weeks later. We have warned
them, ‘Don’t do that. Give them a voucher. We’ll go and install them free of charge.’ But no, they do
not want to align themselves with a charity network. How stupid is that? That is our issue. If we have
the resources, let us all work together.
We will eventually start getting into the minds of the different nationalities in certain
demographic areas and try to get into schools. QFES has so many good things out there with stickers
and fire-escape plans and all the rest of it that are just sitting idle. That should be handed out to kids.
Kids go home and tell mum and dad and—surprise, surprise: ‘That’s right, we do have a smoke alarm
on our ceiling.’ When we walk in the door, we are looking at eye level. We are not walking in and
looking at the ceiling; we are looking at our loved ones or we sit down on couch and look at our TV.
We do not look up there. If kids bring stuff home, they are going to start a conversation.
Mr Golinski: Kids are a great way to get the message through.
Miss BARTON: Mr Naumovski, I picked up on something that you said earlier in response to
Tarnya’s question, that you had not been consulted on the government’s bill. I appreciate that today
we are supposed to be talking about the opposition’s bill, but I was really struck by that. You said that
you felt like no-one had really been listening to you, except Lawrence Springborg and the opposition.
Have the previous minister and the current minister not reached out to you, with your experience, to
talk to you at all about this?
Mr Naumovski: I am not going to sit here and lie: that is absolutely right. This is not about
politics; it is not—
Miss BARTON: No—
Mr Naumovski: No, I am just explaining myself. I am this down-to-earth guy who does this in
our community. We have expanded outside of Logan. We tried to work with the government: issues.
We went to the opposition: listened. Now the current sitting government has put in a bill that we—do
not get me wrong, we like what is in there, apart from the phase-in period. That is our issue. Our other
issue is the interconnectivity, cost-wise. As I mentioned earlier, it should not come down to cost, but
unfortunately it will in low socioeconomic demographic areas. This is what I mean: who are these
stakeholders who are putting in these bills? Talk to the experts. We have Australia’s leading expert
in the room today with regard to fire safety and he was not consulted. You have the guy who goes
around and picks up the pieces and he was not consulted. We are not special, but include the people
who can have an input to it. We were at a federal Senate inquiry last year and here we are again
today, arguing this again. We want to stop coming to these meetings where everyone has their time
wasted, because it is all about saving lives. That is the ultimate thing that we are all here for. I will
repeat the figures: 1,908 house fires and 23 deaths last year alone. That has to stop. That is the
ultimate.
CHAIR: Mr Naumovski, given that the government only introduced this bill yesterday and
subject to the process of the committee, no doubt we will be opening up that opportunity for
consultation. Hopefully that will give you another chance to come and speak to the committee with
regard to that particular bill. Do you have any further questions?
Miss BARTON: No. I just wanted to know whether former minister Miller or Minister Byrne had
contacted you at all.
Mr Naumovski: No. We met with Minister Miller, but no joy. Mr Byrne is fairly recent and we
have not had a chance to formally catch up. We had a quick catch-up yesterday afternoon after he
introduced the bill, but that has been about it. He was obviously away to media commitments and all
the rest of it. That has been it.
Mrs SMITH: Out of those 1,900-odd fires, what is the most common cause? Is it in a particular
location like the kitchen?
Brisbane

- 16 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
Mr Naumovski: Kitchen fires and electrical are the two main ones. Sadly, children are up there
in the top 5. That is an issue that we have, which is why the education side has to be implemented.
As I said, we are willing to work with the government as much as we can. If they actually sat down
and listened, we would be more than happy to implement some things there. We have spoken to the
education minister. We actually are talking to a few principals in about a month’s time. Once again, it
is just a slow process. It is gets dragged on a little bit. It has to be fast-tracked a bit more into the
school curriculum. We can find time for that. It can be achieved.
Mr KRAUSE: You mentioned children. Are they playing with fire?
Mr Naumovski: Yes, matches and lighters.
Mr KRAUSE: At the risk of labouring Verity’s point, have you met with any of your local
members in Logan about these issues?
Mr Naumovski: Yes, absolutely. They are fully supportive. I have obviously Cameron Dick,
Shannon Fentiman, Linus Power and Mick de Brenni. They are fully supportive of the bill—
photoelectric, that is.
Mr Golinski: Mr Chair, might I have a couple of minutes just to cover a couple of points?
CHAIR: Of course, by all means.
Mr Golinski: This is from the coroner’s report into the Tewantin fire and they are very relevant
points. I do not know whether everyone has read that coroner’s report. The report states that,
according to the Queensland Police Service findings—
The smoke alarms failed to perform their role in warning the occupants of the house that the fire had commenced. The house
was engulfed by fire by the time the occupants were awake and able to understand what was going on, resulting in Rachel
and her daughters not being able to escape from the burning structure.
The police concluded that if the smoke alarms had been functioning effectively, the fire, and consequently the deaths, could
have been prevented.

007

That is one section. The toxicology is interesting. The report states that the four deaths all
resulted from smoke inhalation. The amount of carbon monoxide in one of the twins, the lowest, was
30 per cent. Another was 36 per cent. Starlia, the youngest, was 48 per cent. Rachael, the mother,
was 73 per cent carbon monoxide. That tells a whole story. Paragraph 44 states—
After considering submissions from QFES, Coroner McDougall made a number of comments and recommendations in this
regard, which I have reproduced below:
“Legislation should be put in place as soon as possible the effect of which is such that all places where people sleep
should be provided with early warning ...

I will not go into the rest, as you know that. That is his recommendation. He says in his
recommendation that all of those areas should be fitted with an approved smoke detector. He then
says—
An approved smoke alarm for these purposes means a photoelectric type smoke alarm—

this is the coroner saying this, not me—
that complies with Australian Standard ...

In his conclusions, he says in paragraph 51—
I conclude that the fire was most likely started from an ignition source located on or immediately below the Christmas tree.

He says in paragraph 52—
The family received no warning from the two ionisation type smoke alarms which were installed at the home. The evidence
from Matt was that the alarms were in working order, and there was nothing in the lead up to the fire to suggest or warn the
family that the batteries needed replacing, or that there was anything operationally wrong with the alarms. It is likely that by
the time Matt and Rachael were aware of the fire it had already passed flashover point and the fire had fully engulfed the
House.

He says in paragraph 54—
Having regard to the 2014 recommendations from the Slacks Creek House Fire inquest and the current Senate inquiry, there
does not appear to be any prospect of making additional recommendations that would reduce the likelihood of similar deaths
occurring in the future or otherwise contributing to public health and safety.

He is saying that everything he recommended in the Slacks Creek fire still stands. There have
been no changes to his mind. He is just reinforcing it. I have no doubt that with every death that occurs
in the future he will repeat that over and over and over again.
CHAIR: Thank you, gentlemen, for your appearance here this morning and for the submissions
you have provided to the committee.
Brisbane
- 17 24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015

BLEIJIE, Mr Jarrod, Member for Kawana, Parliament of Queensland
CHAIR: We will now move to the public briefing on the Fire and Emergence Services (Smoke
Alarms) Amendment Bill, hearing from the proponent of this bill, the member for Kawana. We will
allow you a couple of minutes to brief the committee and then no doubt we will hand over to committee
members to ask some questions of you.
Mr Bleijie: Thank you, Chair, committee members and witnesses. I saw in person Mr Golinski
and the Logan Fire Support Network—thank you very much for that, Louie—and I watched the other
witnesses this morning from my office.
I think the overriding factor I would like to get across is why I introduced this bill and to give
some insight into the time line that we have seen for the development of this bill. We had the Slacks
Creek house fire, which has been talked about this morning, which killed many people. We have had
house fires since then. Mr Golinski gave an explanation of the unfortunate set of circumstances with
his family and the loss of life in his family. Something had to be done.
A coroner’s investigation in relation to the Slacks Creek house fire was handed down to the
previous government in November 2014. Committee members will be aware that there was an
election in January 2015 and a new government was formed. The new government under former
minister Miller sat on the coroner’s recommendations for 12 months and did not act on the coronial
recommendations. As Mr Golinski has pointed out, the coroner’s report into the Tewantin house fire
was handed down recently. It also noted that the recommendations in the Slacks Creek house fire
coroner’s report still remained and the coroner also noted that nothing had happened.
Former minister Jo-Ann Miller, the member for Bundamba, was asked on an ABC program as
to why she sat on her hands on the coroner’s recommendations and had not implemented changes
to smoke alarms in Queensland. The former minister was noted as saying, ‘There is a cost issue and
we are waiting to see what the Senate inquiry hands down.’
I then met with Louie, Christine and the team and Mr Golinski with the opposition leader with
respect to discussing photoelectric alarms versus the ionised alarms and then had a look at all of the
coroner’s recommendations and soon came to the realisation and conclusion that something had to
happen and, if Jo-Ann Miller was no going to do it and the current government was not going to do it,
then we would introduce a private member’s bill, which is why I introduced the private member’s bill.
I thank the Logan Fire Support Network for all the assistance they gave with respect to this issue. It
is an important issue and sometimes in this job you just have to get on and do it and show people
that you are listening and that you are making the changes.
Since the introduction of my private member’s bill dealing with this issue and mandating
photoelectric alarms in Queensland—incidentally before this committee was to hear about my bill
today—we had the new minister rush into parliament yesterday and introduce his own bill which
effectively deals with the issue of ionisation versus photoelectric alarms and mandates photoelectric
alarms with some changes in his bill compared to my bill. So we have gone from a situation where
we had no action under the current government to the minister saying, ‘Let’s wait until the Senate
inquiry is handed down,’ to the private member’s bill, to yesterday the government not waiting for the
Senate investigation or inquiry to be handed down but introducing their own bill, to this committee
hearing today.
My point is that my bill is there. The government bill is there. I suspect that they will want to
pass the government bill ahead of my bill. At the end of the day this is about safety. I have a bit of
experience with this because I introduced the presumptive legislation dealing with firefighters and
cancer. The government then introduced their bill on top of that and passed their bill in parliament.
So I have experience with government copying my bills. I am happy for them to do it because if it
saves lives of Queenslanders that is what it is all about.
There are some differences between the two bills. I was not sure if Louie was going to bring
his collection of props, so I have brought two props to explain my limited knowledge of photoelectric
versus ionisation alarms. But the technical experts have explained how they detect and the particles
and the size of the particles and the benefits of the photoelectric alarms. What I did want to talk to the
committee about is that the opposition bill does not mandate alarms in every bedroom. The
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services’ current regulatory framework keeps the alarms where
they are—in hallways in between bedrooms and so forth. So it does not mandate them in every
bedroom. The QFES recommendation would be that they be in every bedroom, but we did not go
down that path because my immediate priority was to get rid of ionised alarms from people’s homes
in Queensland and replace them with photoelectric alarms.
Brisbane

- 18 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
We are not discussing the government’s bill today, although we have done a little bit. My
concern with the government’s bill is that, just like pool fences where we had a five-year
implementation plan for people to spend thousands of dollars getting their pool fences, it says that
you have to have these photoelectric alarms in every bedroom, plus they have to be hardwired, which
means people have to pay for electricians. People in lower socioeconomic environments may not be
able to afford the electricians. They may not be able to afford the hardwiring. They may not be able
to afford to put and alarm in each bedroom. My bill says, ‘You currently have smoke alarms. Replace
those smoke alarms with photoelectric alarms.’ For me, having any photoelectric smoke alarms in the
properties rather than ionised ones is a good start, to get rid of the ionised alarms. But we do not
want to have a situation where people are prevented from putting any photoelectric alarms in because
they cannot afford over a 10-year period to put one in every bedroom.
These are two photoelectric smoke alarms. This one is the nine-volt battery operated one. This
is your normal Duracell battery, which will go flat after a period of time. It starts beeping and then you
replace it. With the ionised alarm systems, when the toasters set them off some people will take the
battery out to stop the beeping because they do not have time to go and get a new battery or whatever
the case may be. This one is a photoelectric alarm but it has a nine-volt battery.
My bill does not recommend mandating hardwiring. This other alarm is a new photoelectric one
but it is tamper proof. It has a 10-year lithium battery. As opposed to this one that is hardwired in and
you can take the battery out, you cannot open this tamper proof one. It is a DIY—you screw it straight
on to the roof. You cannot get into the battery. You cannot take the battery out. After the battery starts
beeping in 10 years time you actually have to replace the whole unit. We suspect over time that they
will get cheaper and cheaper as more regulation comes in. So it is about getting rid of ionised alarms
and replacing them with the photoelectric alarms with a 10-year lithium battery. That is why my bill
does not say you have to have them hardwired because we recommend that these new ones be
interconnected wirelessly. These new ones coming out can be interconnected wirelessly. If people
wish to put them in every bedroom, that is fine. Ultimately, at the end of the day that may be where
we want to go.
I can give you the example of my own situation. I have three children. Their bedrooms are
located upstairs. My and my wife’s bedroom is downstairs. Three kids are on one side of the house.
We have changed our alarms from ionised to photoelectric but not in every bedroom. It is pursuant to
the current regulation where the alarm is in the hallway which covers the three bedrooms. My eldest
daughter is of the age now where she wants privacy and she sleeps with her bedroom door shut. It
came clearer to me after meeting with Louie that, by the time the alarm goes off in the hallway and
the smoke seeps out through the bottom of the door, it is too late and she would be unconscious. By
the time the smoke alarm goes off the fire would have taken over the room. That is a choice I have
now as to go and buy these with the 10-year lithium battery and put them in every bedroom at a
limited expense because I can put them in there without having them hardwired. The minute we
mandate them to be hardwired and interconnected we are putting people off because there is a cost.
People may say, ‘What is the cost of a life?’ I suspect Mr Golinski would give anything not to have
the situation he had again. But I would rather see some photoelectric alarms in people’s homes rather
than none. If the cost is a burden to people putting any in then that is a problem that we have to
overcome.
008

The committee will now be looking at the government bill, and my recommendation to the
committee would be to recommend passing the private member’s bill. If the committee wished to
amend it, pursuant to feedback from the witnesses, I would be more than happy to consider
amendments to my bill. I am happy to work in a bipartisan way. We have a bill before the House and
it has been with this committee for some time. It has been before the House since last year. We could
get on with the job and get this happening with a three-year phase-in period. We could get
photoelectric smoke alarms in people’s homes in three years rather than 10 years.
I would plead with the committee. We have got an opportunity here, despite the government
introducing their bill yesterday. I would rather if Minister Byrne had come to me and said, ‘This is
where we want to go. Would you be happy to amend your bill? We will come in and support the private
member’s bill just so we can get this happening in the state of Queensland,’ and I would have been
more than happy to accommodate that.
The final point I make is that I think the committee would benefit from spending some time with
the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, and I note they are not on the witness list today. The
committee would benefit from their expert advice, because the QFES after all are the ones who issue
these brochures—Wake up to photoelectric smoke alarms—and it surprises me that they are not on
the witness list today in terms of their advice. It surprises me because yesterday the minister, in
Brisbane

- 19 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
introducing his bill, put out a press release and the commissioner of fire, Katarina Carroll, was very
glowing and endorsing of the government’s legislation, yet we have had legislation in the parliament
for a couple of months now which deals with photoelectric smoke alarms. It would be good to hear
Ms Carroll’s view on both the private member’s bill and the government bill.
CHAIR: I will respond to that. The reason they are not on the list at this stage—and hopefully
they will get another opportunity—is that the previous deputy chair and I agreed to a schedule which
was tight and we were unable to fit that in in today’s hearings. That is the reason they are not here
today. Mr Bleijie, are you aware of other technologies other than doing hardwiring of photoelectric
alarms, like bluetooth and those sorts of things, that satisfy your concerns about costs involved in
hardwiring?
Mr Bleijie: Certainly, the ones that you can buy now, the technology exists, whereas this one
I have here is a non-wireless, so this is a do-it-yourself, where you put it up on your roof in the
bedrooms. There are a couple of companies that make these things now. You could go into a
hardware store, and they actually make ones for a living room and ones for a bedroom. They have
photoelectric smoke alarms that talk. If it is for kids, they have emergency lights on them as well. So
there is far greater technology than what many Queensland homes would actually have now—where
you can have kids smoke alarms which say, ‘Wake up. Wake up,’ and they yell at you. The wireless
technology exists—this is not a wireless one, but the wireless ones look very similar—whereby they
talk to all the other wireless ones, similar to where you connect by pressing a button and they talk to
each other. I am not a technical expert on how they do that, but they do. So when one goes off, the
other goes off.
So in my house, for instance, we would install the wireless photoelectric smoke alarms not
hardwired, just like this, in each of my kids bedrooms. We would also have it connected wirelessly to
ours in our bedroom downstairs, therefore if any alarm went off upstairs my wife and I can have the
alarm downstairs wake us up and we can run upstairs. At the moment we would have a situation in
my property—up until very recently—where the alarms would go off upstairs but by the time my wife
and I would even wake downstairs it would be all too late.
Mr KRAUSE: Mr Bleijie, thanks for your submission. You have spoken about the lithium battery
photoelectric fire alarms. I think we have heard evidence this morning, too, about there being the
ability for those to be connected by wireless technology. Have you any idea—and I understand you
may not—about the comparative cost between wireless connectivity for those sorts of fire alarms as
opposed to wired connections between those fire alarms? I imagine there is a fair bit of labour involved
for hardwiring fire alarms. Have you looked into whether it could be as affordable just to use those
ones connected wirelessly?
Mr Bleijie: Louie mentioned before that the cost between photoelectric and ionised now in the
hardware stores is negligible, a few dollars. If you then go to wireless, yes, there is a substantial cost
difference for the wireless photoelectric. In comparison, if you look at the hardware store, there is one
which might cost you $50 and then the wireless one might be over $100, or whatever the figure is
that Louie mentioned. However, what it does not take into consideration is that this one, for instance,
is a photoelectric but you have to have it hardwired. The hardwiring also brings in the cost of the
electrician because it is not a DIY hardwiring and you have to have it all interconnected.
I can go back to my house as an example. It is not a new house; it is an older house. That
affects having it hardwired upstairs to downstairs. Effectively, I want to be able to wake up when my
kids are in trouble upstairs, but having it hardwired to my alarm downstairs to wake up my wife and
me when the ones upstairs go off would be a substantial cost. I am not sure of the cost, but it is going
to be a substantial cost because you actually cannot get between the downstairs floor and the ceiling
of my bedroom. So when you put in the cost of the electrician for the photoelectric hardwired smoke
alarm versus the wireless, it is probably negligible, but on the face of it it looks like it is a lot more
because you could just go to the hardware store but you have to consider the cost of the electrician.
Mr KRAUSE: Would you like to table those QFES documents?
Mr Bleijie: Yes, I can.
CHAIR: Is leave granted? Leave is granted.
Mr BROWN: Thank you for your submission, Mr Bleijie. You said that you were open to
amendments on your bill. Would you also be open to amendments if anything comes out of the Senate
inquiry and their review?
Mr Bleijie: No. I believe that the time to act is now. We have had our own inquiries in
Queensland. We have now had two coroners investigations which say exactly the same thing. I am
of the view now—and I have formed the view for some time—that the private member’s bill that I
Brisbane

- 20 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
introduced deals with the immediate issue of getting photoelectric smoke alarms in a phase-in period
of three years in all homes in Queensland, bearing in mind that they are already mandated in
commercial premises any way.
I have read the technical expert advice and I am convinced that the photoelectric is the way to
go. I have seen that some submissions you have received have said that maybe people should have
both—a photoelectric and an ionised. That is not my view. I think the majority of cases indicate that
photoelectric is the way to go because they will pick up the majority of house fires. I am of the view
that the only real thing up for discussion is whereas my bill maintains the current regulation of where
the smoke alarms have to be located in the house, it does not mandate them in the bedrooms. We
say there should be an education campaign to get people to actively go and buy these things for a
DIY. The reason—and this is the important part—that I did not mandate in my bill that they have to
be hardwired is that we want through an education campaign to encourage people to go and buy the
DIY photoelectric $40 or $50 smoke alarms so they can just put as many as they want in their home—
rather than saying you have to go and put them in your homes but now you have to get them
hardwired, that is going to cost you $1,000 to get seven alarms or whatever it is put in with the
electrician.
I am sorry to say this—it is going to sound negative—but people will say, ‘No, I can’t afford the
cost,’ because I think people, including me, have the view that it will not happen in their house.
Unfortunately, that is a societal issue that many of us have.
Mrs SMITH: Thank you, Mr Bleijie, for introducing this and putting it up as a private member’s
bill. I think you make a very good point there with the fact that, as we heard from Louie today, if the
smoke alarms beep, people take the battery out and they do not get around to replacing them. The
second view from reading the submissions is that people just do not get around to it or think it will
never happen to them, and then we heard Mr Golinski today and his issues. I really just wanted to
say thank you for bringing this to the committee.
Mr Bleijie: Thank you.
CHAIR: So you do not have any questions?
Mrs SMITH: No.
Ms PEASE: Thank you for coming in, Mr Bleijie. I appreciate your commitment and dedication
to listening to people in the community. The statistics that are out in the public with regard to house
fires and death are very disturbing. As we heard from earlier evidence, in commercial premises
no-one stops to think about how many of these things we put up to protect people who walk into those
commercial premises. I would like to say the same about people going into their own homes. I note
you are talking about that your only concern is with regard to cost and that is why you need to have
a limited number of the photoelectric—
Mr Bleijie: With respect, I did not say that.
Ms PEASE: Why do you think we are not going to listen to the whole coroner’s report and only
put in a few, as you have suggested?
Mr Bleijie: Because if you, member, with respect, believe with the five-year phase-in period
for pool fences, which was extended, that every Queensland pool fence today is compliant because
of the $700 or $800 fine and has satisfactory pool fencing—but I can guarantee that there would be
many, many pool fences that would not be compliant.
Ms PEASE: But I am not talking about pool fences.
Mr Bleijie: We are talking about kids drowning; we are talking about kids in homes.
Ms PEASE: I am actually specifically asking about why you are restricting these photoelectric
smoke detectors that have been proven to be incredibly effective and what we need to do. Why can
they not be—
Mr Bleijie: Member, you are misinformed. I am not restricting them. We actually say in our bill
that current regulation, pursuant to QFES and their own brochure which I have tabled, says that you
have to have the smoke alarms in these particular places and requires how many you have to have
upstairs and downstairs or in a single-storey house. I am not restricting people from putting other
alarm systems in. The reason we are not restricting them is that we are encouraging it and we are
also saying it has to be backed up with an education campaign. We are saying that the main priority
over the next three years is to get ionised smoke alarms out of the system and replace them with
these photoelectric smoke alarms. If there is any barrier or burden for that happening, then that is a
concern that I am aware of and the committee should be aware of.
Brisbane

- 21 -

24 Feb 2016

Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Fire and Emergency Services (Smoke Alarms) Amendment Bill
2015
The question I have is whether cost is going to be a burden for people replacing, particularly if
it is in every bedroom, and I considered at the time in my bill whether I was going to mandate it in
every bedroom or not. I decided that, no, the first priority is to get rid of the current ionised smoke
alarms and get them out of the system because any protection of photoelectric smoke alarms in the
house is better than having ionised smoke alarms. I came to the conclusion that if people thought it
would be a burden for all the other bedrooms then they would not do it—despite regulation and despite
governments and politicians. We all think everything we say and do in here is loved and enjoyed by
people and they go and do everything we ask them to do through regulation, but that is not the case.
The other point with the photoelectric and the hardwiring, which is a cost as well, is that
hardwiring means nothing when nearly the first thing in a house fire to go is your power. Once your
power goes off, and if you have taken the battery out because of the beeping from the toaster in the
morning, there is no protection in your home.
Ms PEASE: Whilst we are discussing your amendments to the bill, it should be made clear that
the bill that was introduced yesterday actually states that it will be powered by an enduring power
source, hardwired or a 10-year lithium battery. So there has been a bit of confusion, I think, with
discussions that are going on here today with regard to that matter. Also I think there is a bit of
confusion about hardwiring and wireless interconnectivity, because the interconnectivity between the
alarms is completely separate to the hardwiring of the alarms themselves.
CHAIR: Mr Bleijie, just on your point about reaching a conclusion of cost in respect of not
mandating the number of alarms, what modelling did you base that evidence on?
Mr Bleijie: Mr Chair, with respect, you can go to any hardware store. If you have a current
requirement that says you have to have two or three smoke alarms in a house at any given time and
then you mandate it per bedroom, you can times that by $50 for every bedroom. If it is going to be
hardwired, you can times that by the electrician who will have to go into every bedroom and put it in.
So you cannot model it, because it depends on the cost of the unit, the size of the house, the size of
the bedrooms, where the bedrooms are located, the age of the premises. As I said, the priority should
be in this state getting rid of ionised smoke alarms and getting photoelectric smoke alarms installed,
pursuant to the QFES’s own regulation and their own brochures. That is the priority.
I have not had the time since yesterday to have a look at the bill the government introduced,
other than a quick glance, but it does concern me that we are now looking at a 10-year phase-in
period. We know that at 10 years, as one of the witnesses said, people will think the day before, ‘I’d
better get on to this,’ so we will have a situation in Queensland for the next 10 years where we will
not have photoelectric smoke alarms installed. My bill, with a three-year phase-in, will protect people
and save people’s lives. I think we should just get on with the job. We have enough evidence there
and there is currently a bill before the House.
CHAIR: Going back to the modelling, you can always do peer review modelling. It is not a case
of forming an opinion based on one person going to a hardware store. I just make that point.
Mr Bleijie: Well, I will make this point, Mr Chair: what modelling—
CHAIR: You can, but we are out of time.
Mr Bleijie: What modelling did the government do with respect to their bill yesterday, because
as I understand it no-one was consulted on the government’s bill yesterday, not even the people—
CHAIR: No, that is incorrect, because it has been established that he met with his local
member.
Mr Bleijie: Oh, okay. No consultation. Well done.
CHAIR: I close the meeting now on that basis. We are running out of time. I thank you for your
appearance. That concludes this hearing and briefing. I thank all of the witnesses for their
participation, their submissions and their interest in the inquiry. I thank Hansard. The committee is to
report to the parliament on this bill by 4 March 2016.
Committee adjourned at 11.01 am

Brisbane

- 22 -

24 Feb 2016

Related Interests