The Australian firefighting and mining sectors are showing interest in using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for a range of applications.\nAt a hearing of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs today, Richard Alder, GM at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council said the sector was very interested in the technology and was keen to work with industry and regulatory authorities.\nSome firefighting organisations are already operating drones including the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, which has used unmanned vehicles in the past few days to help fight the Hazelwood coal pit fire.\nDrones can be used by fire crews to gather information during an emergency to help firefighters make tactical decisions. This may include providing information to support the provision of warnings to the community, deliver suppressant or retardant materials to extinguish fires or simply assist a firefighter or incident commander to see over trees, he said.\n\u201cWe are looking at [using UAVs] in situations where there are repetitive tasks, potentially dangerous tasks and dirty tasks,\u201d he said.\n\u201cWe need to take a very measured approach to this \u2013 there is some hype around the possibilities that can be offered and we need to look very clearly at whether these sort of capabilities are offering something that's safer, more efficient or more effective than what we currently do and the capabilities we have through crude aircraft.\u201d\nUAVs are also being used by the mining industry, Chris James, assistant director, workforce skills at the Minerals Council of Australia told the committee.\nHe said although drone use wasn\u2019t widespread at the moment, some mining companies were testing the machines for stock pile surveying, environmental scanning, fire monitoring, pit mapping, spare parts transportation, and infrastructure assessments.\nPrivacy was not an issue for mining at the moment because there are \u201cmany cameras around a mine site anyway,\u201d said James.\nAlder said the firefighter sector has 50,000 paid employees and 250,000 volunteers, many of whom will be interested in using drones.\n\u201cWe are very concerned to make sure that as things develop, those UAVs are operated safely and legally. We\u2019ll need to give consistent guide to our organisation to make sure they can do that,\u201d he said.\n\u201cPrivacy is a developing concern because the nature of the areas in which we operate \u2013 it\u2019s been less of a practical issue but it\u2019s something we do need to take account of in the future.\u201d\nThe committee asked Peggy MacTavish, executive director of the Australian Association of Unmanned Systems, to explain how the organisation deals with privacy issues.\n\u201cWe advise them with respect to duty of care, understanding the law and being apprised of what the current law is,\u201d said MacTavish.\n\u201cIf we feel that perhaps their activities would not be in anyone\u2019s best interest, we advise them to \u2026 make sure they understand what they are doing before they do.\n\u201cThat goes hand-in-hand with insurance, privacy and liability issues and we do stress with the operators that they have duty of care and responsibility.\u201d\nThe CSIRO has been using drones since 1999 for research in survey activities where cameras need to be placed above experiments such as crop monitoring. Drones are also used to count rubbish on beaches, bushfire spread experiments, and monitoring of ground-based robots from the air.\n\u201cWe\u2019ve also used them for testing equipment that we put an animals that we are monitoring \u2013 so we are monitoring flying foxes as they are flying around, trying to understand how they fly," the organisation's Dr Jonathan Roberts told the committee.\n\u201cSensors get placed on the flying foxes but to test those out we use unmanned aircraft, which pretend to be flying foxes so we can test the equipment before we put it on the real animals so we can minimise the experiments on real animals.\u201d\nPrivacy hasn\u2019t been an issue as the research is conducted in controlled or remote areas, he said.\nA committee member raised the issue of a drone inadvertently taking footage while being used for commercial or scientific purposes: \u201cIt might be a farmer kissing his wife on the back porch \u2026 that may inadvertently be recorded.\n(\u201cIt might be more of a concern if he was kissing someone other than his wife,\u201d another committee member responded.)\nThe Minerals Council of Australia\u2019s James said one way to deal with this situation would be to disclose to all parties that you are using unmanned aerial vehicles.\n\u201cThe feeling among our companies is that it\u2019s not a major issue because there\u2019s a lot of CCTV on site anyway for various reasons, generally to do with safety and that's rightly disclosed."\nRegardless, he admitted that the issue is still a "regulatory black hole."