House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016

Statements on Indulgence

Natural Disasters

4:57 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

I want to deal briefly with two elements of the natural disasters over the summer, but I begin by acknowledging the extraordinary work of all of our emergency services workers, whether volunteers, state employees or federal employees. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the amazing work of the Bureau of Meteorology, led by the Director of Meteorology, Rob Vertessy, and his team. They provide timely and critically important early warning information, whether it is in relation to flood or fire, rainfall patterns that might help with the breaking of drought or the forecasting, as they did very accurately, of a very significant El Nino effect. I remember a year ago they were forecasting the harsh El Nino which we were going to face and comparing it with two decades ago. Sadly, they were spot on—and that, of course, has led to other fires.

On that front, I spent Saturday morning at Crib Point with my six-year-old son, James, and many others, led by Emma Hopkins and Geoff Watson from the CFA in Crib Point, where there was a Crib Point community clean-up. Matty's Bar and Bistro put on food and drink for all of those who volunteered, but it was the Crib Point community that came out and helped clean up the town after the fires. They were honouring the work of the CFA, which protected the town from the 18 January fire.

I stood in the fire affected areas, and you could see how the fire ripped down the coast in a southerly direction towards the bulk of the town. The hard work of the CFA members not just from Crib Point but from throughout the area made a huge difference. A wind shift made a difference. But, as the fire then tore north, one house on Golden Point was lost, and I understand another house was badly affected. But the town came together to support those who suffered. The town also came together in great spirit to help clean up and to repair the damage.

We are now looking at Green Army teams possibly helping, as they have done in Queensland and New South Wales, with disaster recovery.

To Emma Hopkins, who put the day together; to Matty's Bar and Bistro; and to Geoff Watson and his team at the CFA: we are really proud of you. I am delighted to confirm to the House and to the community of Crib Point that the Commonwealth will give a peppercorn rent of a dollar a month, I believe—although I stand to be corrected—for the HMAS Cerberus land to provide a new base for a new purpose-built CFA headquarters for Crib Point. I think that is an appropriate contribution to ensuring that we have the best possible CFA resources.

Finally, I also want to note, at a broader, national level, that the Tasmanian fires have continued, although they have abated to a small degree. There are 77 fires remaining, with 28 currently uncontained or uncontrolled. The latest figures I have, although these may yet be updated, are that over 107,000 hectares have been burnt. This includes about 18½ thousand hectares, or just over 1.16 per cent, of the Tasmanian World Heritage area. So these are very serious fires. They have been very serious fires right from the outset.

I spoke with the Tasmanian Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage early on in the piece. We made sure that the Emergency Management Australia approach was activated. EMA was engaged right from the very earliest times. I am a little disappointed that some in this place have sought to politicise bushfires, because the people on the ground have done a fabulous job. They have been supported through access to the $14.8 million annually to increase national aerial firefighting capability, and the Prime Minister has already offered an additional $500,000 to extend aerial firefighting. In particular, 39 aircraft have been sourced from within Tasmania and around the country, with EMA right at the heart of that. That includes four fixed-wing aircraft, including large aerial tankers such as a Hercules C130, and 35 helicopters, which include water bombers, personnel carriers, reconnaissance and winches to assist with deployment in the most difficult areas. Some of these areas, of course, in the deep forest, are exceptionally hard to address, and protection of life and limb amongst our firefighters and our community must be the overwhelming priority.

But have no doubt: from the earliest times, at the first request, the Commonwealth has been assisting. We triggered a formal activation, but the truth is that, as I think one of the Tasmanian senators, who sought to make personal advance at the expense of the reputation of his local firefighters—and truly that is a despicable and rare occurrence in this place—knows, the Commonwealth and the firefighters have been deeply engaged from the outset, as they should have been. Both sides were onto this right from the outset. The Tasmanian firefighters and government could not have done more. Emergency Management Australia could not have done more. And the Bureau of Meteorology continues to inspire. I thank the House.


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