Wednesday, 5 February 2020
My community, like many around the nation, unfortunately, has been very badly impacted by the fires that have been burning, in some cases for many months. To give you a quick snapshot: in my community alone we have lost two lives and we've had 254 houses destroyed, a further 100 houses damaged, close to 1,000 outbuildings destroyed or damaged, and up to 100 other community facilities, like halls and things, destroyed or damaged. That's obviously just the physical impact, never mind the emotional and psychological impact this has had.
I start with the very sad loss of two lives, of Gwen Hyde and Bob Lindsey, both very well-known and very loved people in our community. Bob used to run one of the petrol stations in Casino for many, many years and was well known and well loved, as was Gwen, who was very active in the community. The loss of their lives was very significant and a sad day for our community.
I'm going to go through four different fires across my electorate. Fires often merged together, and they formed four major but different fires. The first one I want to talk about is the Border Trail fire. This was on the Border Trail between Queensland and New South Wales and it was burning from north to south and threatening the community of Woodenbong. I actually went to Woodenbong around 8 and 9 November. Residents of Woodenbong were advised to leave unless they were defending their homes or the Woodenbong assets. They were asked to leave and, if they were going to leave, they had to leave then. On 11 November the main route into Woodenbong, Summerland Way, was shut off, and I went around the long way to go to the community to see how they were faring.
I've got to say it was one of the most inspiring examples that I've seen of a community coming together. They had been under siege at that stage for about a week, and under serious siege for three or four days. What do I mean by 'serious siege'? They had a fire that had all but surrounded them. They were getting aerial support and they had RFS groups, but Woodenbong was in the way, and that's where the fire was naturally going to go. It's a town of 500 or 600 people, a great, resilient, tight community. I don't think anyone left. They were all there. Every single person in that community was doing something in the defence of their town against this fire. They had what they called the 'pod brigade'. Anyone who had a ute had a water tank in the back and had a hose with them. Any time an ember flew into the town or threatened a building or threatened anything in their village, they put it out, and they did that for weeks. There were a great team at the golf club making food. Again, every single person in that town was mobilised about this fire. And, to their credit, they won, and the fire in the end went south around them.
For this very reason, I went to Woodenbong on Australia Day, just to acknowledge what they'd done and to celebrate Australia Day with them. There was obviously a lot of acknowledgement of the RFS volunteers and the 'pod team'. There were people like Michael Smith, who has a huge earthmoving business, and every piece of equipment that he had was being used in the defence of that town, for clearing containment lines. It was really very inspiring to be with them and see them unite as a community. One night in town they counted 53 utes. This is in a town of 400 to 500 people. There were 53 utes filling up with water with their hoses to defend their town.
That's the first fire. Why I went there, why this on its own was a major event was because of the size of this fire and what it was doing. It was one of four burning across the wider region. In the media it was just an add-on because there was so much more going on. The second fire was the biggest fire in the sense of how much it burnt out. In my community, give or take a bit, let's say a million hectares was burnt out. The next fire, the Myall Creek fire, which merged with other fires, was certainly the biggest of those. It burnt down houses. It burnt down a mate of mine's house. Actually that was a related fire that was just next to this one. But at Bora Ridge it burnt down a mate of mine's house. Doug Wood was defending his parents' house, because that was where the fire was coming from. He jumped over to his parents' house, and it burnt down his house. This is the type of thing that was happening. That fire went down the Pacific Highway and was threatening communities like Woombah and Iluka and Ashby Heights, moving into the Clarence Valley. Again, the RFS did a magnificent job. The community of Woombah—if you haven't been there I encourage you to come; it's a beautiful part of the world near Iluka and the Clarence River—is surrounded by bush. These people are living in a beautiful residential area with a lot of bushland around them. With the area support they got, they didn't lose a house. They lost a few outbuildings. It was a phenomenal effort by them. I will come back to that fire later.
Also there was the Mount Nardi fire. This was within the Mount Nardi rainforest. At one stage there was a day that was particularly threatening to our community. It was a Tuesday. There was a westerly to north-westerly forecast. It was a hot day with strong winds. The worst-case scenario for the fires on that day was significant. We were looking at potentially losing our communications tower on the top of Mount Nardi, which meant the emergency services themselves would not have been able to communicate with each other. It was bearing towards and around Rocky Creek Dam, which provides the water for our wider region. If it had taken out the water filtration plant, which was potentially going to happen, we would not only have lost our communications tower; we wouldn't have been able to use the water facility. There would have been major towns without water supply. Again, the RFS, with aerial support and retardant, bombarded those facilities before the day and on the day and protected them and saved them.
Another fire was the Liberation Trail fire. This was the one burning further south in the community of the Clarence Valley. It went into the Coffs Coast local government area as well. This is the fire that took out Nymboida. This is where most of the homes were lost in my community. It's a very rural community in the hills, a beautiful part of the world. This fire came through and took out many, many homes. There was lot of gratitude on this one. I went to Nymboida the weekend after, about three or four days after the fire had been through. A lot of people hadn't gone back. People were just starting to go back. The road was cut off to the public, but you could go back in if you were a member of the community. I was allowed back in to talk to the community on the Saturday. I went to the RFS shed. One of the humbling things about that was that there wasn't a local there. The RFS shed was full of RFS volunteers from Sydney. They had been there for days. It was very humbling to know we were getting support not only internationally but from all around the country.
Another front of this fire was threatening communities like Glenreagh and Nana Glen. I went to many community meetings in advance of the fire threatening them about what to do and how to do it. The RFS group in Glenreagh and Nana Glen did a great job informing the community about how to protect your home, what to do when the fire came and very important information.
There is another one I want to mention because it is around what happens with this stuff. The first community that was threatened by fire in my area was in September. There was a fire burning towards the communities of Angourie and Woolooweyah, which are very close to Yamba. There were people evacuating from Yamba. At one stage, there were RFS trucks all along the road to Angourie. The team at Angourie did a great job protecting homes on, I think, the Monday night. And you share the goodwill and spirit of people. Mike and Cheryl, who own the Harwood Hotel, were giving free meals to the RFS volunteers during that week, and a lot of other businesses were helping out and volunteering. The cafe at Angourie was also giving free coffee and food to people who were fighting the fires. Two months later, Mike and Cheryl's own home was threatened by a different fire, and those same RFS firefighters who they were giving free feeds to in September were there helping them save their house. That's just one story—and I could tell many—of the wonderful community spirit that was happening throughout this terrible, terrible tragedy.
The fire went through Rappville in November. I've never been so close to a fire as these people have been, so I can only imagine, but try and picture this. You are in your community, and, again, it's a community of 400 or 500 people. You have a great pub, a school and a hall. There's a lovely community spirit there. There's a fire coming, and, before they know it, they're cut off, so they can't leave. At the speed this fire came, they almost weren't given a warning to get out. Suddenly the fire was on the road either side of them, and they couldn't get out. The fire is raging through the town, so they all go to the school. Over 200 people were at the school. Gary—I know Gary's family very well—sat in a tree. Sitting in a tree when a raging fire is coming through your town isn't a safe place to be. He sat in a tree with a hose, and every time an ember landed on the school roof he would put it out. There was a young man named Mitch who knew that there were two old people who hadn't come to the hall. They were sitting in their garage. They thought that would be safe because of the way the garage was structured and built. Mitch went and got them out of the garage and brought them to the hall. The garage burnt down. These are the types of stories of people's heroics throughout this time and of what people did to help save their communities.
I could go on for a long time, but I will give just one example of the support work that has happened post the fires. Rappville lost 300 telegraph poles in that fire. They were all up and working within three days, so the work done by Essential Energy was just phenomenal. As well, we have had groups that have come through to help people, such as BlazeAid, Team Rubicon, Samaritan's Purse and others. They have come down and helped people put back fences and rebuild communities very quickly after the fires. There are many other organisations I could mention.
I do want to mention the incident management team, because the recovery in our area was happening very quickly while in other areas the fires were still raging. The incident management teams at both Casino and Ulmarra, like some of the community actions I've seen, were inspiring, and I want to mention some of those personnel now. The incident controller and the head of the RFS in our region, Michael Brett, did a phenomenal job. This guy hardly slept for six months. Boyd Townsend, David Cook and Daniel Ainsworth had a team that I got briefings from regularly. Superintendent Toby Lindsay from NSW Police did amazing work, as did Mark Somers and his team from the SES, Greg Lewis from Fire and Rescue NSW and Michael Edwards from NSW Ambulance. Maryanne Sewell from the health district was there, as were Liz Bolin, Ben Buckland, Bruce Corish, Dan Bligh and Angela Jones from the Richmond Valley Council. Every time I went there, Angela was there; I don't know when she went home. Scott Turner from Lismore council, Tony Lickiss from Kyogle Council and Andrew Logan from Rous County Council were also there. The education department were there because of all of the things that were going on with the schools. National Parks and Marine Rescue were there. In the Clarence Valley, Stuart Watts did an amazing job at the Ulmarra centre with Bryan Daly and Andrew Lugg. There were personnel from council, Peter Davidson from NSW Police and personnel from all of the different departments, including Dan Madden from NSW Health. The recovery effort has been phenomenal.
In closing, these fires have been traumatic. They have caused great distress. We as a government, through many different programs for recovery relief, including the emergency payments and individual grants we are giving to fire-damaged businesses and fire-damaged primary producers, are doing what we can. We will recover. My area, thank God, has had rain more recently, so the grass is starting to grow again, the fires are all out and even the drought has been hit on the head a bit. As was said in this place yesterday and as will be said today, these have been very traumatic times. They have caused great distress, including loss of life and the loss of people's homes. People need a lot of help and assistance, not only physically but emotionally and psychologically.
Through these stories, like the one I told about Woodenbong, we have seen the very best of who we are. I spoke to a mate of mine who really didn't get on with his neighbour. But they do now. This has been a reality call on what's important in life, and what's important in life is your relationships, the people around you and the community around you. While we don't necessarily need to get it this way, it has been wonderful to see the best of our community spirit—the Australian spirit—of helping each other. In a bizarre way, it has been a community-bonding exercise, but, God, I wish we didn't have to have it like this.
I want to thank everyone involved—all the volunteers and everyone who is helping to rebuild our community. As I said, we are out there and we will do everything we can to rebuild from what has been a very traumatic experience and a very traumatic summer.
I join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Labor Party and so many parliamentary colleagues in speaking to this motion of condolence. It is important and it was the right thing that the first the day of parliament be set aside to this place responding to an extraordinary, terrible and unprecedented summer. I'm pleased that the Prime Minister responded so positively to the request of the Leader of the Opposition that yesterday be set aside and I was pleased to be in the chamber for the remarks of the leaders of both parties, which I think gave expression to the feelings of not just those of us in the chamber but the wider Australian community.
In making my remarks, I'll seek not to cover ground that has been well said—better said than I can—but to try and make some additional observations. In doing so, I'd like to particularly acknowledge the contributions of yourself, Deputy Speaker Hogan, the member for Eden-Monaro, the member for Macquarie, the member for Gilmore and the member for Gippsland, whose communities were much more directly touched than mine. It has been a privilege to see members from across the parliament doing perhaps our best work in standing up for our communities.
In saying that, my electorate in suburban Melbourne was also touched by fires, unusually—fires that reached Bundoora, which is not even at the outer tip of my electorate. Before coming back to parliament, I visited the site and was struck again by how close fire came to suburban housing in Melbourne. In expressing my gratitude to those responsible for making sure that no property was damaged, I have been reflecting continuously on how changed the circumstances are that we find ourselves in and how much heavier the responsibilities are that we all bear in this place.
Over the summer, we have seen such strength and such resilience across affected communities but also, I think, such strength in our wider Australian community. We've seen our social compact, our sense of our common bond as Australians reinforced through looking at the terrible tragedy affecting some amongst us. I want to express my gratitude to all of those who have fought and continue to fight the fires and all those who have helped and will continue to help in the recovery efforts, including our friends from overseas. This time has demonstrated so many acts of heroism—countless acts of heroism. We've seen Australians at their very best.
It's important to acknowledge that this summer has seen the deaths of 33 people, and my thoughts, and I think all of our thoughts, are at this time principally with all of those in mourning and in grief. Of course, we recognise that the current season is not over yet. Thousands of homes have been destroyed around the country.
In terms of hectares burnt, the fires are the largest to have affected any of the megadiverse countries—larger than the fires in the Amazon and California of recent times. Professor Chris Dickman of the Australian Academy of Science estimates that Australia has lost at least a billion birds, mammals and reptiles this bushfire season—a figure that does not include all the animals likely to have been killed. So we're at risk also of losing a significant proportion of our wonderful biodiversity as a result of these bushfires.
There are various estimates of the financial cost of the fires, but perhaps we can say that the cost to our community is incalculable. In the area I represent are areas which saw the terrible bushfires of 2009 immediately to our north, and I acknowledge so many people whose trauma will have been reignited by recent events. I note the CFA in the City of Whittlesea and the shire of Nillumbik has provided significant effort—in particular, in Epping, which has joined the east Gippsland and north-east Victorian efforts as part of Strike Teams 1421, 1428 and 1436, and also assisted, of course, in the Plenty Gorge fire much closer to home.
I think of the community efforts in the community I represent, looking further afield—in particular, to highlight just one, my dear friends at the Thomastown Mosque who again looked to the community around them at a time of its need, as did so many, from the One Way Lebanese Bakery to sporting clubs like the Epping cricket and netball clubs. I'm very pleased to serve as Labor's multicultural affairs spokesperson, and, in this, I want to highlight a couple of features of the community response to the fire around Australia. I say 'highlight a couple' because it is impossible in any contribution to do justice to the way that Australia's diverse communities, many a long way from the fire front, have reached out to those affected. I acknowledge the leadership of organisations like the Ethnic Communities Council, who have brought people together to coordinate efforts. I acknowledge also the incredible contribution of so many Chinese Australians who, in recent weeks, have been dealing with challenges of their own but have reached out to their suffering fellow citizens, despite their own challenges.
Can I highlight a couple of contributions which I think deserve attention. I think of my friends in the Sikh community, including, I'm very proud to say, those associated with the Craigieburn Gurudwara, who donated $50,000 to efforts, and the Australian Sikh Support group, a group heavily located in Melbourne's north and west who have been almost everywhere they have been needed, reaching out, showing that Sikhism is not just a tenet at a theoretical level; its ethos has been shown every day right across affected communities, from New South Wales and east Gippsland to Kangaroo Island. People have travelled, bringing their aid, their skills, their support, and, very often, their food, which seems to have been a focus in this situation. I note the contribution, that is ongoing, of the Sikh community in Bairnsdale in Gippsland, as recovery continues. I think also of my friends in the Pakistani community, a very prominent community in my electorate, and the Pakistan Welfare Organisation in Australia, who have, similarly, been everywhere. I think also of some people I met from the Hazara community, a refugee community, who have raised enormous funds, despite very limited capacity in their community, giving back to a country that has given them a second chance at life.
As I say, these are partial remarks, but I think it is important to see that we have seen Australia's social compact reflected not just in the strength of individual affected communities, Member for Page, as you so effectively highlighted just moments ago, but in the wider Australian community—people recognising the bonds we share and our common obligation to reach out to one another, the finest evocation of, I think, that core Australian ethos: a sense that a fair go must be provided for when it's not granted.
In conclusion, can I just say this: for those of us who have the privilege of serving in this place, what matters of course is not what we say but what we do—particularly now with the fire season ongoing and the recovery efforts that will take not just days but years to complete, if indeed they are ever to be completed. So let us think about how we in this place can work together. Let us think about some of the contributions that have been made, including but not limited to those that were set out by the Leader of the Labor Party about national coordination. Let us think about how the states, the national government and local governments can work more effectively together. Fundamentally, let us think about how we can quickly, and with resolve, grapple with the extraordinary challenge that is climate change.
Back on 9 November Neville Smith was fighting the fire in Tenterfield—next door to your seat, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan—and he was severely burnt. He spent months in hospital. That was an omen that, quite obviously, this was a fire season that had started early and would be more ferocious. I remember going to Tenterfield and seeing the town isolated. It looked like something from Dante's 'Inferno' as I sat on the hill and pondered how people were dealing with the fires—those on the periphery, those fighting them and those isolated within them. To see fires actually burning through the town was something that was quite awe-inspiring and horrifying. That was merely the start.
I go to three names: Vivian Chaplain, George Nole and Courtney Partridge-McLennan, who all died in the seat of New England—an absolute tragedy. You should never judge a tragedy by numbers. What is too many people to die? One—one is too many people to die. Two were from Wytaliba and one died from an asthma attack brought on by the smoke.
We live, in New England, with the experience of fire. It was so intense that where I lived the spiders were dying in the roof and falling out because, after such a period of smoke, they could not survive. The ramifications of the fire went way beyond where the fire was. If you went to the pool, the pool was closed because the pollution level was unhealthy. You couldn't exercise. It looked hellish. You'd wake up every morning—and I'm sure you saw a lot of the clips on programs like Sunriseand the sun just rose as a red ball. You knew that that was a sign that other people's lives were hell and they were fighting those fires.
We look at what happened across our nation, but, for the intent of this speech, in my electorate at Nowendoc I talked to mates of mine, blokes I played football with. They would resiliently say: 'My property will go next. It's going to get burnt out. We're trying our best, but we know this is not going to work.' We can look at Ebor, where, unfortunately, a person was back-burning around a marijuana crop—and I say that not in the sense of mirth but to show people the consequences of their actions. By the time that fire had started, there were pyrocumulus clouds that were actually changing the weather. You saw it and you knew once more that there was something like an inferno for miles. From 100 kilometres away, you could see that pyrocumulus cloud. That was the result of a misdemeanour—probably not malfeasance but a lack of thought, a lack of understanding of the consequences, at a time where the whole of our landscape was a tinderbox.
When you see fires and say, 'They won't burn across that ground'—in the right conditions, they will burn across anything. You could see straw just rolling along alight. You could see areas where all the cow pats were alight and smouldering. There were fires at Nundle and Guy Fawkes River National Park and also fires at Moonbi—I say Moonbi because it is one that I was fighting myself. As I drove along the road I heard that message—and I can tell you exactly where I was: I was at Llangothlin driving north towards Tenterfield to try and see what I could do as a politician to assist the people in Tenterfield with their fire—that a fire had just started near the New England Highway at Moonbi. I knew what that meant because I have lived in the area for 50 years. It meant the fire was going to go home. I did a U-turn immediately on hearing that on the radio, and started to go back. I rang the neighbours and said: 'Where do we meet up? How do with deal with this? What's the process? What's the drill?' We knew how the fire would burn through, we knew the areas where if it broke out we'd have real problems, and we knew the areas where we could try to engage, burn back and deal with it.
One of the great things of our nation—the stoicism, the ethos to give a guy a fair go and to stand by your mates—is never better encapsulated than when you go to the middle of your neighbour's paddock in the middle of nowhere and there are fire trucks emblazoned with names of towns from all across our nation. They have turned up at your place, at your area, to help you, but they have never met you before in their life, and they are not paid to do it. That describes one of the things that comes out of this. What an incredible nation we are. What an incredible nation that a former Prime Minister of Australia is not doing speaking circuits and not writing books; he's fighting fires at Drake, he's fighting fires around Tenterfield. He's doing it with his mates and he's doing it over a long period of time. When you talk to him and say, 'Tony Abbott, why are you doing this?' he says: 'I get paid a pension from parliament. I've got staff. I don't feel like I'm doing this for free; I feel like I'm doing this because it's what an Australian does.' It's not what a former Prime Minister does; it's what an Australian does. This is the essence of who we are. This shows our better angels.
We acknowledge the tragedies of Vivian Chaplain, George and Courtney, and our hearts go out to their families. We acknowledge the grief of people such as Mayor Carol Sparks from Glenn Innes, the tireless work of people such as Mayor Peter Petty from Tenterfield, and the ongoing discussions by mayors such as Eric Noakes from Walcha. They were having meetings on Boxing Day. You listen and you think, 'What I can do is so minor compared to what these people are doing: fighting fires right through Christmas.' They're not with their family; they're with their mates—and mates they've never met before in their life, because they're Australian.
So many people do it for free, but other businesses have to get paid. Other businesses that contract have to get paid. We must make sure that we pursue that they get fair compensation for the work that they have done, not as a charity but under contract, and make sure that the issue does not compound the economic crisis in small towns such as Walcha that rely so much on the contracting businesses, hotels, fuel distributors and all the people who are putting their endeavours towards fighting the fires. They can't do it for free, because they have a product they have to sell or staff they have to pay.
On the back of this tragedy and the stoicism and resilience of the Australian people, we have to look forward to how we can do this better in the future. I can't stand the word 'learnings'. I always say 'learning' is a verb, 'knowledge' is a noun, and 'learnings' is a nonsense. From the knowledge that we have gained from this, what can we do better in the future? I want to mention a couple of these issues.
Fighting some fires, some trucks have had to go over 100 kilometres to refill. The fire is in front of you. You've got to understand the terror. When it's night—I can show people some of the photos of my family's place—it is so terrifying to see that silhouette of the hill become emblazoned in red, and you know the fire is getting closer and closer and closer. You unplug all the tanks around your parents' place and you go up and get your firefighting plant—remember, it can't be connected to electricity, because when the electricity goes off the fire plant doesn't work—connect the fire plant up, make sure all the hoses can reach the vital parts, make sure you have an alternative plan to get out if something goes wrong, make sure you have an alternative plan to put the fires out in your house if the firefighting plant goes down, work out the most likely places the house will catch on fire in an ember attack. These are the things you do. And guess what? Just as you're doing them—it is incredible—a truck turns up with two blokes, and they're just mates. They say, 'We heard it was getting close to your place, so we're here.' Then another truck turns up with what they call a shuttle, which is a big water tank with a pump, and they say, 'We're here.' You never ask them to come; they just turn up, because that's what Australians do. And then when you say to them, 'Fellas, I think I'm right; you should go home'—I remember one bloke, and I won't give his name, because he'd be embarrassed, but he said: 'Mate, I'm a bit tired, so I'll just sleep here tonight. Do you mind if I crash on your couch?' Do you know what they're really saying? They're saying, 'You might need help, and I'm not leaving.' Doesn't it just get you, to think that's the essence of our nation? You know when they say they're tired and they want to crash on your couch it's—not a lie, but a statement: 'Don't tell me to go. You need a hand. I'm staying here.'
Let's get back to positive things, because you've got to be positive, you've got to look forward, you've got to look at how you can do things better. We can't travel 100 kilometres to refill a fire truck. Think about that instance. If someone says, 'We're out of water; we're going, and we'll be as quick as we can, but it's going to be about three hours.' Think in your own minds how that would make you feel, with a massive fire coming, and you're trying to do the back-burning, trying to stop the spot fires. If you look at the resource and you look at the people in the yellow uniforms disappearing—not because they want to but because they have to, because they've got to refill—we need central watering points. I propose this as maybe something we can do in a bipartisan way—for the government to give a grant in these areas where there have been fires and say, 'We'll build a dam, and you can use half the water'—farmer, state forest, whatever—'and the other half is always ours.' And it comes with a licence, that no matter how much water is in there, if a fire starts, it's all ours, no questions asked. That way, we're not travelling 100 kilometres; we're travelling 20, or 15 or 10 or five, and that makes such a difference.
You can't stop a raging bushfire, although you can mitigate, but you can stop small ones, and you can back-burn on small ones, and that's where this comes in. You don't wait until the bombers are over London before you start knocking them out of the sky. As soon as they take off, you try to knock them down. So, it is about watering points. What happens in fires when trees are next to the road is twofold. They burn and fall over the road, or they bake the soils, crack the soils, and the soils become unstable and the trees fall over the road. The consequence of that is that if someone, a civilian, is trying to escape from a fire, that's where they stop. And they stop in an area of intense fire pressure, because the forest is next to the road, and that's where they die, if they can't go back and they can't go forward and they can't get out.
The vegetation management laws must be changed so that, without question, you can remove the trees to a space where, if they fall over, people can still get out and fire trucks can get in. It might look quaint having trees next to the road; it might look good. But if they're in a fire area, the safety of people is paramount, and it must be put at the top. Likewise, fuel loads: if you double the fuel load, the speed at which the fire spreads is doubled, and the intensity of the heat is quadrupled. And the radiant heat is what's going to kill you, in many instances, long before the fire gets to you. If you see what happens in a fire, you see the awesome, terrifying power of a fire as it races through the heads of the trees. You hear it roar as it comes towards you. It doesn't come up silently. It roars. And its speed is way beyond the speed of a fire truck or a tractor or anything else. But it has to burn something. You can't stop the fuel load in the trees, but you can mitigate the fuel load on the ground, and you must do it.
Even a bad burn in winter—something that's imperfect, something that does cause smoke damage to clothes, something that does maybe get slightly out of control and burns more areas than you need—is a vastly better alternative than what we just experienced. That is the alternative. If you don't do the back-burning, nature will do it for you, and it will do it for you in such a profound way that it burns out millions of square kilometres and kills people, destroys houses, kills stock and brutally maims and kills wildlife.
I try to convey some of these things so that people will know some of the essence of what happens on a fire ground. One of the first things to move off fire grounds is insects, especially the spiders. When you stand in an area you become very aware that the ground is alive with beetles and spiders—they almost know that something is on, and they're moving out. It's part of this almost apocalyptic feel that it gets; it's the eeriness. Then the smoke comes and you know it's approaching.
In this period of time we must also make sure that we have proper communications. So often now, we all reach for our mobile phone. We don't have the two-way radios of the past. We've got to get proper communications—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 10:25 to 10:49
Edward Ryan was born at Calvary Hospital on 20 January. A few hours later his parents' car was smashed by hailstones in the hospital car park. As Edward left hospital with his parents two days later, Canberrans were being evacuated from their homes and workplaces as bushfires bore down. When Edward was just a fortnight old, flames framed our southern skies, turning them red, as emergency services battled the Orroral Valley fire—the worst since the 2003 Canberra bushfires.
I spoke with Edward's parents, Renee and Sam, at the climate rally outside yesterday. They were among the hundreds of people who had gathered in the wake of the bushfire crisis. Renee told me how she spent the last month of her pregnancy inside avoiding the smoke—there was an air quality index rating of 4,091 on New Year's Day 2020. That's around 20 times the level considered hazardous. It was the worst air quality recorded anywhere in the world on that day.
In the Canberra Hospital some machines were unable to operate due to smoke. Steve Robson spoke about babies being born in smoky delivery suites and the anxiety of their parents. He said: 'I feel it so viscerally. You deliver a baby and you think, "Wow. Isn't this the greatest moment of someone's life?" And just behind it now there is this apprehension about what this child will face.'
It wasn't just smoke that Renee was avoiding. She stayed inside to avoid record-breaking heat. On 4 January Canberra reached 43.6 degrees, a new top temperature record. Less than a fortnight later, the bush capital recorded four consecutive days of 40 degrees or above—another first. Just four days ago, temperatures in Canberra hit 42.7 degrees, an all-time high for February.
We can't stand here and talk about bushfires without talking about climate change. In 2008 Ross Garnaut's climate change review noted that unchecked climate change would likely lead to more hot days, droughts, extreme winds, hailstorms, thunderstorms and floods. His review cites projections of fire weather, saying bushfire seasons would start earlier and end later and generally be more intense. Many Australians already know this. We've seen their anger and frustration in recent weeks. From the affected regions to the city streets, they march for change. Hundreds gathered on the parliament lawns yesterday to hear from Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and other speakers. These are people who bring us stories of hope, like the ACT Young Australian of the Year, Madeline Diamond, who recently stood alongside the Prime Minister with the words 'climate justice' written across her chest.
We've seen the best of Australia this bushfire season. Canberrans Tom and Phoebe Caddaye were stranded on the south coast on New Year's Eve as bushfires neared. They had no cash for the cash-only petrol station and faced being stuck in the path of the fire with their children. They were saved by another driver, who scraped together all the cash he had on him—$36—and handed it over.
As shadow assistant minister for charities, I acknowledge the outpouring of volunteer effort and donations and the hard work of nonprofits, including the Red Cross, Vinnie's, the RSPCA and WIRES. I know many of the organisations on the ground have emphasised the value of getting cash. It helps local businesses and avoids the problem of unwanted goods piling up in the community hall. To make an in-kind donation, a great channel is givit.org.au, which matches generous donors offering a laptop, washing machine or trampoline with a family that needs it. Many people near bushfire-prone areas have opened up their houses to victims. Last weekend we listed our spare bedroom on Airbnb OpenHomes and hosted a young family who had been evacuated from Narooma.
But individual action isn't enough. We need strong government action too. Australia is the developed economy most at risk from unchecked climate change. It is in our national interest to be a leader in global emissions reduction, not tugging at the shirts of the leaders, dragging them back.
Like Renee and Sam, I don't want my children to grow up in a world where their lives are limited because of a lack of action from those in power. We here in this chamber cannot allow the events of this summer to be forgotten in the chaos of another political year—one per cent of Australia's land area burnt, thousands of homes destroyed, 33 lives lost. As Labor leader Anthony Albanese has said, we honour those who have sacrificed their jobs, their health and, in some cases, their lives to fight the fires. We remember those who have lost their homes and their precious belongings. We share their frustration and anger at those who say it's business as usual. We must use this moment as a catalyst for change.
The summer is brutal and tragic for so many Australians. Thirty-three people, tragically, have lost their lives. More than 3,000 homes have been lost and there has been extensive property damage across numerous states. More than 11 million hectares of land has been burnt, and much livestock has been lost.
There are some images from recent months that will be forever etched in our memories—people being evacuated by HMAS Choules off the beaches of Mallacoota; people looking at the sky and seeing only black, even though it was the middle of the day; and then, across places like Melbourne, Sydney and here in Canberra, a constant daily haze of smoke, which also brought with it some challenges for those local communities.
But today we pay tribute to those people who have lost their lives and say to their families that we are thinking of them. In particular, we pay tribute to David Moresi, Geoffrey Keaton, Andrew O'Dwyer, Samuel McPaul, Bill Slade, Mat Kavanagh, Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick DeMorgan Jr, firefighters who lost their lives. They battled the blazes to save property and lives but tragically paid the highest price.
The Prime Minister recounted the funeral of Geoff Keaton, where his son, Harvey, only 19 months old, placed a mug on the coffin which said, 'Daddy, I love you to the moon and back.' That's how I speak to my son, who is only three years old. I tell him I love him to the moon and back. And now little Harvey is without a father. Geoff Keaton was from the Horsley Park brigade, and he perished with Andrew O'Dwyer, his good friend, whose daughter, Charlotte, almost two, will no longer have a father. This is the human tragedy of these devastating bushfires.
It has been a time when Australians have rallied together, and that is another story from these bushfires. Australians have given generously through the charities, thousands volunteered to be members of their local emergency services and we have all watched on as the ABC have done a wonderful job keeping us up to date with the latest developments. People have opened their homes to provide a bed to those who have lost their homes, and there has been much more support.
The role of the Defence Force has been remarkable. The Defence Force has not only given tangible assistance on the ground, doing what they do best—transporting people to safety, clearing roads, providing medical assistance and using their Chinooks and other helicopters to ferry emergency service personnel into the most difficult terrain; that's what they do best—but also provided a degree of assurance to the nation that help had arrived.
The Prime Minister's decision to call out the reservists with a compulsory call-out—the first time we have seen that—I think made a real difference on the ground. Not only has our operational response been unprecedented but our financial response has been unprecedented. We have established the $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund, led by the former Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin, which is an initial and additional contribution over and above normal payments and allowances that the Commonwealth pays after disasters through the states. We have made significant announcements already, such as $76 million for mental health support, because the scars of these fires will continue not just for days and weeks and months but for years and maybe forever. I was with Sussan Ley out at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to announce a $50 million package to support the wildlife, which has been so badly damaged. Many lost their habitat. Our native flora and fauna were badly injured.
Small businesses are going to get help to get back on their feet, with up to $50,000 grants to those businesses that have been damaged, and with up to $500,000 loans, interest free for the first two years and then with an interest rate of half the 10-year Commonwealth bond rate. That will provide these businesses with the working capital to get back on their feet. There are grants of up to $75,000 for primary industries, because, as my colleagues in the chamber know, those primary industries will need a lot of help getting back on their feet after having their crops burnt and their livestock destroyed.
We've also agreed with New South Wales and Victoria on a 50-50 split on the clean-up costs—costs that can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. By agreeing to a 50-50 split on the clean-up costs, with the Commonwealth and the states stepping in, it means there is going to be more money available to those people who are insured to rebuild. For those who are not insured, the Commonwealth and the states are obviously playing their parts. Family assistance is being provided to help families get their young kids back to school. We have provided individual grants of $1 million to local councils for initiatives in their area. We're providing financial counselling, which is going to be critical in supporting those businesses to get the proper structures and plans for their futures. We've given money directly to some of the charities so that they can provide immediate relief as well. So there are a large number of initiatives that have been undertaken by the Commonwealth. Earlier today I introduced into the House a piece of legislation which will provide tax exemption for the allowances that are paid, as well as for the DGR listing for a couple of important funds that are being established under the leadership of Governor-General Cosgrove and through the Business Council of Australia.
I want to commend the broader Australian community for their generosity and, as Treasurer, I will also appropriately note what corporate Australia has been doing, both in providing in-kind support—getting goods and services out to those communities straightaway—and in providing a strong degree of financial support. I would like to acknowledge the role of the Business Council.
Finally, we are living through a period of hotter, drier, longer summers. Climate change is real. We accept the science. We are doing our part as a country that signed up to the Paris Agreement to reduce our emissions. But there is also going to be a role for mitigation, adaptation and resilience to ensure that when these fires occur again—and they will, just like the floods and the cyclones will—we are able to minimise the loss of human life and the loss of property.
Members of this place, like all Australians, have a heavy heart about what has transpired in recent months. Whatever the political shenanigans have been over recent months around these bushfires, our focus has always been on delivering the support that is needed as fast as possible to those members of the Australian community who have been affected. These people will need our help—physical, emotional, financial and, in some cases, spiritual—and our support to help them get back on their feet. This is going to be a very long journey for them, and I know I speak for all members of this House, across every party political line, in saying that we will continue to provide support long into the future so that these communities can have a better tomorrow after what has been a very, very difficult and terrible time.
I also rise today to speak on the condolence motion relating to these horrific fires that have affected so many regions right across Australia. Over the past weeks and months, we've seen so much of our nation impacted by these horrific, devastating fires. Tragically, 33 people have lost their lives, thousands have lost their homes and tens of thousands of properties have been destroyed. Our thoughts of course are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives, including the nine firefighters who died whilst working to keep others safe. These losses are truly tragic and heartbreaking.
I'd like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have bravely fought and continue to fight these fires right across the country: thanks so much to them. I'd like to acknowledge the remarkable efforts of the Rural Fire Service and the emergency services personnel, including those from the police, fire, ambulance services and the SES. Thanks also to the ADF personnel for their great assistance. I'd especially like to thank the RFS—all those incredible volunteers who have worked tirelessly to protect not only their own communities but so many other communities that they travelled to to assist as well. Thanks to these brave firefighters who put their lives on the line and continue to put their lives on the line to save other people's lives and property during the devastating bushfires right across the nation.
I was speaking with many of the RFS members in my area, many of whom have travelled throughout the state and elsewhere to help out. Thanks to all of them for their incredible work and dedication. The RFS across the New South Wales North Coast and, indeed, across the country have done a remarkable job, and it's important that we have this condolence motion to give us a chance to also note their courage, bravery and public service. I'd also especially like to thank and acknowledge the outstanding leadership and commitment of the NSW RFS commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, and the incredible work that he has been doing over the past months.
I'd also like to note the massive community support for those who have suffered and are suffering—so many people offering assistance to those who've lost so much. This community spirit has indeed been overwhelming across the state, across the nation and even across the world, with some of the very generous donations that are coming in. It is truly inspirational to see the extent of the community spirit and of people coming together to help one another.
Across New South Wales more than five million hectares have burned during this unprecedented fire season. The latest figures from the NSW Rural Fire Service show that 2,400 homes have been destroyed, with 10,000 buildings impacted. In my electorate of Richmond there was minimal damage to property compared to many other areas, but across the entire New South Wales North Coast over 125,000 hectares were burnt and over 800 homes were either destroyed or damaged. Early in the bushfire season, in my electorate of Richmond, the fires around Mount Nardi posed a very serious threat and did cause quite extensive damage. I thank all those involved who worked very hard to contain that fire—for many reasons, but particularly because of a major communications tower that we have on Mount Nardi.
Soon after this time, the opposition leader visited the North Coast. He—along with myself, the member for Page and the state member for Lismore—met with local RFS volunteers at a briefing at their headquarters in Casino. We then went on to meet with locals at the Nimbin Showground evacuation centre and listened to the stories of those who'd been severely affected by the impact of these fires. We later went on to meet with the Nimbin CWA. Of course, our CWA are always there to assist in any emergencies. They do an incredible job, I know, throughout my region and right throughout the country.
The fires we've seen this summer are unprecedented and have had such an extreme and devastating impact, with that tragic loss of life and loss of property. They've also had an extreme impact upon our precious forests, our wildlife and their habitats. In my region, the New South Wales North Coast, rainforests have burned for the very first time. This is truly heartbreaking and something we never thought could happen—that these rainforests would burn. It is horrendous.
I'd also like to acknowledge the recent visit to my electorate by the federal shadow minister for local government, the member for Blaxland, along with the New South Wales state shadow minister for local government, Greg Warren. We met with representatives from Tweed, Byron and Ballina councils to discuss the fire recovery grants and also future planning. We also met with members of the Mullumbimby RFS and thanked them for their extraordinary commitment and courage during this time.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to commend those at ABC Radio who've worked so incredibly hard to provide vital information right around the nation. I'd particularly like to thank my local ABC, ABC North Coast, whose journalists do an outstanding job. They provided bushfire updates and warnings to those fire-affected communities. I know many of them worked very, very long hours to ensure this information was provided.
We do need to look at lessons that need to be learnt and how we plan for the future. We must all work together to achieve that. We need to find practical measures towards a new strategy for disaster preparedness and for our capacity and ability to respond, because this is no longer business as usual. The destruction we've seen throughout this bushfire season is unprecedented in our country's history. We as a nation, particularly in light of this devastation, now need to seriously be looking at working together to tackle climate change. This is vitally important. We know, from scientific experts, that, due to climate change, extreme weather events will only increase in severity and frequency. This just cannot be delayed any further. We have to have action. Without a doubt, 2019 was an extremely tough year, with the ongoing drought and the horrific and devastating fires. We're now seeing these extreme weather patterns continuing into 2020, and the concern does continue.
In conclusion, our nation owes a massive debt to those who continue to risk everything to fight these fires and, again, I commend all of our emergency services and all of those in the RFS and those volunteers and organisations who provided assistance, keeping people safe over this very long and fierce fire season. For many, the fires may no longer be an immediate threat, but there are many challenges ahead for them. As these people and their communities try to rebuild, we have to ensure that they're provided with ongoing support and investment to those affected areas. It will take considerable time, and they need to have ongoing support, since the devastation of these fires has impacted them and also their communities.
I want to say that in so many ways this has been a 'black summer' for Australians—the physical darkness, the scarring, the human tragedy, the loss of property and the loss of wildlife which has been raised by so many people and which tears at all of our hearts. All of these things come together. At the same time, it has been a summer of hope and resilience across Australia—the worst of nature and the best of humanity coming together. We know there are many causes: the traditional Australian landscape—that history is well-known—and the additional impact of climate change, which is real and significant and, as I have said for so many years, decades now, fundamentally important.
There is terrible work of some people—the last figure I saw was over 180 arrests for arson—and the challenges. We have to live up to the royal commission, in Victoria at least, standard of hazard reduction and fuel reduction. All of these things come together, but let there be no doubt as to the impact of additional factors such as climate change on the resilience and adaptation issues which we face as a nation as part of a globe.
But it's the human stories that are the real ones that I want to address here as being the most profound. When the Mallacoota evacuees came to Somerville, in my own electorate, I met many of them and was perhaps most struck by the three young women who had been asked by their parents to leave because of concerns about the impact of the air quality on them and their asthma: Tahnee, Emily and Darcy. Darcy's family had lost their home and this young woman, despite the trauma of that, was remarkably positive. She said, 'We will get through this.' Those are words which have stuck with me and which I have in her honour repeated in relation to coronavirus and the national challenge that we face on that. The words come from Darcy, but they speak for all of us. Although she had a tragedy, she was an inspiration. The girls talked about the work of the ADF and the volunteers and the extraordinary professionalism that we saw with the naval evacuation and the way in which the ADF gave them comfort: 'When we saw the defence forces and the Navy arrive, we felt safe.'
We know that our firefighters—and firefighters from the Mornington Peninsula and from around Australia—have descended on the different fire areas to put their lives forward and put themselves at risk and, tragically, we have lost nine firefighters. We have lost 33 Australians. We've lost over 3,000 homes, and many other people have suffered emotionally as well as physically. Against that background, we offer our tribute and our immense thanks.
Resources have been mobilised and, as part of that, I saw the arrivals not just at Mallacoota but also at HMAS Cerberus. One woman, who migrated to Australia some years ago and married an Australian, said to me that she was so proud to be here. She asked me to pass on her thanks to all those involved: the military; the volunteers; the Red Cross; again, the firefighters—the story everywhere is the firefighters, the firefighters, the firefighters, both professional and volunteer. On that front, one of the things we have been deeply aware of is the mental health impacts of bushfire and trauma on residents who have faced the fires and on first responders around the country. I met with the captain of the Balmoral Village RFS, Brendan O'Connor, and one of the members, Victoria Herrera. Victoria lost her own home in the fires. Brendan faced horrific fires and that RFS unit saved the town. They lost, I believe, approximately 20 homes; they saved more than a hundred. Victoria told a story of being on the radio with her daughter, who is also in the RFS, as is so often the case. She lost contact with her daughter when her daughter was in the midst of fighting the fires and sheltering in the RFS headquarters, because the town had been overwhelmed. The words Victoria heard were, 'Mum, it's filling; it's filling with smoke.' And then it went dead. Her daughter survived, but Victoria did not think so—she thought she had lost her daughter. She said, 'I'm not happy about losing my house, but I'm very happy about saving my daughter.' That puts some of this great tragedy into perspective.
In order to support people who have been on the front line, in order to support the families that have lost, we have worked very hard across the government. I've got to say that the PM said to me, 'We need to work on mental health.' In the earliest days of January, he said, 'We need you to work in the sector. There are so many in the sector who helped. We need you to work on getting us a mental health package.' After meeting Victoria and Brendan, we announced that day support for mental health. Yes, there's a large number, but that's not the thing that matters. It was the counselling support; it was the psychological support; it was the support for communities.
Only three days after that was announced I was in the Upper Murray, in Corryong, and I went out with Helen Haines, the member for Indi, and Bill Tilley, the state member, who was himself a CFA volunteer who was on the front line during many of these fires. He showed me the scars of the land and took me to the places where he and others had fought. He was pleased that they'd been able to help, but I saw the same tears from him for the houses they couldn't save and for the people across the border in New South Wales who had been lost fighting the fires. These scars will run deep for a long while.
What struck me in Corryong, when I spoke with Bill and Helen, when I spoke with Dominic Sandilands, who is the CEO of the Corryong Health, and with Sandi Grieve, who is the CEO of Walwa hospital, and with the mayors and CEOs of Alpine and Towong shires, was the extraordinary resilience. On the way from Wodonga, where we had been at the incident centre, to Corryong, there had been rain only a few days after the fires. Incredibly, in that short period of time there were green shoots along the side of the road—not enough for cattle yet, not enough for livestock, but enough to say that there are green shoots. We have many more fires still to battle but that physical resurrection, that physical recovery, is in many ways a symbol of the emotional heart of the nation. Our job is to support in every way and to thank all of those who have been there.
I saw the ADF working in the communities. I heard from the communities—people like Cam Jackson, who said the Corryong Man From Snowy River Bush Festival will go ahead in early April and they had put out a video urging everyone to join. That resilience of the land, that resilience of the towns of Corryong and so many others, is the Australian story writ large. It always has been, it is, and it always will be. For that I want to thank, honour and recognise all of those who have contributed in every way to what, whilst it has been the 'black summer' that Australia has faced, has also been a summer of hope.
This summer's bushfire crisis has touched everyone. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives saving others and protecting property. To those 33 people who bravely gave their life, and to the 3,000 people who have lost their homes, all of us are with you. In my electorate of Dobell, the communities of Kulnura, Charmhaven and Blue Haven were directly impacted. Strong RFS and emergency services leadership and brave volunteers saved most of the Central Coast from the devastation experienced in other regions.
I want to recognise our RFS director manager and Central Coast Australia Day Ambassador, Superintendent Viki Campbell, and her team at the Charmhaven fire control centre for their tireless efforts, which continue. RFS Central Coast contained the eastern edge of the Three Mile Fire before Christmas, protecting the coast. Since then, they have helped many other communities across New South Wales battling blazes in their own fire crisis. According to Viki: 'The New South Wales Rural Fire Service Central Coast district has deployed a total of 1,809 firefighters and 76 incident management personnel and specialists to date. Deployment locations include Glen Innes, Armidale, Tamworth, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Wauchope, Taree, Foster, Bulga, Lower Hunter, Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Warragamba, Nowra, Batemans Bay, Bega and Cooma.' Viki continues: 'We should focus on what an amazing, tireless effort our volunteer firefighters from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Central Coast district, with our partner fire and support agencies, have been doing for many months to protect the Central Coast and other communities across the state. Every single firefighter, incident management team member and other specialist has made a significant contribution to protecting life and property in some of the worst and most challenging fire conditions ever experienced in New South Wales.'
As I mentioned, the community of Kulnura was directly impacted. Captain Mark Towell of the Kulnura brigade said there was one day before Christmas when every single Central Coast brigade had a team fighting the Three Mile Fire, stopping it breaking its containment lines along George Downes Drive. Several strike teams from Fire and Rescue NSW, the Hunter and Northern Beaches joined these efforts, stopping the fire from spreading to Dooralong, Yarramalong and areas like Jilliby. We are so grateful.
Throughout this crisis, the selflessness and the generosity of Australians has shone through in all communities. I'd like to thank everyone in Gorokan who dug deep for this year's Santa visit, helping Charmhaven RFS help the Rainbow Flat RFS, who lost their station in the Hillview Fire last November. The people of Gorokan were very generous, as the Charmhaven RFS said, 'Generosity was definitely on the community's mind, with $6,500 being raised on the day.' The Charmhaven brigade was also on hand on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, when a terrifying fire bore down on parts of Charmhaven and Blue Haven in my electorate. A mighty effort resulted in the fire being contained to 335 hectares. Our community is also grateful that Fire and Rescue NSW Station 509 Wyoming escaped injury and made it home safely after their truck was overrun by a fire front south of Nowra.
To each of the RFS brigades in Dobell, thank you. Wamberal, Matcham-Holgate, Berkeley Vale, Tuggerah, Ourimbah, Wadalba, Warnervale, Charmhaven, Yarramalong, Kulnura, Dooralong, Wyong Operational Support Brigade, Wyong Rural Fire Catering Support Brigadeand Central Coast Communities Brigade. I want to mention Michael Kennedy, a local seafarer from Long Jetty, who was on board the MV Sycamore, which went to Mallacoota to assist in the rescue. A big shout out to the kids of Anniversary Place in Tuggerah, who were busy and used their pocket money to support the local RFS brigade in Tuggerah.
This summer has seen so many Australians give selflessly to help others—people like Dave of Wyoming. Dave was so compelled to help that he crowdfunded a van and travelled over 2,000 kilometres, taking supplies to Snowy Valley communities. Last weekend he travelled to South Arm, west of Nambucca Heads, to deliver food, water and tents to residents who can't use their tank water and don't have town water. Dave has heard and is concerned that this community doesn't have access to counselling services. I'd liked to finish on this point. I welcome the strong commitment to mental health and bushfire relief that the minister has just mentioned in the chamber. The mental health and wellbeing of all Australians impacted by this crisis must be a national priority. Communities, firefighters, first responders—there are long weeks, months and years ahead, and their welfare must be a priority.
On behalf of the electorate of Groom, I too wish to make a brief contribution to this condolence motion. Whilst not burning within the boundaries of the electorate of Groom, which I represent, our broader region has been impacted by bushfires in recent months, particularly in the areas of Ravensbourne, Pechey and Millmerran. Millmerran and Ravensbourne are in fact in the neighbouring electorate of Maranoa, but they do look towards my city of Toowoomba as their main regional centre. As I speak of these people I must acknowledge the efforts right across of this nation of the member for Maranoa, the minister for natural disasters and emergency management, David Littleproud. I know that he had the opportunity to visit the evacuation centre at Highfields in Groom to meet with displaced residents, emergency workers and volunteers. Of course, we must all recognise that much of the early events in this fire season were on the Granite Belt, in his own electorate.
I acknowledge all colleagues in this place whose communities have also been significantly affected. But above all I join with all speakers and all members of this House in extending our condolences to the families of those here and abroad who have lost their lives, as has been clearly and rightly acknowledged by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. We pray for those brave firefighters and their supporters who remain in the field.
In our broader region we saw property loss and damage and local economic impacts, but thankfully no loss of life as has unfortunately occurred elsewhere across the nation. The Toowoomba region mayor, Paul Antonio, whose own farming property was under threat such that he couldn't access it or his family there for a few days, has rightly talked of improved landscape management—fire hazard reduction, if you like—and other fire prevention activities in the future. I look forward to discussing those issues from a local perspective with local, state and other federal colleagues in the very near future.
Whilst fires still rage, unfortunately, across the nation, it is an ongoing and very stark reminder of the risk that so many of us could potentially face. My own suburb of Toowoomba was evacuated in the fire season of 2002 under the leadership of then Toowoomba city council mayor Dianne Thorley. Given we are Australia's second-biggest inland city on what has been a very dry escarpment indeed, the risk is as high for us as for anyone else. As local fire experts advise us, a bad fire in our region could easily end up being catastrophic. It is for this reason amongst many others that I support the Prime Minister's foreshadowed proposal for a royal commission into this 'black summer' of fires.
In my opinion, everything should be on the table when addressing the hotter, drier climatic conditions that have led to and increased the risk of fire activities and events such as we've seen, including fuel loads in state forests and other privately held land across our landscape and necessary cooperation between local, state and federal authorities. But, as my dear old dad reminded me just this past weekend, reading as he was about the Stretton 1939 royal commission into the Black Friday bushfires in Victoria, we must ensure we are cognisant of the outcomes and recommendations of myriad reviews over the last century, following those earlier bushfire events. We're experiencing them again now, we'll experience them in the future, and appropriate actions must be taken to mitigate and lessen those risks.
In closing, I acknowledge the efforts of all involved in the fight. Volunteers and supporters, those providing food and a bit of respite, for example, are right across our nation and in regional communities in particular. Some of those in our own community were recognised at a local level on Australia Day. In our case, in the electorate of Groom, our local Defence Force representatives from the Oakey Army Aviation Centre and the Borneo Barracks at Cabarlah have done their bit with logistical support for firefighters locally, and most recently as part of the national response.
In closing, I will share that my eldest daughter's partner is a chopper pilot and has been involved in firefighting for many months now across various states and various fires. He'd be very embarrassed if I just focused on him, so I will simply refer to him as an example of the tireless efforts of so many across our nation. They are, as many other members have reflected, working hour after hour, day after day, week after week—in fact, month after month—and in many cases they are doing that away from home, for weeks on end and with few and in some cases no breaks whatsoever. I acknowledge them, these professionals and volunteers, who continue to work shoulder to shoulder to protect our nation.
On behalf of the people of the electorate of Blair I want to express my deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers for the families and friends of those 33 people who have lost their lives, including the nine firefighters who died keeping individuals and the community safe. This is a national emergency, a tragedy unprecedented—fires across our country, starting in Queensland and New South Wales and going into parts of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. The devastation and the carnage inflicted in our country towns across this country and the loss of life, the damage to habitat and the destruction of native fauna, houses, buildings, sheds, sawmills, crops and livestock is unimaginable. With great sadness we reflect on the loss of lives and property, the damage to economies and communities, and the trauma inflicted on residents.
I want to convey my deepest condolences to the victims and all those who've been affected directly and indirectly. And while the attention's been turned, rightly, to some of the southern states, it's important to note and remember the impact of the fires in Queensland, my home state, including my electorate of Blair, which has been badly affected by the fires, particularly in the Somerset region—forests and bushlands around Jimna and Linville outside Esk, along the Brisbane Valley Highway and other major highways. Before I continue I want to convey my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the ADF and the personnel at the RAAF base at Amberley, who have gone way beyond that which they need to do. Every day, almost, in the Queensland Times there are stories of heroism, of help and hope given by those men and women from that place in my electorate, and I want to thank them deeply for what they've done. And my thanks go to our rural fire brigades, the SES, the fire and emergency services across Ipswich and the Somerset and our wonderful police service for their resilience, commitment and bravery. I deeply thank you.
If you drive up the Brisbane Valley Highway in my electorate, up through Wivenhoe Dam and the Somerset Dam not far from there, you'll see great swathes of area affected by bushfires. It's affected families and farms in those areas, and fauna of course—places like Jimna, up in the state forest, having to be evacuated, and places like Linville. Last year I said in this place—I think standing almost in this spot—that I'd received a petition from 250 people from the Linville area in relation to inadequate mobile phone coverage, which prompted me to write to the communications minister, and it got a lot of publicity in the media back in Queensland. We saw that because those country towns in my electorate, including the city of Ipswich, were cut off badly in the floods of 2011 and 2013 as well as being significantly impacted by the fires. I recall sitting and having morning tea with some friends in Esk—Lionel and Doreen Shaw—who were evacuated twice in recent days from Esk because of fires in and around that township. I had been up in Moore, where we did a fundraiser in relation to koala conservation and protection, hearing stories from people in those regions about what they experienced.
So in this country we need to do better. I want to thank the emergency services, who are forced to spend precious time going door to door to evacuate people in these regions in my electorate. I also want to thank very much the rural fire brigades in these country areas. I could mention almost every single one—rural fire brigades like Pine Mountain, Marburg, Fernvale, Kilcoy, Ripley Valley and so many others. They are volunteers who have gone out of their way to help people and who are stalwarts of the local community. They're businesspeople, they're teachers, they're public servants, they're people who've gone way beyond what they are asked to do. They're not there because they want to be; they're there because they feel compelled to be there by their love of their community.
One of the saddest things I have experienced recently was at the Australia Day ceremony and citizenship ceremony in the Somerset Civic Centre in Esk. I heard the story of a Somerset local woman, Glynis Limberg. She and her husband, Ray, had a small cattle farm near Esk which was impacted not once but twice by separate bushfires. Their home was fortunately spared, but they lost their sawmill, their tools and everything they needed for their small wood-turning business. They lost about 90 per cent of their stock, she told me, and their fencing. Glynis described driving away as one of the scariest moments of her life. I was able to help her, showing her through my iPhone what help she could get through Centrelink and the Department of Human Services. My heart went out to her, because she was there as a volunteer helping in one of the local community organisations, and here she was on Australia Day sitting down over a cup of tea and telling me about the issues that affected her. I want to thank St Vincent de Paul, who helped her out enormously.
I thank the Red Cross, the churches, the organisations, the cafes, the businesses who have held so many fundraisers in my area to help local people. I want to thank the Ipswich City Council and the Somerset Regional Council. Of course in Ipswich we had fires around Bundamba. My wife and I put up a local young woman who is a good friend of my eldest daughter, who had to evacuate from Bundamba on the night of the bushfires there. People were impacted. I was in a meeting at Providence, what you and I would describe as a progress association, one night when I received phone calls to say that there were fires lapping up to Ripley in the Ripley Valley. The fire and emergency services, Ripley Valley Rural Fire Brigade and other people stopped those fires at the very fences of those properties. This is a built-up area in Ipswich.
There are a number of people I want to mention, but particularly I want to mention Amy Hartness, who is Ipswich Citizen of the Year. You may not know who Amy is, but she was honoured at the North Ipswich Reserve. Amy followed her dad into the Rural Fire Service. Amy's a wonderful young woman. She's a tireless community volunteer with the Rural Fire Service. She was named Citizen of the Year at the Australia Day awards this year in Ipswich. She joined the Rural Fire Service in 2004 and the Ipswich City branch of the Queensland State Emergency Service in 2003. So this is a longstanding commitment. This is not something she's just done recently. Her astonishing commitment to the Ipswich community is reflected in 2,230 hours of voluntary work for the SES alone over the past 18 years. She was among many people from Ipswich who don't just work in their local community but who travel interstate to regional New South Wales to help other communities in areas where they didn't know that much and they weren't familiar with it. They were there to help them.
I'll be there at the Rotary Club of Ipswich North when we honour local police and fire and emergency services personnel at the officers of the year awards in May. We expect to be there at the civic centre this year once again. I thank the Rotary Club of Ipswich North for doing that every year.
I'll finish on this note: one of the most poignant experiences I had was meeting with a young woman called Phoenix Whitten, who is a member of the Marburg Rural Fire Brigade. I had a quick word with her at an Ipswich Chamber of Commerce function at Rosewood. I asked her to put her experiences down, and I feel compelled to read what Phoenix said to me about her experience in coping with firefighting. She wants to make it clear: this is her experience, not the experience in the Marburg Rural Fire Brigade. She has been fighting fires, and these are her words.
It's 530pm in the afternoon. Just got home from work. The fire pager goes off. Large grass fire some 1hr drive from home. Called to assist local brigade in that area. Turnout and assist. Get home 2am in the morning. Go back to work 7am in the morning.
2 days later … Traffic Crash. Two people trapped. Called to assist with extraction of patients. Attend and return home about Midnight. Back to work 7am …
These events are factual and … a regular occurrence in the life of a volunteer fire fighter. Our current fire season, to use the word that has been used many times is "unprecedented". It has pushed the Volunteer to the limits and beyond. But you know what, we keep standing up day after day. Why? To help and protect the community. The seasoned fire fighters in the service have not seen such volatile conditions before. The brigade has been to Mount Barney to Cunninghams Gap to Esk to Binna Burra to Bundaberg and everywhere in between and beyond. We have sent personnel interstate to the ACT and NSW and this still continues as we speak. Sent away from families for 5 days at a time. Going into territory that is not familiar. Working on vehicles that are different to their own. Not knowing what they are getting into. Dangerous conditions. 12 to 16 hour days. All this but satisfied in the knowledge we are doing it for someone we don't know. Just a fellow human being who needs our help. Emotions can be raw. From the elation of saving someone's property to the devastation of not being able to. Saving that little animal but watching another pass due to it's injuries. Standing in front of heat hot enough to melt the plastic on a truck. All these things happen and are very real.
How do we Cope? How do we deal with it?
What we do is a very dangerous business and can takes it's toll. It takes dedication and an ability to learn from those of us who have been in it a long time. A big part of the service is to offer a duty of care to everyone involved. The Rural fire fighter has around them a team of people that are like family. A shoulder to lean on. Sometimes cry on. Just to talk about what they have seen, done and achieved. Within their own personal family, they have to have that support for the "all hours of the night" call out. It isn't for everyone.
Family and Work come first. You need both to survive. Family is the most important thing. When I say family, I don't just mean your immediate family. The brigade is a family. Close knit and there for us when we need them.
How do we keep going……..we do it for the community. It's that simple.
Thank you, Phoenix. It's well said on behalf of all firefighters across this country and locally in my community. Thank you very much. Thank you to everyone.
The bushfire crisis is a national emergency that has resonated deep in the hearts of every Australian in their day-to-day lives. The bushfire season beginning in September has been unprecedented and struck tragedy in our homeland. Over the past four months we've witnessed the extent of the damages that the bushfires have inflicted upon our rural communities, wildlife and environment. Two thousand and nineteen has been cited as Australia's hottest and driest year, in which a fire of this magnitude has raged uncontrolled. The number of homes destroyed has soared into the thousands, the latest figure being over 2,400 in New South Wales alone. Thousands have faced the loss of not only their homes but also their livelihoods. Some have tragically lost their lives to the fires.
The bushfires have carried not only a social and human cost but also an environmental and economic cost. Upward of 10 million hectares have been scorched by the bushfires and left unrecognisable. The relentless burning of bushfires has released huge carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It has also left water undrinkable, with residents being told to boil their water—if it is in fact available. Millions of animals have been killed, injured or displaced by the fires. Businesses from farms to tourism have already taken a $1 billion hit. This disheartening situation calls for major reform in our policies in order to mitigate and prepare for natural disaster crises that have been spurred by climate change.
In the midst of this crisis Australians have come together, as we always do in times of crisis. The efforts that have been made by resilient Australian communities is something we can all take great pride in. People across the country have donated money—millions and millions of dollars—as well as time and effort to help those who are suffering. There are currently over 3,000 mentions of bushfire crowdfunding sites and GoFundMe. The generosity of Australians who share our nation as their home has been immeasurable and very noteworthy. There's Nick Kyrgios's charity. It was his initiative to get his fellow great players to play a charity event before the Australian Open, raising over $5 million. Local business champions like Leigh Smart—well, no-one is like Leigh Smart; he has been herculean—and local schools, like Meadowbank Public School, have given money and services generously. Even our local pharmaceutical industry has been helicoptering in medicines to make sure that nobody has gone without their treatments, even if the roads were cut.
The resilience and kindness that our communities have demonstrated is a silver lining in this catastrophic event. But the greatest thanks must go to the firefighters. They have stood resolutely in the face of these flames, in some devastating cases making the ultimate sacrifice while trying to save lives and property. There are stories of bravery coming from all corners of the country, and to thank people individually to the level they each deserve would take a very long time. I just want everyone to know the deep respect and thankfulness that we have for all fireys. There are so many kids now who, when they grow up, want to be firefighters.
The elephant in the room, of course, is climate change. Today is a day for commemoration, not politics, but one thing I would like to mention is the need to recognise that these fires are not a warning about climate change; they are climate change. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned that this is not normal. I fear this is actually the new normal. In focusing on saving this country for our grandchildren, we risk forgetting that we need to save it for our neighbours. Obviously we must mitigate future risks and change our ways, but we also must adapt, because these longer, hotter summers will be our new normal. If we are to be a mature nation, we must be proactive in adapting our local infrastructure and the way we live, lest we risk succumbing to this new normal.
Much of the language around fires relates to war. We have been at war. Fires leave casualties, weariness and destruction. Both fires and war leave suffering in their wake, and we fight them with a total community effort. We have fought with our allies, the Americans and our great friends the New Zealanders. As a war hero once said to me, 'It is a great tragedy of war that it's only in war that we find the heroes that live amongst us.'
People have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their dreams and, in some tragic cases, their lives. The news has brought tragic stories of those who have lost, but those pictures on the screen do not do justice to the true horror of being at a fire front—the jet-engine roar of a fire, the unimaginable heat and the fear of tiny embers and fluke winds. Those who have been through this terrifying ordeal will never forget and, while the road to recovery may be long, Australia's tragic history with fires shows us that the trees, houses and towns will regrow. It won't be easy, but Australia is there with you. We are more united as a people than ever.
On this sparsely populated continent, we have been reminded brutally that we are all connected. These connections run deep across Australia, and they are an acknowledgment that wherever we are this beautiful but harsh environment is both our biggest asset and our biggest threat. We are connected not just to the firefighters and professionals who have given so much of their time here in Australia but also to those who had never even been to Australia before and with an hour's notice jumped on planes to come here to help us. Unavoidable too is that the air we breathe, our impact on our environment and our climate are all connected. No nation, especially not Australia, can ever again pretend they're just one insignificantly small part of the international climate change challenge. Australia has been reminded once again that the lessons and connection of our First Australians to this land are essential to our collective survival.
Australia has responded as a family and grieved as a family. We grieved as we saw the image of toddler Harvey, dressed in a mini Rural Fire Service uniform, receive a medal honouring his dad. Harvey's dad, Geoffrey Keaton, was a volunteer firefighter. He was awarded a commendation for bravery and service, having died in the Green Wattle Creek fire. That was the first media report I read that made me cry about these bushfires. Like any parent, any Australian who has seen that picture of little Harvey, I think it will stay with me for life. It reminds us that the things that guide us in this place aren't just rational economic costings or where the next dollar will come from; it's the lessons, the tragedy and, hopefully, the hope of the national project we call Australia.
Thirty-three people have died in these bushfires. That's 33 people who won't return to family, friends or loved ones. On top of that, some 150,000 Australians every year volunteer to protect their communities from the threat of fire. The sacrifice of these brave Australians has saved thousands of properties and thousands of lives. For every one property lost in the fires, some six are saved by our firefighters. So, while it is a time for grieving, I think it is also a time to acknowledge what an amazing job has been done in the protection of life and the protection of Australian assets, and when we think about the estimated one billion animals that have died in this fire, we are again reminded just what an incredible job our firefighters and professionals have done.
Out of every tragedy, people are driven to action. In New South Wales alone, tens of thousands of new volunteers have signed up to become firefighters. That's more than six times the national average. This, Australia's largest national disaster, has tested us and we are reminded that the essence of being an Australian isn't a location, isn't an accent, isn't a love of beer, isn't being a bogan and isn't yelling a slogan. It's the ability to show compassion for one another, and to help out and do our bit. Every Australian has once again been reminded that we have so much more to do in mitigation and prevention.
In Western Australia, we saw the Stirling Ranges burn for a week. The Goldfields fires disconnected Western Australia from South Australia for 12 days. In our metropolitan area, communities in Rockingham, Lesmurdie, Kalamunda, Yanchep, Bullsbrook and others have had scares and sleepless nights, but we know that Western Australia has been lucky this bushfire season, so far. But, like many Western Australians, I look at the Darling Ranges which run along the back hills of the Perth metropolitan area. These hills are an ever visible presence across Perth. One day I fear the hills will face the same fate as we have seen in New South Wales in recent weeks; an out-of-control fire on the edge of the Perth metropolitan area is our shared nightmare. Hoping these things won't happen is not enough. We must continue to invest in our fire services and prevention measures so that the only red glow we see over the Darling Ranges is the rising of the sun every morning.
In my electorate of Perth, we saw the compassion of Australians for our brothers and sisters in the vast expanse that we refer to as 'the eastern states': kids running bake sales, completely unapologetic for their aggressive pricing strategies; small businesses donating their daily profits—Maylands Amcal Pharmacy and Picabar, a beloved bar in the heart of Perth, just to name two; and my and Jess's local pub, the Rosemount Hotel, will be hosting a 'with love from WA' concert, with a line up of more than 50 acts on Sunday 16 February, with all profits going towards bushfire recovery.
I also commend the Perth Mosque for the event they hosted in Hyde Park, with guest of honour Governor Kim Beazley, raising funds for bushfire recovery. Of course I also note that 555 Western Australians were sent to New South Wales and the great state of Queensland to support the fire services, including firefighters and logistic support.
I can't deny that the images seen on international television and the front pages of international newspapers have been of a devastated Australia. I was struck by the sincerity and extent of the condolence that were passed on to the Australian delegation at the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum which was hosted here in Canberra just a couple of weeks ago. It reminded me that we do need to send an international message that Australia will be, and eventually is, in recovery mode and that international visitors are still welcome—indeed international visitors are needed for our economy and for our communities. Send the message that Australia is back in business.
I encourage the government and the foreign minister to consider a tour of the diplomatic corps to communities as they recover and of course at the appropriate time. This will allow the nations of the world, through their high commissioners, ambassadors and consulates, to see that Australia is back in business. A model for this already exists. In 2011, following the Queensland floods, the Gillard Labor government did exactly this. I travelled with then Foreign Minister Rudd and representatives of some 80 countries as we shared the message that Queensland was back in business. It's now time to send the message that Australia is back in business.
I want to take the time to thank those countries who have offered aid—too many countries to list. I got an exhaustive list from the Parliamentary Library. Many, many countries offered assistance, but I do want to pass on thanks to the Canadians, Americans and New Zealanders who came here—many of whom are still here—to assist Australia and the 350 international personnel of international military support that have assisted Australia at this time.
We didn't want or need these fires. We didn't need them to remind us of the dangers of climate change. Again, the science tells us that the severity, frequency and intensity of such fires is one of the outcomes of global warming. Acting on climate change is in our national interest. I commend the comments from the member for Bennelong: he said that we can't say that this is a warning; this is a reality. Acting fast before other countries is how we build a safer Australia. Over the summer, those who deny climate change have become the quiet Australians, but people have been contacting me, and in the hundreds of emails I have received this summer about the fires there has been anger, anxiety, tension and a desire that we do more in this decade than we achieved in the last one.
Carol from Bassendean wrote:
The fires have to be the biggest wakeup call the country has ever had.
Laura from Bayswater in my electorate wrote:
My family do a lot to limit our carbon footprint: we commute by bike, we have solar panels on our roof … But without a sensible national policy, these personal actions, especially in light of the recent bushfires, seem insignificant.
Jane from East Perth wrote:
Deep and impactful policy that tackles climate change on multiple fronts is the only way we can avert further environmental degradation and extreme weather events.
Again, I will just add my condolences to everyone who has been impacted by this horrible disaster and say that it's been a privilege to be in this Chamber to hear so many beautiful speeches on both sides of the House as we collectively grieve as a parliament and as a nation. Thank you.
Both sides of the House recognise the total destruction of properties and lives, businesses, tourism and the economy, and that overall it's been a devastating six months for most of Australia. No state has actually not been involved in fires with the destruction of properties but, more importantly, lives have been lost. It's been a tragedy.
I'd like to thank the police—this is across the nation and my electorate, but it applies to everyone—the SES; Rural Fire Service; rural and urban brigades; charity clubs; the Salvos; the QCWA; Anglicare;—who are very important in helping to fix destruction on properties—the international firefighting services, as mentioned by the member for Perth, from New Zealand, Canada and America; the ADF; and of course the RSPCA. They've all played vital roles. People in the communities have also lent their hand wherever they could, not just in my electorate, as I said, but across the nation. A special thanks goes to our local mayor, Matt Burnett, in the Gladstone council. He was in constant contact with our office, providing updates on a regular basis about the fires at Lowmead, Mount Maria and Tableland Road.
In 1904, in her poem 'My Country', Dorothea Mackellar wrote 'I love a sunburnt country' and about 'droughts and flooding rains'. She didn't mention fire. But bushfires aren't uncommon. In my research I found a clipping off the front page of the Sun, which was printed on 19 January 1909. It tells the story of 62 people who died in bushfires in and around New South Wales. The temperature rose to 113.6 degrees Fahrenheit and, if my calculations are correct, that's about 45.33 degrees Centigrade. It just goes to show that these bushfires are not a new phenomena. But we must take a new approach to reducing the risk of these fires happening again.
There have been several royal commissions over the years in relation to the 1851 Black Thursday, the 1898 Red Tuesday and the 1939 Black Friday fires. More recently, there have been royal commissions into fires in recent decades. However, we have not listened to the suggested remedies for bushfires, and this must not happen again.
Bushfires will occur with the build up of leaves on the forest floors. It is heartbreaking, I know, to see the loss of animals and the loss of human lives. We've got to do something and do it now.
Thirty-three people, including nine firefighters, have lost their lives, over 3,000 homes have been destroyed, and 12 million acres have been burnt. In my state of Queensland, we have lost 6.6 million hectares of land. Forty-nine houses, 68 sheds and five commercial buildings were destroyed. There were 72 aircraft utilised. Some 35,000 QFES personnel have been working tirelessly to put these fires out. I speak to the people of Flynn, and they tell me about their resolution to have this scourge of bushfires stopped in its tracks. I hear many different views and ideas from people from all walks of life. More waterbombers and firefighters are not necessarily the total answer. Some ideas out there make a lot of sense. Man has managed land for thousands of years, and we should also listen to the traditional owners of this land. It would be a great start in reducing these fires.
The land must be kept in a manageable state. A friend of mine, Mick Duff, who is no longer with us, was the owner of DiDi station in the Proston area. He burnt his property every year. Fifty per cent of the property was burnt one year, and the other 50 per cent the next year. This way he controlled the fires on his large cattle-grazing property. We could investigate the introduction of a vehicle used in the USA, a five-axle heavy-offload vehicle with a capacity of 20,000 litres. That would be a help. It's an all-terrain truck. That should be investigated.
Providing road maintenance and cool burns earlier in the year, as we know, will better prevent the fire potential. Giving landholders the permission to clear more land around their homes and sheds would be a definite plus—so that there are bigger firebreaks in place, just as there are with powerlines. If you look at powerlines across Australia, they are all cleared on both sides of the powerline, and the maintenance is kept up on a regular basis. This should be adopted on main roads and fire protection roads where fire trucks can be used in these terrible conditions of fire. The fire trucks must be able get in and get out safely.
We need better breathing apparatus and equipment for our rural fire brigades. The days of having virtually a paper towel over your nose when you go in to fight a fire should be over. It's not good enough. Rural fire brigades should be equipped with the proper breathing apparatus that our urban firefighters have.
The responsibility for firefighting needs to be national, and state governments should work closely with the federal government in developing a plan to eradicate bushfires. The process for getting permits to burn must be quickened up before we change the conditions under which farmers and graziers can burn off when the conditions are right.
We don't want to see fires of this magnitude happen again, but they will happen if we don't take this action. Remember, fire is a great servant but a terrible master. There have been several royal commissions, but, as I said before, little action has been taken, resulting in nothing being done. This cannot happen again.
I rise today to speak on this condolence motion about the bushfire disaster that has gripped Australia over this summer. It's clear that the scale of this disaster is unprecedented, with fires starting in September and many still burning today, with more of the fire season remaining. Eleven million hectares have been burnt, so much of that in national park and wilderness areas. Around 3,000 homes have been lost, and 33 people have lost their lives.
So many Canberrans—in the hundreds—have written to me expressing such deep concern about this disaster. Canberra knows fire. The fear, the shock, the devastation and the loss of 18 January 2003 are marked deeply on the consciousness of Canberrans. I speak on behalf of my electorate to say to those who have lost their loved ones, who have lost their homes and their businesses, that the hearts of your nation's capital are with you. For those who have lost those they love, no words can do justice to what you have lost. To the families of the firefighters who were killed bravely defending communities, including the three American aerial firefighters so far from their homes, and particularly to the children who will grow up without their fathers: I want you to know that our nation will never forget their names, and you should know that they are heroes.
These bushfires have been truly terrifying—megafires creating their own weather systems, fire tornadoes, flame heights of 90 metres, darkness, noise and unbreathable air. For those of us lucky to have only seen this in videos, it is hard to fathom the incredible courage of our firefighters in taking that fight on, to protect life, property and our environment so selflessly. We can never thank you enough, but thank you.
There has been immense devastation in the region surrounding Canberra. Canberrans love the South Coast, a second home to many of us and a place where many Canberrans have deep connections and own property. It has been truly heartbreaking to see the suffering and destruction there this summer—scenes that can only be described as apocalyptic, which have been seen around the world—and to see people sheltering on beaches, with nowhere to turn but the sea. We stand with your communities—economies that have been decimated. A point of light were the call and answer videos on social media: the smooth sound of Batemans Bay's 'Canberra, come back' and Canberra's response, sungto Savage Garden's 'Truly Madly Deeply'—'I want to bay like this forever.' And we will be back. I know Canberrans will relish an additional reason to get to your beautiful towns, beaches and forests and book them out with an empty esky. Canberrans have been so keen to pitch in and help. I was really pleased on Saturday night to attend a trivia night organised by the Campbell's communities care group, who have conducted an amazing effort to raise around $50,000 for the devastated community of Nerrigundah, where two lives were lost and the majority of homes were destroyed.
I want to acknowledge my colleagues and friends who represent these neighbouring regions: the member for Eden-Monaro and the member for Gilmore. They have worked tirelessly for their communities through this period. They have spent each day in their communities, standing in solidarity, requesting practical help and solutions, travelling long distances and just being there with people. I also want to acknowledge the member for Macquarie, in the Blue Mountains, who I know has been attending daily fire briefings since October and who knows firsthand what it's like to lose your home to fire and to rebuild. Our leader, the member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, I know has spent each day in the community too this summer, calling for practical solutions to support our firefighters and people affected by fire.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 12:17 to 12:29
The ACT has been affected by fire this season too. On 22 January the Beard fire threatened the community of Oaks Estate and the Beard industrial estate within my electorate. The Oaks Estate community faces more challenges than most in Canberra, and it was terrifying to hear that afternoon, within about half an hour, the warnings escalate from the need to urgently evacuate to the need to take shelter in your home. Thankfully, and thanks to the brilliant efforts of our emergency services team, it was brought under control that evening. But the following day conditions flared again, and we saw it join with a second fire in Pialligo, which caused our airport to close and saw scenes of flames lapping at office blocks.
Then a fire began in the Orroral Valley in Namadgi. We've seen devastating damage to Namadgi, with around 50 per cent of that national park being burnt. This is a beautiful place and home to so many animals. The area burnt by this fire represents almost a quarter of the ACT. It has been estimated that over a billion animals overall have been killed in these fires, and I'm really proud that Labor has called for a full ecological audit into this. A positive was that the Yankee Hat rock paintings in Namadgi, which are Aboriginal art and a very significant site, have been protected.
These fires saw a state of emergency called for the ACT last weekend, and the communities of Tharwa and the southern suburbs of Canberra were facing a very tense and anxious wait, with extreme heat and wind conditions in the context of our tinder-dry and drought-stricken bush. Thankfully, this time the Canberra suburbs avoided fire, but sadly homes have been lost in our neighbouring rural communities over the border.
I want to say a special thank you to ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan, fire and rescue chief officer Mark Brown, the head of the Rural Fire Service, Joe Murphy, our Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Mick Gentleman, and everyone who worked in our emergency services through this period. Their tireless work helped us in Canberra to feel prepared and brought us calm. I also want to thank the ABC, whose role was incredibly important throughout this disaster. When the internet went down, people had their radio to let them know what was going on. It's vital that we resource our ABC properly to continue this and its many other important services.
The real crisis in Canberra over this summer, though, has been our air quality, and I think it's safe to say that this has been a health crisis in its own right. On 9 December our air quality was defined as hazardous for the first time, and since then we have had 34 hazardous days. To put that in context, the advice on a hazardous day is for people to avoid being outside and for anyone who might be particularly affected, such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women or people with health conditions, to relocate to a different place. There were many days over this period that Canberra actually had the worst air quality in the world. On 1 January, the air quality rating peaked at 5,185—200 is classified as hazardous.
Over this period, people stayed indoors and checked the air quality on our apps on an almost hourly basis. Business suffered greatly as people couldn't leave their homes. It became normal for people to be wearing masks, which shops sold out of. Our postal service stopped, flights were cancelled, and our shops and national institutions were closed. Childcare centres were closed. I had so many emails particularly from parents so deeply worried about the impact of this on their children and about how we might not see the impact of it for 20 to 30 years, which is what the research shows. I can relate to that, as the mother of an almost two-year-old, and also to the challenge of trying to find indoor activities to keep them amused over that period.
I had letters from pregnant women who were fearful that with every breath they were doing harm to their unborn child, powerless to do anything about it. Of course, there is a social justice element to this crisis, in that those with the lowest incomes are less able to adapt to it. I had many emails from people who talked about the practicalities of living with a disability on a pension, unable to air-condition their home, with the heat exacerbating their disability, unable to afford masks and unable to afford air purifiers, which became another common thing that many Canberrans were buying this summer. I will talk a lot more about these issues in the parliament.
The people in my electorate and around the country are afraid, and they're crying out for leadership. We are already experiencing the dangerous impacts of climate change. We absolutely need to adapt to deal with this and be better prepared for situations like this next time. But I do not accept that this will be the new normal. We cannot accept that. My electorate have lived through this situation this summer, and I will make their voices heard in this place. They're also asking for this to be beyond politics. This is not about beliefs; it is about science. It is about our future. I join others on my side of the chamber who have been reaching out for bipartisan action on this from government. We desperately need action on climate change now. If there is one positive to come out of the crisis that Australia has lived through this summer, it is that it is a wake-up call. It is time to act. This summer is not over yet. I hope that we can avoid further losses, but we must never forget this summer.
I pass on my condolences to the member for Canberra and to her electorate for what they've experienced and also all the other members of parliament whose electorates have been heavily affected, including the member for Gippsland and the member for Eden-Monaro, who gave a very touching speech.
I still recall, when I was 16 years of age, leaving Ferntree Gully Technical School on the bus and looking over to see a plume of smoke coming from Belgrave South. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, other fires were going on in the Cockatoo area. That was nearly 37 years ago. Tragically, in La Trobe in Upper Beaconsfield, 12 CFA volunteers lost their lives in two trucks when they were caught in the fire. Townships such as Belgrave South—which is no longer in my electorate, but Cockatoo, where they have an amazing memorial, is—were absolutely devastated. The reality is, even though it's 37 years on, those who were impacted by the Ash Wednesday bushfires will never forget. The locals are still haunted by what they experienced. In Cockatoo, they sheltered in a kindergarten where they survived a night of hell.
Today I speak with a heavy heart as a result of what I have witnessed over the summer—initially, fires in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania, and obviously those that have occurred in Victoria. Speaking as the assistant minister for multicultural affairs, I thank the multicultural community for what they have done. We have seen Australians unite together in this awful situation where, tragically, good people—CFA volunteers and firefighters and the New South Wales rural firefighters—lost their lives defending us. The sad reality is that some of the children—one of the mothers is expecting in May—will never know how brave their firefighter family members were. I'd also like to acknowledge the devastation on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. These bushfires are unprecedented. As well prepared as our firefighters may be, they can't manage and fight the fires which have swept across Australia's south and east and parts of Western Australia, burning 11 million hectares of land.
Sadly, millions of wildlife have been killed. They're saying that the figure could be up to one billion. The koalas can only escape by going up trees. There has been devastation when it comes to the superb lyrebird. In some areas up to 50 per cent have been killed.
Then there are the farmers who have lost all of their stock and the people who have lost their livelihood. The Australian government—and I know the opposition—feel for the people who faced the brunt of the fires. Our thoughts will always be with them. As people who have experienced fires before have told me, they don't just need support in the three months, six months or year following; it is in the years to come. Sadly, for those who have lost a loved one, every Christmas and birthday is not a celebration of hope; it's a memory of the loved one they have lost, which is always very sad.
I'd like to speak about the multicultural community. Right across the country this is one thing that has absolutely inspired me. Those communities are not expecting from outback Australia a member of the Sikh community with a turban to give them food. Some of the ladies from the Muslim community travelled for hours to feed firefighters and help those people. It has been absolutely incredible. Every multicultural community I've come across has donated in some way, even some of the less established communities. The South Sudanese community in Cardinia raised a couple of thousand dollars to support them. I want to name the groups I've worked closely with.
The hardest thing to do was control them in the sense of not letting them go into the fire areas. All they wanted to do was provide food and water bottles. At the time of the Gippsland fires, going down to Mallacoota was rather dangerous so they ventured to Bairnsdale. I would like to thank Karthik Arasu and Krishna Ganugapati. A massive campaign was organised to donate food, drinks and water to those impacted. They went to Bairnsdale. Brijal Parihk; his wife, Diwani Parihk; Omar Salim; Jagtar Singh; Chiran Singh Sodhi; Tariq Butt; Fakhar Anwar; and Reehan Hameed in particular did amazing work. Brijal put out an SOS and people came to his place. In a very short time everyone was donating food and water, and then they ventured down to Bairnsdale.
Malimage Suganda Fernando made a very substantial contribution to the Healesville Sanctuary. That was something I got behind. I'm very passionate about wildlife. I've worked with Zoos Victoria. They ran a campaign with the multicultural community to support wildlife. They went on the ground at the Healesville Sanctuary. They had three triage areas set up. They were sending their vets to do this incredible work. When I visited Healesville they already had I think 15 koalas going through. People would not realise—I didn't—even the simple task of changing the bandages on a koala takes three staff. It has to go under anaesthetic. It was incredible to see their dedication and how hard they worked.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 12:44 to 12: 55
I would like to pass my thanks to the Gurudwara Baba Budha Sahib Ji in Pakenham. It was an incredible effort. One night they cooked food and took it down to Bairnsdale and supplied food to the CFA volunteers. It was also great to have Defence personnel up there. The Keysborough Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple community, in particular Gaya Dissanayake, Noushad Usoof, Arjuna, and Duasha Perera, incredibly donated 35,000 bottles of water that they took down to Bairnsdale. The Australian International Islamic College: I was with the member for Moncrieff, Angie Bell, and it is incredible that the young students raised $1,000 for the bushfire appeal. This is actually on the Gold Coast. Maulana Al-Shaikh Afeefudeen Al-Jailani donated financially to Healesville Sanctuary. I thank him very much. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Victoria branch at Berwick donated over $10,000. They are only a small community. A big thank you to Sikh Volunteers Australia. We all have seen the Sikhs go out on social media. They are just everywhere and they have been absolutely incredible. The Dandenong Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple and its congregation took truckloads of food, water, dry rations and clothing. I thank their chief priest, Akarawita Sangananda Thero, Suganda Fernando, Don Thusitha, Kumari Kulatunga, Priyantha Balasooriya Chalindra, Sachini and the whole Dandenong Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple and all the Sri Lankan community. Sri Durga Arts Cultural Education Centre—Kulwant Rai Joshi and his team—tirelessly raised funds and also made a contribution to the Healesville Sanctuary. Bandu Dissanayake from the Sri Lankan Society of Australia, together with 20 other associations, got together to put their hands in their pockets to help out. I was at their event on Saturday night. Susan Gin and the team at EWC community, organisation were involved in raising thousands of dollars for bushfire assistance. There was Malik Zaveer and the Lions Club of Lyndhurst and District, and the United Sri Lankan Muslim Association of Australia.
I did an event with Minister Alan Tudge with the multicultural community. We had the Chinese, the Israelis, the Filipinos. It was just incredible—all these communities donating their time and efforts. As I said to them, in a time of need it's everyone helping out. So on behalf of the whole government and all the members of parliament, I thank them very much.
In conclusion, I want to thank all the CFAs in my electorate of La Trobe. On Australia Day we had awards for them. Obviously, a lot were out fighting fires. There has been this incredible turnover of volunteers. I just can't thank them enough. As I said before, we haven't got the fires in La Trobe. In fact we have been pouring out wheelbarrow loads of water, which is the bizarre thing, because La Trobe, where it covers the Dandenong Ranges, is probably the most fire-prone area of Australia, yet we haven't got fires there—we have had rain pretty much each week. I know that it is raining in Melbourne this week, where we reside. I'd like to mention Berwick Fire Station, Narre Warren Fire Station, Narre Warren North Fire Station, Clyde CFA, Officer CFA, Upper Beaconsfield CFA, Beaconsfield CFA, Pakenham Fire Station, Toomuc CFA, Pakenham junior CFA, Menzies Creek Rural Fire Brigade, Emerald CFA, Clematis CFA, Gembrook CFA, Cockatoo CFA, Nar Nar Goon Fire Brigade, Tynong Fire Brigade and Koo Wee Rup CFA. Again, I thank all of those people involved in the CFA who may not be fighting the fires but are in those important roles in the feeding stations, going out and giving incredible support. On behalf of my electorate of La Trobe, we very much sympathise with communities right across the country that have been devastated by fire.
On behalf of the people of Kingsford Smith, I pay tribute to and honour those Australians who lost their lives as firefighters and as victims of Australia's devastating bushfires. We offer sincere commiserations to those families who have lost loved ones as a result of this unprecedented 'black summer'. I offer wholehearted support to those communities throughout the country that are being affected by the devastation, and a special tribute to those whose lives were taken as they battled the fires—the volunteers who unfortunately paid the ultimate price for volunteering their time to save the property and lives of others. These are heroes. They represent the greatest of humanity. Many of the families of those who unfortunately lost their lives as firefighters were in the gallery yesterday in the main chamber and it struck me that many of them were young families—children who will never know their father but will forever know that their dad was a hero. To them we pay such respect and tribute today.
I also want to thank those who volunteered to help others. It was great to see Shane Fitzsimmons, the head of the Rural Fire Service, in the audience yesterday. I want to thank each and every volunteer firefighter, the professional firefighters, the surf lifesavers, the welfare groups, the churches, the multicultural groups and, indeed, everyday Australians who volunteered their time to help others during this catastrophe. I wish to thank you. You represent the best of our country and the great Australian notion of having a go. Your efforts made us all proud as Australians.
Our thoughts are with all of those Australian businesses, particularly the small businesses, that are affected by the fires. We urge the government to act quickly to provide support to ensure that businesses can get back on their feet as quickly as possible. Indeed, I join with my colleagues in encouraging other Australians to holiday in, and visit, the affected areas and, importantly, to buy local in order to support the affected communities.
I wish to thank all Australians who donated to the many bushfire appeals throughout the country. Your generosity is inspiring. In our community, Kingsford Smith, a number of bushfire appeals were put on by organisations. The Matraville RSL Club held one a few weeks ago. The community of Maroubra came together two weeks ago at the Maroubra Bowling Club to support a bushfire appeal. I congratulate all of the organisers and those who performed at that particular benefit concert. I will be attending another benefit night at the Hillsdale Bowling Club this Saturday evening. Particularly, special thanks and mention go to Brooke McHatton and her husband, Brenton, or BJ. Early in January, Brooke brought our community together at the Coogee Beach Club and, over a weekend, encouraged locals to turn up to donate food, water, goods and funds. The response was simply overwhelming. The community came together to donate truckloads of material. I thank those who drove that material down to the South Coast to support those communities. So, I pay special tribute to Brooke and BJ and to Andrew Stewart, Leigh Webster, Derek Milton Paul, Robyn Crawford, Ben Lawson, Turgay Yusuf, Sam Rutherford, Luke Rutherford and David Brownhill, who were all instrumental in that benefit being successful and those truckloads of goods being donated and transported to the South Coast.
Unfortunately, this is an unprecedented catastrophe, and an ecological catastrophe: 33 people have been killed and 11 million hectares of bushland has been burnt out. It is estimated that over a billion animals have been killed as a result of the fires. Six thousand buildings, including 2,800 homes, have been destroyed, and we've all experienced the smoke haze in numerous cities throughout Australia over the course of this particular inferno.
Climate scientists have been warning for over a decade that this would happen. They've been saying, for over 10 years now, that the effect of climate change is going to be that we will get extended droughts that will fuel increases in loads for bushfires, we will get a longer bushfire season and we will get more severe bushfires. In fact, the Garnaut report, that was issued almost a decade ago, exactly pinpointed these symptoms and said that they would begin to occur in extreme situations from 2020 onwards. And that's exactly what's happened. But the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have ignored these climate scientists' pleas for stronger action to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. They've ignored the pleas for a national approach to climate change management and to the bushfires and cyclones that are going to become ever more frequent in Australia in coming years.
The time has come. Australians now understand the severity of the impacts of climate change. The time has come for this government to accept the science, to accept the advice of those experts and to accept that this government is not doing enough to tackle climate change and to reduce carbon emissions. I encourage the government to work cooperatively with the opposition and other parties in the parliament to reflect the views of the Australian community, who want stronger action on climate change. The time has come for the government to stop using climate change action and policy as an issue that is campaigned on and used for political advantage against the opposition and against other parties. The Australian people are sick and tired of it. They want our political leaders to unite around this issue, to bring Australians together and to develop policies that reflect stronger action on climate change, so that Australia is doing its bit. At the moment, we're not doing our bit, internationally, to reduce emissions. They want us to unite around this common purpose for stronger action on climate change, because we are all in this together.
Lives have been lost across the country, as the previous speaker has said. Some 11 million hectares have been destroyed by fire. Individuals have lost businesses and livelihoods. They have lost all of their property, all of their holdings, many of their stock—many animals across the country have been affected or killed. There is no doubt that this has been a tragic and difficult fire season, and it is not finished yet.
I know my colleagues have been far more affected than my electorate. We have had some fires, one in particular at the little beachside community of Woodgate. There but for the grace of God—and the Rural Fire Service—go I. They have done a fantastic job right across this nation, and I can only thank them. What more can we do but put forward our words of thanks for the people who volunteer their time, put forward themselves for risk, and fight these fires which are very difficult to fight.
But what we must also look forward to are the challenges of making change. Because fundamentally—and this has been brought to my office now for many years—we must in this country allow landowners to manage their land, not continue to override their needs with bureaucracy. The idea in Queensland that you can only clear a firebreak from your property or structure, of just 20 metres, without a development approval—this is absolutely ridiculous. These are individuals who have their own staff, massive landholdings and heaps of equipment, and they have always managed their own land. This has been a complaint that I have continued to hear not only from them but from my colleagues in terribly affected areas.
The national broadcaster reported on 8 January 2020 that in Queensland, in terms of the fire hazard reduction program, in 2016 the state had planned 242 burns and completed 122. In 2017 they'd planned 225 burns and completed 131. In 2018, 177 were planned and 69 completed, and in 2019, 168 were planned and 117 burns were completed. Now, anyone who is involved with land management or fire knows that you cannot always get the perfect conditions on the day that you choose. The weather makes up its own mind. But what we have heard consistently over and over and over from our firefighters, from our volunteers and from our landowners is: give us back control of how we manage our land. I've got some examples here that I want to put on the record.
As I said, in the township of Woodgate the fire closed the road for approximately two days. I went down and spoke to the individuals who were parked on the side of the road who were separated from their loved ones, and these were challenging circumstances—a father whose wife was still at Woodgate and couldn't get out; individuals who had elderly parents on one side of the fire break and they were on the other. These were very, very difficult times, and the Woodgate Rural Fire Brigade were single-handedly awarded the volunteer organisation of the year by the Woodgate community on Australia Day. Can I say, there are no more deserving recipients. Many of them are retired, and they spent literally days fighting this fire.
I want to go to another report by the national broadcaster where they interviewed volunteer firefighter and farmer Roger Draper. Roger said that the new regulations in Queensland had had a major impact on how they tackled the Walkers Point blaze. Walkers Point is a small community at Woodgate—it is in the same location and was the same fire. He said:
All the new rules mean the firies have to sit on the break and wait for the main front to come to them before they can put it out.
Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, I'm not sure what your experience is in fighting fires, but when there's a 40-kilometre-per-hour wind up the backside of these things and it's 60-, 80- or 100-feet high, that is incredibly risky and incredibly brave.
In the remainder of the report, Mr Draper said:
… that fire eventually jumped into the council area, and because we could not back-burn that Wednesday evening it created another two days of extra work to stop the fire on the western end.
We have to give local control back to the individuals who are on the ground. These are fast-moving situations. Certainly there is always a need for oversight, but as a former canefarmer—and many canefarmers used to burn an awful lot of their product every single year—I can say that there are particular periods when you get a small gap to do something substantial. These individuals waited 2½ hours for an approval to back-burn to defend the Woodgate community. This fire would have basically been controlled if they were allowed—and in their view they were stopped from doing just that.
My community has been very fortunate to date. I'm advised it's raining there right now, and I hope that continues. But we live in a nation of extremes. This has been a tragic fire season, and we need to put forward practical responses that actually make a difference. Regardless of what level of government is responsible, we need to get our heads down, get our heads together and deliver for the people we represent, because they are the ones who lose their lives and their properties, and there are all those other issues associated with natural disasters. Thank you.
Yesterday and today we have heard in this place some very harrowing stories, and no doubt we'll continue to hear stories of loss and sadness for some time to come. We have also heard stories of incredible courage, resilience and humour in the face of the extraordinary fires that have caused such destruction along the east coast of this nation from Queensland to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and of course South Australia. I, for one, will never forget the very moving speech yesterday by the member for Eden-Monaro, who spoke so directly from his heart, as of course this summer he has been at the very heart of this unbelievable catastrophe which has made our country quite unrecognisable.
We've all seen the images of a charred and blasted Kangaroo Island in South Australia—wildlife and livestock burnt and confused, wandering aimlessly around the bushland—and those unforgettable warlike images of thousands of Australians huddled on the beaches at Mallacoota and Eden as the fire crept towards them from the dunes. These images have been seen around the world. They are unforgettable and of course they will stay with us forever. They show the world the human and ecological catastrophe of the Australian bushfires of the summer of 2019-20.
I'd like to take the opportunity in this condolence motion to pay tribute to the families of firefighters Geoffrey Keaton, Andrew O'Dwyer and Samuel McPaul—brave members of the NSW RFS who died in the line of duty this summer. To the families of Mat Kavanagh, Bill Slade, members of the Forest Fire Management Victoria team, I am so very sorry for the loss you have suffered. These men gave their lives serving their communities and their country under extreme, terrible and unimaginable conditions. I would also like to acknowledge the loss of Dick and Clayton Lang, two men of Kangaroo Island, who gave so much to their community. Of course, on top of this, there's the three US servicemen who died in the heartbreaking Hercules crash: Captain Ian McBeth of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A DeMorgan Jr of Navarre, Florida. These American men died helping the people of Australia. We are forever in the debt of the families of these brave men. In all, 33 lives have been lost in these fires. To all of the families and friends, I cannot imagine your grief, but in this place I acknowledge it, knowing our words are little consolation for the enormous loss you have suffered and will continue to suffer for the rest of your lives.
All of Australia is grateful for the firefighters coming to our aid in our time of need from countries as far afield as France, the US and Canada. All of us here and all of us around the country have grieved and are deeply saddened for the loss of life, for the thousands of homes and livelihoods destroyed and for the many millions of hectares of beautiful bushland of this country that is now burnt to the ground and even beneath the ground.
Western Australia has not been immune from these disastrous fire conditions, although it has been far more fortunate this summer compared to our friends here on the east coast. Nonetheless, throughout the summer there have been blazes ripping through the south-west in Stirling Range, in Collie and in my own electorate of Brand, especially in areas of Baldivis and Kwinana, and in the lovely bushland settings like the Spectacles.
I'd like to pay tribute to the many Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services volunteer brigades who have given up their time to ensure the safety of our communities this summer. A number of volunteers from the Rockingham Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service have deployed to the east coast disaster zone since October last year. I thank the Secret Harbour Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services and the Karnup Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services volunteers who recently travelled out to regional towns, such as Collie, to assist local brigades there. The Baldivis Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services have had a very busy few months battling a number of blazes in both rural and urban Baldivis. The Kwinana South Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, ably led by Brigade Captain Eddie Mouna, has been assisting locally as well as regionally out as far as Norseman in the Goldfields. Eddie has rightly and publicly called for more members of the public to stand up in their communities and volunteer their time and effort to their local fire service. His call to action should not be ignored. I implore my community to join with Eddie and his comrades in the bushfire brigades to help in any way you can.
I'd also like to thank Kwinana Volunteer Fire and Rescue and, of course, the wonderful Mandogalup Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade. As well as fighting fires, they've been fundraising for their sisters and brothers on the east coast, recently raising over $10,000 at the Perth Motorplex in Kwinana for families who have lost loved ones fighting these fires.
I'd also like to thank the cities of Rockingham and Kwinana for keeping people informed while these scrub fires and semi-rural fires have taken off in our electorate. They've supported residents affected by the fires, especially the City of Rockingham, having set up an evacuation centre at the Mike Barnett Sports Complex. I commend the mayor, Barry Sammels, and his team for all the work they've done to help local residents.
I would especially like to commend the WA emergency services minister, Francis Logan, for his cautious and sensible approach to the fire emergency that closed the vast Eyre Highway near the Goldfields in the town of Norseman for 12 days. That fire destroyed more than 500,000 hectares of land. For those unaware, the Eyre Highway is Western Australia's only sealed road into South Australia, and one of only three land based links from Western Australia to the east coast.
It is at times like this, when highway No. 1 is cut off and it becomes impossible to cross the Nullarbor, that we become so very aware of the vastness of the continent, how distant Perth is from here in Canberra and how easily we can become isolated. The WA economy is reliant on Eyre Highway and the access it provides. The impact on the state is significant when these routes are blocked, preventing our truckies from getting their goods from the east and travelling across to us.
Hundreds of Australian travellers make the trek across the Nullarbor Plain and they were stand stranded in towns like Ceduna and Norseman. Some were stranded in the roadhouses of Caiguna, Cocklebiddy and Madura, but they made do, in good humour, playing car park cricket to pass the time. Very importantly, towards the end of the closure of the highway a helicopter was able to drop in some much-needed toilet paper to the roadhouses, so I congratulate Emergency Services on dealing with a very real need for those stranded.
While those people were passing the time patiently, dozens of firefighting teams battled the blaze and won, with the highway opening on 10 January, luckily with no loss of life. That was because we learned from past mistakes, and at this time we remembered the dark tragedy of the 2007 Boorabbin bushfires, when three truck drivers died in a firestorm as they drove along the Great Eastern Highway.
I want to thank all our emergency services personnel, particularly the WA DFES Commissioner, Darren Klemm, who has been at the forefront of the efforts with the Norseman fire and, of course, all around the state. I also pay tribute to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, who has been the public face of the firefighting community and their efforts around the country. I thank him for his commitment to public service at this time.
There have been a few good stories in this disaster. One that really captures my imagination is the effort of the National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighters and the specialist firefighters of the New South Wales RFS who worked together to save the last remaining grove of 200 Wollemi pines, which are an incredible living monument to the history of our land but also the world. The Wollemi pines survived the dinosaurs, but there was every chance they would not survive this summer, so I'm grateful for those who put in that effort to save a remarkable part of our ecology.
Lastly I want to thank the ABC, whose exceptional coverage during and after the fires has brought a sensitive and compassionate insight into the lives of people affected by this catastrophe. Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the critical role the ABC plays as the emergency broadcaster during times of disaster, especially in bushfires. People trust the ABC. They believe the alerts. They listen and they listen carefully. As such, it is an irreplaceable resource for emergency and disaster management in this country. It deserves the funding it gets, and it particularly needs adequate funding to serve the rural, regional and urban communities affected by fire so they can know exactly what is happening, when they need to go and when they need to be aware and can do their best to be safe in these times of tragedy. I commend the motion that was put to the House yesterday and support it wholeheartedly. I urge all Australians to stay safe, be alert, be aware, be fire ready and be prepared to act when you are required to over the course of the remaining summer and bushfire season.
Each and every summer, residents in the Mitcham Hills area of my electorate are on high alert for bushfires, and none more so than our Sturt CFS Group volunteers. The reason people love living in areas like Belair, Blackwood, Glenalta, Bellevue Heights, Eden Hills and Lynton is the beautiful bushland, which is the same reason they need to be on high alert for bushfires each and every summer. We are fortunate to have not been directly affected by the terrible fires that have devastated the Adelaide Hills, Kangaroo Island, the south-east and Yorke Peninsula this year and so many other parts of Australia over recent months. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered great tragedies, with 33 lives lost, including those of six volunteer firefighters; homes and businesses destroyed; and wildlife and native bushland ravaged.
In these unprecedented and tragic bushfires, nature has shown us its very worst, but Australians have shown us their very best. Some of these Australians include my local Country Fire Service volunteers, and I wish to acknowledge and commend all the members of the Sturt group for their contributions. The group, led by Group Officer Dale Thompson and Deputy Group Captains David Sims and Chris Smith, have coordinated our local volunteers to support firefighting efforts across South Australia and interstate. Many volunteers from the Sturt group battled fires in New South Wales and on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia late last year, and I reported their significant efforts to the House just before Christmas. Since then, the Sturt CFS Group volunteers have not slowed down. The Blackwood brigade, led by Captain Jamie Emsweiler; the Belair brigade, led by Captain Mark Brooks; the Eden Hills brigade, led by Captain Ben Gloyn; the Coromandel Valley brigade, led by Captain Rowan Clark; and the Cherry Gardens brigade, led by Captain Lawrie Lingood, have assisted to fight and contain fires interstate and in South Australia. During the Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide hills, the Sturt CFS brigade provided eight full rotations of strike teams, which translated to 272 personnel, five appliances, one bulk water carrier and command vehicles. The Sturt CFS Group also sent 84 personnel to Kangaroo Island, as well as three appliances and a specialist compressed air foam system. I would like to commend the entire Sturt CFS Group for their bravery, selflessness and sacrifice. Their tireless work has saved countless lives, animals and bushland.
Elsewhere, many local Defence Force reservists, including those based at the Warradale Barracks in our electorate, answered the call to assist. We know this is a very unusual deployment for them and they have faced very difficult conditions. I want to acknowledge their incredible efforts and those of our full-time Defence Force personnel supporting communities in the most desperate of need. I also want to acknowledge the businesses and local community groups in Boothby who have assisted. The Brighton Walk to Support raised funds for the Australian Red Cross disaster relief and recovery fund. Traders on Jetty Road Brighton came together to support the walk and fundraising efforts by donating a portion of the entire day's trade to the bushfire effort. Together they raised $3,150 on the day and $7,325 when combined with online donations.
At the other end of the electorate, the Blackwood Football Club, thanks to Franca Williams, President Kris Winchester and members, held a bushfire fundraiser for those affected by the Adelaide Hills fires, raising an incredible $23,000. And it doesn't end there. A bushfire relief quiz night fundraiser organised by Gail Miller will be held at the Belair Community Centre on 22 February, with 100 per cent of the funds raised going directly to support those impacted by the Kangaroo Island and Adelaide Hills fires. The Boothby community has generously assisted their fellow South Australians in their time of need. Finally, I want to acknowledge my colleagues the members for Mayo, Barker and Grey and their staff and all the other colleagues around Australia who have worked so hard to support their communities through these terrible fires.
All Australians can support the South Australian recovery effort through SA Tourism's #BookThemOut campaign, by booking out accommodation, restaurants and other businesses impacted by the fires. If you've been thinking about visiting the hills or KI, there is no better time to do so. Even if you weren't thinking about visiting these regions, there is still time to do so. If you can't visit, then please get online and buy some local produce instead.
In closing, I want to again commend the outstanding work of our first responders, Defence reservists, Defence personnel and of course our volunteer firefighters for their tireless and invaluable efforts, and I send my thoughts and prayers to all communities affected by these terrible fires across Australia.
I would like to start by acknowledging the lives lost to bushfires this season and provide my sincere condolences, and those of our community, to everybody who has been touched all over this nation by fires around the country. I'm sure there's no-one in this House who has not been glued to the ABC coverage of fires, especially over the Christmas-New Year period. At one point it seemed from the New South Wales Fire Service's Fires Near Me app that the whole of the east coast was ablaze. All of us have waited in disbelief as family and friends anticipated fire fronts approaching them, hoping that they heeded the advice to leave. I have seen the devastation and I am constantly amazed at how the fires spared some properties and not the ones next door. It shows the fickle and unpredictable nature of fires and why they must be treated with the utmost respect.
I want to acknowledge all the volunteers in Werriwa who have assisted at many levels and in different areas around the country. I particularly thank Turbans 4 Australia. They've been around the state cooking for RFS volunteers, delivering donations and supporting local communities on the South Coast with barbecues. This is the Australian spirit at its finest.
The electorate of Werriwa is served by two Rural Fire Service brigades, Middleton and Casula. Around 60 volunteers from these brigades have been working since as early as September all around Australia. They've protected, lives, property, livestock and wildlife for months. I had the opportunity to visit the brigades a couple of weeks ago, in the calmer weather, to thank them for what they've been doing as volunteers in our community. They mentioned to me that all the agencies involved in fighting these fires—including New South Wales police, fire and rescue; New South Wales ambulance; the interstate volunteers and international volunteers; and our defence personnel—have been wonderful colleagues. To all those agencies and volunteers, we thank you.
These brigades are families. This is something we see right around the country: lots of volunteer firefighters being families to each other. I want to give particular thanks and support to Casula Rural Fire Brigade Captain David Collins. Mr Collins has been fighting fires around Australia and during the Christmas period with his team. Nearby, in my electorate, in the suburb of Voyager Point, homes came under immediate threat from a sudden explosive bushfire on 5 January. The brigades responded to this fire, and Mr Collins was incident controller. Unfortunately Mr Collins was injured in this fire and is currently recovering. Speaking with Mr Collins and his brigade, I was told that they consider each other their extended family. They come from all walks of life, different ages and different backgrounds: NRMA mechanics, retail sales people, bodybuilders and the unemployed. They told me how incredibly supported they have been by their employers, ensuring that when they returned to work they were rested, and never quibbling about requests for time off. Of course, this is in the large companies. For those who are self-employed or unemployed, volunteering comes at great personal cost, both to them and to their families.
Our volunteers are the best of Australia. They are the true fabric of our community during our hardest and toughest times. During our discussion I was told by both brigades that they work closely with the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade. This is the brigade that firefighter volunteers Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer, who terribly and tragically lost their lives on the night of 19 December, belonged to. On the day that it happened I contacted Dr Hugh McDermott, the state member for Prospect, who is also a member of the Horsley Park brigade, to convey my condolences and those of our community. Hugh, like his colleagues, has continued to fight fires and was on the fire ground this weekend.
The members of both the Middleton and the Casula rural fire brigades are grieving for their colleagues and their friends. While I can't truly express the sympathy in my heart for all Australians who've lost loved ones, property, livestock and livelihoods, I do send you my deepest sympathy and will do everything possible to ensure that you get what you need to recover as soon as possible. I thank the House.
Sitting suspended from 13 : 32 to 15 : 44
Ordinary people in my electorate doing extraordinary things: that's how I best describe the volunteer firefighters and the people who put their shoulder to the wheel to fight the fires, and some of them are still doing that today. We in the seat of Wright experienced our first fires back in September, so we in the seat of Wright have experienced every process, every part of the grievance and every part of the rebuilding that is still in front of those regions that have only just now experienced a fire.
I'll give you a sense of where we are. The Gold Coast hinterland has some of the most beautiful and pristine natural rainforests. They are normally immune to these types of fires. The moisture content normally acts as an inhibitor, and properties are traditionally safe. They weren't safe this time. The moisture levels were far lower than in previous fires. We are no stranger to bushfires. They predominantly start in national parks through acts of God, through lightning strikes. It happens. We know that aerial bombing to try to extinguish the isolated ignitions in very rugged terrain is only effective if you can get rural firefighters on the ground to do what they refer to as mopping up. You can bomb all day, but it's never going to be 100 per cent effective unless you can mop it up.
Unfortunately, our area was part of the 108 small fires from the Gold Coast hinterland through the back of Canungra, Lamington National Park, Mount Barney and upper northern New South Wales and around the Granite Belt into Stanthorpe and Warwick, which borders the seat of Maranoa. We know only too well that the aerial bombers and those people on the ground need to work collectively.
Old-timers who have fought fires in years before predicted this. They said that the fuel levels in the national parks were, as a result of policy positions years ago, much greater than they had been. Today is not the time to reflect on that. There will be inquiries where they'll be able to give evidence around fuel loads. They did talk about how they used to manage it in the past. They had cattle in the parks. They spoke about their preferred option to control burn in winter. The reason for control burning in winter is that you have a heavier dew and cooler days. They burn only in the afternoon so that, if it gets away, it can burn through the night. Their intent is to take only the top of the grass off. The intensity of this fire took not only the top of the grass off but the root systems of the grass beds out. There will be erosion from that and it will take many years to rebuild.
We all know what erosion can be done by unprecedented rainfall. When rain falls from the sky and takes the topsoil off in this country it can have devastating effects. In a fire you get the same type of erosion, but you don't get it from the rain; you get it when the inside of trees burn out and they fall to the ground. The larger ones, because of their weight, act as bulldozers as they come down the side of a hill and dislodge the rocks that have been there for centuries. The grass around them helped to support the upper foundation. So you end up with, for want of a better word, avalanches in a dry environment.
Our roads were cut for many weeks and the effect on businesses is still felt today. I speak of Aratula at the bottom of Cunninghams Gap, a small community that relies on traffic to come through their community. There's a pie shop; there's a pub; there are three service stations, a butcher and a couple of cafes. I find myself going out there regularly, trying to eat them back into economic prosperity! There are only so many pies I can consume to try to help that economy, but my shoulder is to the wheel! I try to help the economy that way.
Now to the Salvation Army. We had firefighters come from all around the country—because we were the first up. Then, everyone was fresh. Once our own internal firefighters had fought to the point of exhaustion, we had a second lot of cavalry come and offer assistance. We had two major central communication points because of the vastness of the front of the fire. One was at Canungra and the other one was at Boonah. At one stage there, I think we managed 77 fire fronts. You can imagine the number of units that would have taken and the support needed on the ground. So to watch the central command really take hold was nothing short of impressive, and not only for its military precision. As to the logistical movements that were happening at the front line, I come from a transport and logistical background and I felt, 'My God! These people are extremely special people.' Some of them were paid—as they should be. But today I want to acknowledge those people who gave their time freely.
Those people who gave their time freely fought in the front line or, if they couldn't do that, they may have sat behind at one of the 15 different rural fire facilities, sheds. They may have worked during the night to get failed motors or pumps on trucks recommissioned. They may have been so old that they didn't have the strength any more—the years did not allow them—to go and fight fires. But their commitment to their community was so great that they would go down and fill tanks all night, because that was something that their age would allow them to do—to stand there next to a water tanker so that someone could get another couple of hours sleep; they'd relieve them from their shift.
My staffer wrote, in his opening comment, 'In the ashes of the fire rose a phoenix of a community.' I thought that was the most powerful part of witnessing the absolutely devastating impact that these fires have had across the community. How it unites a community is something that I can't describe. It's the people who make a contribution who seek no accolade, who do it not because they want to grandstand or to seek the attention of a camera crew when they roll into town—the people who get out of bed and, if they've got six pieces of bread left in their cupboard, put together a couple of sandwiches, throw some gladwrap over them and send them down to the hall because they know someone's going to be looking for a feed. Their contribution should be equally commended, as with those who donned a yellow uniform and took to the front lines.
I said this is not the first fire we've had. And it won't be our last. But I know that from this fire, from this event, we will learn. We will learn, and we'll become more resilient and we will put greater infrastructure in place. We're already talking now on the million dollars that our shires have been given. In the higher country, we created these mobile bladders, roughly half the size of this internal part of this room, to be a place where water tankers would just shuttle water into. They were made out of plastic. Water tankers—mostly council tankers, and some private operators—would shuttle water into there, and then the yellow trucks would come back and get it out at that point so that they weren't losing valuable time going all the way into town to get water. Work is now afoot to make sure that we have permanent water infrastructure in place to fight the fires that will be in front of us in the years to come.
For the people who lost homes, livestock and sheds, I want to start with those who have lost everything. Words cannot describe how you must feel. I try and put myself in your position and think to myself, 'Oh, my God.' And then that feeling is only amplified if the question enters your head: what would've happened if I had lost a child in the fires? Fortunately, we didn't have that—God blessed us in that space. But there was a period of absolute fear when people were evacuated at two o'clock in the morning by a police officer with a torch, knocking on their door saying, 'Get out. Get out now. You've got half an hour.' This is what happened in the Binna Burra area.
They were evacuated in basically the clothes they were wearing. They were shuttled to an evacuation centre. Most in the early hours of the morning found solitude with friends and families elsewhere. But there was a period of time watching the news cycle, listening to the media, hearing of the devastation, hearing reports that houses had been lost and words like 'unprecedented fires' and 'catastrophic results', and not knowing whether or not your house was in that space. The fear and the unknown in the hearts and minds of the members of those local communities at that particular time, I can't imagine. But I saw it, and from that they grow and they become more resilient.
We lost in Binna Burra a place that some Australians may know called Binna Burra ecotourism lodge. It was an amazing property. I assume it was about 30 years old. It was in a pristine rainforest with a beautiful big driveway and A-frame log cabins. People would get married there. Conventions were held there. It was just an iconic property in our part of the country. When you look at the photos or you go onsite now, the only thing that remains is the bitumen circular driveway. Everything else was floored.
I opened my comments by saying that we had the disaster in September. We had more fires. We fought fires until November, but it would be disingenuous of me not to share with Australians and report to the House that more recently we have had landscape-transforming rain. We've had between five and eight inches across some of this country, and it seems a world away now when you see the photos. I know even at my own place: two feet of green paddock across acres and acres. The rain has brought with it prosperity. The rain has brought with it a sense of hope and a new beginning, a sense of rebuilding and future.
In our community we have the army warfare training centre. And I want to acknowledge—I don't want to dedicate this speech to personnel that have suffered, but I do want to make a particular point about Colonel Arran Hassell, who just was amazing in the community. While the rest of Australia was not on fire, he, as a community leader with resources, first went into action and he made the warfare training centre, Canungra army barracks, available to house the many hundreds of volunteer firefighters who travelled from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales to make a contribution to fighting our many fires. He housed them and, in addition to that, he was just there when we needed helicopters, water trucks, information, comms. I didn't have a great understanding of what they did before that, but I and the community will be forever in their debt for the way they conducted themselves. On behalf of the community, I will make sure that his superiors are aware of the contribution they made.
The Binna Burra Lodge is being rebuilt. The community have put their arms around the Binna Burra foundation. They're currently working out of Beechmont, the old schoolmaster's house, which is a cafe. We will render them every assistance we can to rebuild, but, for those who have a philanthropic heart and want to make a contribution to the Binna Burra Lodge foundation as they rebuild: I think they were drastically underinsured, so there's going to be a massive shortfall there. The iconic nature of that property should be preserved for years to come.
I want to thank the Prime Minister—although he cost me a trip to Tokyo; I had wanted to go up to the rugby to watch the World Cup. He said: 'I'm coming up to your electorate. We're going to go for a look.' And we did that. That was very early in the piece. His presence on the ground was felt by all. It wasn't all positive. The majority of it was. It would be disingenuous for me not to say that after his visit a lady wrote to me and said: 'The Prime Minister should not have come and raised the awareness of the fires. He should have stayed at home, and the money should have been better utilised and sent up here for the rebuild.' I took that letter and circulated it to the chamber of commerce and other community groups, Rotary clubs, the fireys. It was a lone voice. The presence of the Prime Minister in a time of need—I think it was one of the original places where he thought, 'We need to get in and offer assistance here.' I think a lot of those programs came out of that initial meeting.
I want to acknowledge some of the people in our community that jumped up and down. One of them was the editor of a paper. Her name's Wendy Creighton from The Fassifern Guardian. That little local paper, which comes out weekly, is celebrating 125 years. She made a very salient point about the $300 reimbursement for primary producers—and most of my people who fought the fires were primary producers, defending their own blocks. To meet the eligibility criteria you had to prove that you had lost up to $300. The reality is—and Wendy made the point most saliently—that, as a result of the devastating drought, most of these people have not received income for the last three years. They haven't been able to sell cattle, so they weren't able to prove through any type of audit trail that they had lost that revenue. After consultation with David Littleproud's office—which has been, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition in his opening address, 'Exceptional to deal with and returned every call'—Mr Littleproud then implemented a $200 reimbursement for primary producers to assist them through this process, without them having to provide any proof that they'd lost revenue.
I spoke about Kaye Healing, the incident controller, in my opening comments. Thank you, Kaye; our community is so fortunate to have you. The corporate knowledge you have—basically, where every tree is in our many hundreds and hundreds of square kilometres of forest—is nothing short of impressive.
I'm going to finish by recommending something for those rebuilding our communities to consider. A lot of those who border onto national parks and have lost fences are disadvantaged. If I, Mr Deputy Speaker, have a property next to your property, and the fire takes out our fence, there's an obligation that I'll pay half for its reconstruction and you'll pay half. Unfortunately, if your neighbour happens to be a national park, there is no such obligation for the national park to make a contribution, thus amplifying the cost of reconstruction. I accept that that's a state government responsibility, but I will continue to feed that in, because I think it offers a disadvantage for those people who are eligible for some of the grants that are out there, which should be skewed a little bit more to those people who are trying to rebuild.
I have 20 different rural fire brigades in my electorate. I seek leave to table that rather than taking up too much more of the room's time.
I'll finish where I started. In my electorate, I'm fortunate to represent ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
I thank the member for Wright for sharing with us the devastation that he has listened to people talking about within his electorate, amongst his communities. It just reminds us how far and wide the bushfires have spread and how they have affected so many lives in this country. I'm glad and fortunate to say, as the member for Gorton, that we've not been directly affected in the way that the member for Wright describes, but of course all of my constituents are shocked and have been watching the television over summer and of course have been donating in response to the many invitations to provide support to those who are directly affected.
It perhaps has not taken the nation by surprise but it really has had people sitting up and taking notice about the extent and nature of these fires. I agree with the member for Wright about mitigation and preparation. We need to follow the facts. We need to take advice from those who've been fighting fires for many a year. We need to ensure we mitigate the potential risks. We have to do all of those things. We have to be prepared in a manner that perhaps we are not always prepared. There is no doubt we have to do that.
But the firefighting seasons are getting longer. That's the truth of it—in both hemispheres, which is one of the reasons why some of the assets that were to be deployed to Australia were held up, because we now have overlapping fire seasons between, for example, the south-east coast of Australia and California. That in itself is quite a remarkable thing.
According to the firefighters I spoke to on Kangaroo Island, the flames are getting higher and moving faster, and the wind is wilder, the heat more intense. We have to listen to those firefighters—the former chief firefighters, the ones who have been fighting fires for years—because they're telling us what has happened. Of course, the scientists told us what would happen. It's all there in the 2008 Garnaut climate change review, which talked about temperatures rising, the increased incidence and duration of drought and, of course, the potential for worse fires. Unfortunately, the forecast in that review of 12 years ago has been realised, and it's likely to get worse.
We've had these debates around climate change, and there is a correlation, we would argue. Certainly Labor argues that, and I think most members of the parliament agree. But I think it's important to note that, even if we do everything that scientists say we should do to tackle climate change, temperatures are going to continue to rise, and we will have to deal with these fires. Temperatures will rise for a considerable period. Even if we put in place everything in the scientists' handbook about tackling climate change, we're not going to see the end of temperatures increasing. We'll be lucky to see the plateauing of rising temperatures. This is going to be with us for many, many years, even if the world takes better action and more effective action to tackle climate change. We must remember that. You only have to look out the window of this parliament to see the haze or walk outside to breathe in the smoke. I was flying to Canberra on Monday morning, over bushfires south of Canberra, and noted that they are still continuing.
I also note this—Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader, has already made this point, and I think it's important to reinforce—we're still two days off the 11th anniversary of Black Saturday. Black Saturday, in 2009, commenced on 7 February, when we were last in government. I can recall that vividly because the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd phoned me to ask where these small towns were. I happened to be elsewhere—I wasn't in Victoria that evening. He wanted to know. It was just before, really, the fire took hold. He, to his great credit, travelled down to Victoria very early the next morning—4 am, I think—to meet with John Brumby, the then Premier. And of course, unfortunately, it was devastating for the state of Victoria: 173 deaths, 414 injured people and countless people that are still suffering the scars and the mental anguish of that event. But that was on 7 February, and we are here at 5 February, so we can't forget that we're still in the summer season. Temperatures are still very high, and fires are still continuing, and that's not something we should forget.
I mentioned the 173 deaths, which was just an extraordinary number, and which took everyone aback. It's fair to say that one death is one too many. But if we've got something right, we've certainly improved the way we respond to fires in terms of evacuating areas more effectively. Because despite the fact that many more hectares have been burnt and homes lost in this crisis, the scale of the deaths is not as large, fortunately. Of course it's still very, very tragic.
We need to continue to learn how to respond to the bushfire seasons and the fact that they're likely to become increasingly intense and go for longer. There'll be multiple inquiries arising out of this bushfire season. There'll be coroners' reports and there's going to be an inquiry, as the government's made clear. We need to determine the facts. We need to comply with recommendations that are made by the experts, and that's absolutely critical.
I found myself planning a holiday in the second week of January, but I'd made the decision to go to Kangaroo Island before the fires started. I made that decision in December. And then I realised that I might not be able to travel there because it would be too dangerous or because I'd be getting in the way. But I was advised that it was safe to travel and that the businesses there, certainly on the east side of the island, were hoping people would continue to go. So my daughter and I travelled over to Kangaroo Island, met with the small businesses in Kingscote and Penneshaw and talked to them about what has happened as a result of the devastation. It's a story of two islands. The west coast has been devastated, with parts of it incinerated by the intensity of the fire. There were many, many homes lost and two tragic deaths. Livestock and fauna were devastated. The east side of the island hasn't been touched, physically, at all. But of course it has now been commercially hit to the point where at least 75 per cent of the accommodation bookings for the year—not for January-February, but for the year—have been cancelled, domestically and internationally.
You can see the direct impact of the fire on the west side of the island. I thank Dion and Linda Buick, friends of mine, who showed me around the west side of the island to see the scale and extent of the sheer devastation. I talked to farmers who had lost their stock. I talked to a potato farmer who had lost all of his machinery and his home. I spoke with their daughter, Lilly, who, along with her partner, Josh, had lost their home and had made a makeshift home in a caravan that was donated to them by a stranger, which is a lovely reminder of how people can act in these circumstances. They're obviously trying to rebuild their lives. Most of the people I spoke to were insured, but there'll be issues around whether they're underinsured.
Then there are the businesses on the island. Michelle Peacock is the general manager of the store at Vivonne Bay. The store is still there, but the area was evacuated and there is no trade. It's predominantly summer trade. It was going to be a bumper season for the island. She had to lay off all the staff. She gave away the food to the volunteers where she could. Of course, she has now got bills and no revenue. Unfortunately, in the circumstances she's in, she's not in a position to get a direct grant. Those are confined to businesses directly affected by the fires themselves. She has to consider whether she will access the loans. Hopefully, there will be other acts of kindness. Commercial landlords might waive or reduce costs of tenancies or energy suppliers might waive or reduce energy costs which will make it easier for businesses on Kangaroo Island, on the south coast of New South Wales or in the Blue Mountains, which I visited last week, to survive. We know that these businesses rely on cash flow. If the cash dries up, often they don't have much collateral or back-up to continue. We need to do everything we possibly can to make sure those businesses continue for the business owners themselves, the workers who are employed by them and the communities that rely upon them.
I would like to thank Leon Bignell, the state member who represents Kangaroo Island. He did a wonderful job getting generators to people who didn't have electricity. He is a Labor member—not a government member—in South Australia. He has been working tirelessly. I pay tribute to him, as I do to all of my federal colleagues, starting with Anthony Albanese, who has been working throughout the entire summer. In the government, I pay tribute to the minister in particular. I also pay tribute to Susan Templeman, the member for Macquarie, Fiona Phillips, the member for Gilmore, and Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro, who made great contributions to this debate and who really have been working tirelessly for their communities. We need to be with them and work with them over the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Our job as representatives is to respond when things like this happen. We need to immediately respond to the needs of the people who have been most affected. We need to be there to provide support, but also we need to put in place better mitigation, better preparation to fight fires in the future and, ultimately, policies that will reduce temperatures globally so that, in the foreseeable future, Australia, the hottest continent, is less likely to experience the devastation that we witnessed this year.
Can I commend all members, starting with the Prime Minister and from there on, for their contributions on this important debate. I would like to start by recognising all those who have lost their lives during this summer of bushfires. To their families, loved ones, friends, communities, I offer my sincerest, heartfelt remorse for the loss of life that has occurred. Can I recognise those who died in the line of duty, sacrificing their own lives to save others. What they have done, I think, exemplifies the true spirit of humanity. I once again offer my deepest, deepest sorrow to their loved ones, their families and their communities.
Can I say how pleased I was that on Australia Day the government announced that the National Emergency Medal would be declared for the 'black summer' of 2019-20. Those who lost their lives in the line of duty will be posthumously awarded the National Emergency Medal. Not only that, this medal now will be awarded posthumously to those who lost their lives in the line of duty more broadly. Although, ultimately, these are decisions for family members, I think that recognising all those who serve and all of those who give their lives serving is something that we as a nation should do. With this in mind, I recall back in my electorate a tragedy that occurred in which two surf lifesavers, Andy and Ross Powell, lost their lives not so long ago while seeking to rescue someone off the shore at Port Campbell. Although a medal will never, ever be able to deal with the grief and sorrow that families suffer from the impact of losing those who give up their lives serving, I think being able to recognise them posthumously, through the National Emergency Medal, is a very significant step that has been made by the government.
The fires that have ravaged South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, parts of the ACT and parts of Western Australia have had a huge impact on communities. I think it is fitting that we are stopping to recognise the impact the fires have had. The fact that these fires occurred in so many states, and some of them very much at the same time, had an enormous impact on our resources for fighting the fires. In my electorate we had two reasonably serious fires and then another serious fire. We also had numerous fires from lightning strikes, which have been put out and, fortunately, haven't caused a large amount of damage. But one of those fires, the Budj Bim fire in my electorate, was burning at the same time that the fires in New South Wales and Victoria were burning. There is no question that the resources we normally throw at fires were thinly spread during that time. I think that is why what the government did was so significant, and the paradigm shift that occurred under the leadership of the Prime Minister in not only calling out the Army Reserve but also in making sure that the federal government took a forward posture in dealing with these fires. I remember talking to the local incident control manager of the Budj Bim fire, who said that in the normal course of events while they were fighting that fire they would have had significantly more resources to throw at the fire, and would have, if it weren't for the fact that those resources were in the east of Victoria and in southern New South Wales. As a matter of fact, their capability was down to one-third of what it normally would have been to fight that fire. I think from now on all governments are going to have to adopt the protocols and policies that our government has put in place when it comes to the bushfire season.
I commend the Prime Minister for taking a forward-leaning posture not only in how we're going to deal with these fires now but also in how we're going to recover from them, because once again there has been a significant paradigm shift in how we will deal with recovery in bushfire areas. For someone who is a passionate advocate for rural and regional Australia, the reality is we need the federal government to be forward leaning not only when it comes to dealing with fires but also when it comes to dealing with the impact of bushfires. Sadly, a lot of the services that state and territory governments would normally be able to provide have been hollowed out over time. The federal government has had to step in to replace those. I know now—and this has been the case for some time—that rural and regional communities look more and more to the federal government to be there for them. They look to them to provide the leadership and to provide the resources and services more than they ever have because of the hollowing out of those services across the board in rural and regional Australia. That is why out of this devastation the one thing that gives me heart is that we have set a strong precedent as to how a Commonwealth government will react when it comes to these disasters. I think that is one positive thing that all communities in rural and regional Australia will take heart from.
In terms of the fires in my electorate, as I mentioned, one was the Budj Bim fire, burning in a national park that is significant for our nation. The Budj Bim National Park has cultural heritage aspects which date back over 20,000 years. There are agricultural practices there which are some of the very first ever conducted in the world. It is an area that we need to protect. One of the most significant things about the way that that fire was dealt with was how the local Indigenous community, local fire services and local professional firefighters—whether they are from lands or from the state firefighting services—all worked collaboratively and cooperatively together to make sure that those historical artefacts and historical sites were protected. I commend everyone for that because those sites and artefacts are extraordinarily significant.
The other thing that came out of that was talking to the local Indigenous community about how keen they are to practice cultural burning in the Budj Bim National Park. They are looking for help and support with resources to be able to do that. Given the nature of that park and the rocky landscape that exists there—an old volcanic landscape—they need help and support to be able to do that. I call on the state government to help and support in that regard, and I am also hopeful that the federal government, through a redesigned ranger program or something similar to that, might be able to give resources and support to the local Indigenous community to practice cultural burning throughout as much of the year as possible in the Budj Bim National Park. That would also be relevant to the Grampians, where there are other historical sites of Indigenous significance and global significance.
If we could get more of that happening, it would be a wonderful way to ensure that connection to the land continues with Indigenous Australians. There are also wonderful employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians, the more we can develop cultural burning practices. It would help deal with the one major thing which was raised with me wherever I went discussing fires, and that is the need for us to ensure that we are dealing with vegetation in our national parks and dealing with vegetation on our roadsides. We have to manage our vegetation to make sure that we are dealing with those longer, hotter, drier summers that we are seeing as a result of climate change. We have to do that. That has to be an absolute priority.
The wonderful community of Lexton in my electorate was also threatened by a very serious fire just before Christmas. We lost one primary residence, four sheds, 48 kilometres of fencing, over a thousand sheep, 92 hectares of cropping and total pasture of 1,123 hectares. The bravery of those who stood in the way of that fire to protect the town of Lexton should never be forgotten. Those who have helped with the recovery shouldn't be forgotten either. I want to make particular mention of our local CFA volunteers, who are extraordinary with what they do, but also other local community groups.
In particular, I want to mention an organisation called BlazeAid. BlazeAid were in my electorate for over six months, helping with the clean-up after the St Patrick's Day bushfires of nearly two years ago. They did an extraordinary job of not only helping farmers repair their fence lines but also being there with them to assist in how they recovered. There is obviously a lot of trauma that our farmers in particular have to deal with as a result of fires, especially when livestock, fences and some of their key infrastructure are lost. BlazeAid is there not only to help them repair their fence lines but to be with them through that journey. They'll turn up to community events like Anzac Day to be there with the community. They'll go down to the local pub and sit and have a beer with farmers. They are there not only to help with rebuilding but to help with the trauma impact. I had the great pleasure of doing half a day's fencing with BlazeAid in Lexton, and it is inspirational to see what they are doing, how they go about it and the communities they bring together to rebuild.
There were some wonderful young backpackers there—some young Belgian backpackers and a young Welsh backpacker. There are old grey nomads who come from far and wide, and they all set up camp and they are all part of the community. One of the things I am hopeful we will be able to do as a government—I've spoken to Minister Tudge, and I know he's looking at this very closely—is to change our visa arrangement for those backpackers who come and volunteer for BlazeAid, so that that could count towards them getting a second year's stay here in Australia. I think that will help us deal with the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of kilometres of fencing that needs to be repaired across the nation.
I also thank the President of the Council of International Students Australia, who came and volunteered with me fixing the fences, because he wanted to help send a message to international students that, although Australia has been ravaged by bushfires, our international education market is still very much open. As a matter of fact, international students could come and arrive early and help, volunteer and support, whether it be helping the wildlife that have been burnt, fixing fencing or any other community activities that would help. That was just before the coronavirus hit, and obviously that has put another impact on our international student market. But, Ahmed, thank you for coming and volunteering to repair fences in my electorate.
We also had the Wade Junction fire near the Lower Glenelg National Park. I just make the point that a lot of timber workers, especially in Gippsland, parts of my electorate and southern New South Wales, have also helped in dealing with bushfires and supported the recovery effort. I thank them for their efforts as well.
The government is determined to be there right the way through the recovery process with communities that have been impacted by bushfires. When it comes to education, we're determined to do that as well. Once again this is extraordinarily inspirational. I've been in contact with the principal of St Peter's in Broulee—and I hope to visit next week. That school was heavily hit by the bushfires, but that school, like all schools that were impacted, was so determined that the teachers and the principal would be there for those students as the school year started so that they could have the normality in their lives of going back to school and having that routine in place. Everyone was of the view that that was absolutely needed, especially to help all the young Australians who have been impacted. I was very pleased to be able to work with the Prime Minister and to provide, as part of the $2 billion bushfire package, extra counselling services there. We're able to work with Beyond Blue to do that and to offer the states and territories extra money for counselling through chaplaincy. There are other initiatives, including helping the non-government school sector and the childcare and preschool sectors that were impacted to rebuild.
It's so important that we are there standing by communities and helping them to recover. This has not stopped and it will not end. Sadly, since I've been in this place I have had to deal in my own electorate with floods and fires. One of the key lessons is that, once the media attention disappears, the impact on the community is still there and it lasts a long time. We all need to understand that. We all need to make sure that we remain supporting those communities for a long time after.
We're nearly at the second anniversary of the St Patrick's Day fire. Some of the communities impacted by that fire are still hurting. There is still trauma there. We still need to be there assisting them, as we are going to have to be there assisting those communities that have been devastated over this summer period. I'm proud to be part of the government that has put forward a package that means that we can be there for the long term to help those communities.
As education minister I want to make sure that we continue to support the childcare centres, the schools and the higher education sector, which opened their dormitories and student accommodation for firefighters, police and others. They did it out of the goodness of their hearts. They have done all sorts of other things. We've obviously now offered scholarships for regional and rural students in bushfire impacted areas, and they will be prioritised.
We have to make sure that through our education system we are there for young Australians, particularly for the children who have been impacted by the fires, and there is the counselling and support that they need. We can help them and support them through their school journey and through their life education journey. That's an absolute key way that the government can help and support those young Australians who have been so severely impacted by these bushfires.
I'll end it there. There is a lot more that I could say, but I will end by saying two things. Thank you to everyone who has helped, supported and contributed to all communities right across this nation to deal with the impact of the bushfires. We have seen the best of Australia. We have seen the best of Australians, and nothing gives me more joy than the stories I come across. There is one which will stick with me: a farm that was burnt in the St Patrick's Day fires two years ago in my electorate had hay donated by a farmer in Gippsland and, two years later—we've been very fortunate: we've had two very good seasons—that farm was able to repay the service by getting a truckload of hay and delivering it to the farm that had helped it two years ago. It's just remarkable to see how Australia works in that regard: community to community, farm to farm, just helping each other.
The second point, and the last point, is once again: can I just express my deepest sorrow and commiserations to all those families and loved ones who are dealing with the loss of life that occurred as a result of these fires.
I rise today to extend my condolences to all those impacted by this unprecedented bushfire crisis. I'm sure I speak for all Greenway residents when I say how deeply moved we are by your experiences and how devastated we are, having seen the impact of these fires. But I also say this: we stand with you and are prepared to support you so you can get back on your feet as soon as possible.
I had but a glimpse of the aftermath of the devastation caused by these fires on a visit to the electorate of Macquarie with my good friend Susan Templeman. It was so confronting to see homes destroyed, small businesses empty and the environment absolutely scorched. But what moved me more was the spirit of the local residents who had survived these fires. They were open, generous and welcoming, despite everything they had been through. They were optimistic about the future and determined not to be broken.
I remember, in particular, going to the home of Billy and Sarah in Mount Tomah. They had a beautiful garden that was absolutely scorched. Their home, thankfully, survived, largely thanks to their preparation but also because where they were the fire had literally stopped, so theirs was the house that survived. The garden around them was completely destroyed but, while we sat in their lounge room with a few of their neighbours talking, we all started looking out the window because all of a sudden out of nowhere beautiful coloured parrots started appearing in their garden. They'd started putting out seed for these parrots, and it was like we were seeing the seeds of new life. We all went outside and carefully watched and tried to take photos of these parrots. They absolutely lifted our spirits.
These communities are something special, and we must never forget that. I want to acknowledge the many local residents from Greenway who have helped to support those people who have lost so much. It moves me to know that our community is compassionate, generous and selfless without fanfare or recognition. It's impossible to mention everyone locally, but I would like to thank the members of a couple of groups, including suburb based Facebook groups like the Glenwood community group, the Stanhope Gardens and surrounding suburbs group and the Quakers Hill and surrounding suburbs group. These groups coordinated countless food hampers and clothes drop-offs to bushfire affected areas. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These groups are utilising technology and connections to change the way that communities organise and grow. The volunteers who run these groups put in so much work to create that sense of community, and I extend my gratitude for everything you do.
I also acknowledge the many Australians outside of my electorate who donated generously to bushfire relief: Australians like those at the Grassy Head caravan park on the mid-north coast who, when my daughter Octavia, largely coordinated by her friends and our extended family, held a mini fete—including a cordial stand, hair braiding and massages—raised over $2,000 for the Yarrahapinni Stuarts Point RFS. Together, Australians like these have raised millions of dollars to support survivors and the RFS, and for that I say thank you.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge our amazing charity sector. Before Christmas I visited the Foodbank New South Wales processing centre in Western Sydney and saw its fantastic volunteers in action. They were busy then and they are even busier now. They are continuing to deliver relief to those people on the ground who need it most. Thank you to Foodbank and to every single charity that has risen above and beyond in the face of this crisis, and, of course, to their donors and supporters.
I want to offer a similar acknowledgement to people from a variety of faith and cultural backgrounds who have pulled together to offer hope and support—organisations like Turbans 4 Australia, which organised a convoy of trucks to deliver food to the South Coast of New South Wales under the motto 'Mates helping mates'. I also want to acknowledge the Sydney Murugan Temple and Kamban Kazhagam Australia, who raised over $20,000 for the New South Wales RFS at their respective fundraising dinners. Special mention should also go to the Kerala Friends Club Northwest Sydney, who sponsored with Foodbank to collect non-perishable items across locations in Stanhope Gardens, Kellyville Ridge, Riverstone, Schofields, The Ponds, Quakers Hill, Marayong and Blacktown—such a tremendous effort. I thank all of you for showing your leadership during this time.
I also commend the work of our media sector in providing emergency broadcasting, information and extensive coverage of the bushfires over these difficult months. Print and online media made bushfire related coverage freely available. Television broadcasters delivered live Auslan interpretations of up-to-the-minute emergency information. And radio broadcasters provided vital warnings and updates, including when all other means of communication were down as a result of fire damage to infrastructure such as powerlines and mobile phone towers. The tireless efforts of our public broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, and our community broadcasters as well as local commercial radio stations have been, and continue to be, central to the emergency management effort.
Local radio stations, in particular, support their communities before, during and after the threat of fire. They provide the latest updates from authorities and advise which roads are closed and which shops remain open. They reconnect families who become separated. They become drop-off points for donations and they host community fundraisers. Interestingly, ABC Friends National recently released the interim report of a survey of ABC emergency broadcasting in bushfire affected communities, which found that over 90 per cent of respondents said that this coverage was important to them during the crisis. We pay tribute to the many staff and volunteers in the media sector for their service to the nation.
I want to acknowledge the significant commitment of the telco sector, including Telstra, Optus, NBN Co and Vodafone. They have worked tirelessly over the bushfire season to restore the availability of networks across the country and help communities regain access to essential telco services. As is often the case with natural disasters, these unprecedented bushfires—in both their duration and intensity—have had a significant impact on infrastructure and service availability. I acknowledge the industry for their efforts to provide updates about network impact and thank them for the constructive discussions we have had in recent weeks, in particular, about the issues and learnings which can inform future preparations.
The member for Macquarie and I visited various communities across the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury who had to grapple with mobile towers and local exchanges losing power, and instances where infrastructure had been destroyed and would require a rebuild. At Telstra's global operations centre in Melbourne, I saw firsthand the professionalism and sophistication with which Telstra mobilises resources and assets across the company to manage natural disasters. There is undoubtedly room for improvement in making telecommunications networks more resilient and ensuring that services for the community are restored more quickly. Nonetheless, it must be said that Australia is fortunate to have a telecommunications sector with such an embedded commitment to public safety during times of natural disaster.
I want to conclude by acknowledging the tireless efforts of the emergency service personnel, volunteers and Australian Defence Force members and reserves. You are truly heroes. You gave up time with your own families to keep at-risk communities safe over Christmas and the New Year. You put yourself in danger and, in some instances, abandoned your own properties to defend those of your neighbours. Your selfless service and willingness to defend complete strangers in some of the most horrifying conditions make us all proud to be Australian. Thank you in particular to the Schofields Rural Fire Brigade in my electorate, which last year celebrated its 75th anniversary. For all that time, you have been keeping Western Sydney safe. We are deeply grateful for all that you do, and you are truly the very best of Greenway.
Finally, to those firefighters who lost their lives keeping us safe: we are forever in your debt. On behalf of my community, I extend my condolences to the families and loved ones of these brave heroes. Words cannot describe the pain and heartache you must feel, but I hope you take some comfort in the knowledge that we grieve together as Australians. The heroism of your loved ones will never be forgotten.
For 60,000 years that we know of, two things have dominated our continent's destiny: drought and fire. We must never forget that our continent is covered in eucalyptus, an ancient tree, an incredible species born from fire and a tree that not only burns but explodes. It burns the air itself, through its flammable oil, and even regenerates through fire. How could anyone ever put our Australian story better than Robert Hughes, in his epic work The Fatal Shore, when he said:
Bushfire and drought are the traditional nightmares of bush life. A bushfire driven by a high wind through dry summer forest is an appalling spectacle: a wreathing cliff of flame moving forward at thirty miles an hour, igniting treetop after treetop like a chain of magnesium flares.
Aboriginal people knew all of this before Europeans came. They learnt to manage our beautiful land, and they still know it today. It's one of the greatest failings of not reconciling with Aboriginal people that we've failed to listen to them, failed to learn from their incredible stewardship of this continent and their deep understanding of it.
Today, in 2020, we again face the trials, the tragedies and the devastation of our dual fates: drought and fire. When a fire hit Box Hill in my electorate of Mitchell last week, it was a lightning-fast response: 100 fireys and local RFS volunteers who sprang into action to help quickly bring the fire under control. But it was also a bunch of builders working nearby, just local people, and local residents too. They picked up buckets. They ran for hours, back and forth, taking water from the local swimming pool and dousing the fire in 40-degree heat, to protect homes and protect lives. Thankfully this fire was brought under control quickly, with no damage to personal property, but it was close.
This devastating season of drought and fire is a testament to our humanity, our decency and our strength as a country. Without doubt, it is the superhuman efforts of our volunteer firefighting services that shine the brightest amongst the bright. But precious and treasured lives have been lost, so many properties have been damaged or lost, and unbelievable amounts of country and wildlife have been burnt, scarred and blackened. We mourn too many, and we grieve for those who are left behind. But the hardest thing of all was the noise of those young children that echoed in our chamber of parliament yesterday—the children who've lost their fathers, the children who are too young to even know yet that their fathers are gone. It breaks our hearts, it hurts our souls, to know the suffering and the sacrifice those men endured to protect us all from harm.
We say to the children who were there yesterday, as a parliament and as a people, that, when they're old enough to hear it, the bravery and the sacrifice of your fathers will stand for all time. Your dads were the best amongst us, and they remind us at all times that we are truly our brothers' keepers. From this great sacrifice come so many reminders of resilience and the commitment that we have to each other. It's estimated that in this 'black summer' one in two Australians have put their hands into their own pocket and made a donation to help others in need. Over half a billion dollars has been raised, and more is still coming in. The amazing feats of the volunteers of our Rural Fire Service who have done the impossible—they've saved so many, they've saved so much—are a testament to the true spirit of our humanity.
These are volunteers who are best summed up by a couple I met at the Wilberforce Fire Control Centre last month. Imagine a husband and wife, maybe 60 years old, standing side by side in their ash-covered yellow uniforms. They must have been married for 50 years. They'd been together fighting the fire for months in the Gospers Mountain fire—in their spare time—the husband continuing to work and somehow both in impossibly good spirits when I met them. But they were tired. When I said to him that it must be so tiring to have to go to work every day, the wry Australian reply that I got, with a cheeky smile, from this 60-year-old man, with his wife standing next to him, was, 'Mate, I go to work to get a rest!' Would anything sum up this service—the quality of our people—more than this husband and wife and their example to us?
Our volunteers have been joined by the Australian Defence Force, with almost 6,500 men and women serving in the bushfire efforts. For the first time in our history the government has enacted a compulsory call-out order. The ADF Reserve brigades, with about 3,000 reservists, have been there for our community. Our proud military tradition is one of the citizen soldier, and this tradition continues with the Reserves of today, serving our own people and our own country. And we are so proud. In fact, thousands—hundreds of thousands—have volunteered to fight fires. They've volunteered to help, they've volunteered to care, and they've volunteered to do something to help people and land recover.
Our businesses are donating goods and services. Our multicultural communities: new migrants are heading into communities with their meals, their hearts and their hopes. And all of our charities are working so hard to ensure a proper and sustained recovery from so much devastation. This is the greatness of Australia, the strength of Australia—the way we treat and take care of each other. We choose to ask, 'What can I do?' and 'What can we do for each other?' When tragedy strikes, through great sadness, together we can look to the horizon and emerge a stronger nation.
We also get by with a little help from our friends. We all need our friends, and the nation is no different. We must never forget that through the trials that we have faced, assistance has flooded in from all corners of the planet, especially from our Pacific family. Australians have been so touched to see the scenes in villages in Vanuatu and PNG of people with wheelbarrows collecting money from people who don't have very much—for us—donations for us from people, from churches, from villages.
To see our New Zealand family, our Papua New Guinean family, the Fijian defence forces—all of them—working so hard on the ground in our country to assist us with bushfire recovery, bringing with them the love of family, the help of friends and the hope that comes from the compassion and the faith, the great faith, of Pacific people. This is what family means—being there for each other when it counts. To our American friends who came to fight our fires: we can never say thank you enough for your loss. To the people of the Pacific: Australia will never forget what you have done for us.
Our destiny as a continent has always been and always will be shaped by drought and fire, but our destiny as a people is to learn the lessons we must learn: to listen to our Aboriginal people and the ancient lessons they have for us, to understand our continent better and our changing climate but also, vitally, to stay together through this time of trial. To our Pacific family, we say: vinaka, kia mihi, fa'afetai, tenkyu tru, thank you. To the army of volunteers, donors, service personnel, bureaucrats, workers, public servants everywhere: thank you. And to anyone who asked the question, 'What can I do?' and did it, we as a parliament say thank you.
It's a great and solemn privilege to be able to contribute to this motion, a motion of condolence particularly for the 33 lives lost so far over the course of this summer in unprecedented fires impacting pretty much every jurisdiction in our wider Commonwealth. Thirty-three lives have been lost, including the lives of nine firefighters who bravely put their lives on the line to protect in most cases their community and in some cases other communities—communities of which they weren't themselves a member.
We're having this debate—a heart-wrenching debate in many instances—at a time when we understand that the emergency is not over. The nation's parliament, even as we debate this motion, is again shrouded in smoke, as it was over the last couple of days. We know fires are still burning in the Monaro region. As a South Australian, I well understand that my state and the state of Victoria, which don't get the benefits of the summer rains that the more northern jurisdictions do, are really only coming into the peak of the fire season. We know in the southern states that the worst fires in our history have generally been in February. I well remember the warning sirens sounding on Ash Wednesday at my high school, Unley High, at the foot of the Adelaide Hills—the worst fire South Australia has ever experienced. I think that was the worst fire that Victoria had experienced, until Black Saturday in 2009.
This emergency is by no means over, as I think we in this House all understand. Others much more directly impacted, or whose communities are much more directly impacted by these fires than my own in Adelaide, have spoken just so eloquently through this debate. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke beautifully yesterday in the chamber, but particularly members who have been working, day in, night in, day out, night out, right through the Christmas and New Year period, spoke so beautifully, so touchingly: the member for Gilmore, the member for Eden-Monaro and the member for Macquarie on our side of the House, but also the member for Gippsland and the member for Monash. I remember the member for Monash's contribution during the debate back in 2009; it was a powerful contribution, and the power of his contribution then was matched by the power of his contribution yesterday.
I don't intend to go through the horrors, the unprecedented horrors, of the fires that have impacted other states. They've been well detailed by members across the chamber who've spoken—and by those who've spoken, I gather, in the other place as well—about the impact of the fires, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria but also in Queensland and Western Australia. But my own state of South Australia has also been impacted by fires—by some that started as early as September, but most particularly by the fire at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills in December and the fire at Kangaroo Island, an utterly dreadful fire that burned for a very long period of time through January as well.
The Cudlee Creek fire took in a substantial area of the Adelaide Hills. That vibrant community, particularly known for its extraordinary wines and also its tourism, was devastatingly impacted by the fire. Eighty-six homes were destroyed. Five hundred sheds and other outbuildings were razed. Thousands of vehicles, livestock, pets and crops were lost. More than 25,000 hectares were burnt, just at the outer edge of the Adelaide region. There were hundreds of brave CFS volunteers battling the blaze along with, obviously, property owners themselves. The fire is thought to have destroyed up to a third of the vines that provide grapes for the vibrant, world-renowned winegrowing region of the Adelaide Hills, and the bushfire zone indeed covered about 30 per cent of the region we describe as the Adelaide Hills wine region. Most tragically, we lost a very well-known member of the community, Ron Selth, who died defending his home in Charleston in the Adelaide Hills. I want to put on record my deepest condolences to his family, to his friends and to his community.
After the Cudlee Creek fire, the Kangaroo Island fire also took hold and burned for a very long time indeed, burning over 200,000 hectares of land on that island, destroying 89 houses, about 300 outbuildings and hundreds of vehicles. Tens of thousands of livestock were killed through that fire, and as many as 25,000 or even more koalas were killed. Kangaroo Island is an incredibly important habitat for koalas, and many, many thousands of those koalas were killed. Experts have also expressed concern over the survival of a couple of endangered species on the island, including the dunnart, which is a mouse-like marsupial, and also the glossy black-cockatoo, which may well have been pushed into extinction by this extraordinary fire event.
Again, I'm very sorry to say, tragically, lives were lost in the Kangaroo Island fires, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition mentioned yesterday. Dick and his son Clayton Lang, two very prominent members not just of the Kangaroo Island community but of the broader South Australian community, lost their lives after fighting fires for a number of days on Kangaroo Island. Dick was a very well-known aviator, and his son Clayton was a well-known surgeon in the South Australian community. Their funeral was attended by hundreds back in Adelaide. Again, I place on record my deepest condolences to their family and to their friends and to their very wide ranging community, which they were such proud and loved members of.
With those fires substantially under control in South Australia, and some across the rest of the country, our challenge is to remain vigilant over the remainder of this season. As I said in my earlier remarks, in South Australia we are only just reaching the peak of the fire season traditionally. There is still substantial danger ahead, as there is for many other parts of the country as well. Our other challenge is to help those communities that have gone through such trauma over recent weeks or recent months—to help those who have lost so much, whether it was property, loved ones, livelihoods or livestock—to recover but also to help those regional economies remain resilient. So much of that was spoken about yesterday, particularly by the local members representing the communities impacted by fire.
The state government, to their credit, launched the campaign #BookThemOut to encourage people to visit, to tour and to spend money in the Adelaide Hills region and the Kangaroo Island region. It was an announcement very strongly supported by the Labor opposition. I strongly support it as well in South Australia. I'm really pleased to say that on the day of the announcement of this campaign there were more visits to the local tourism website, southaustralia.com than there have ever been before—a really resounding indication of the intention of the South Australian community to support those regions.
At a very high level, we had the T20 Showdown on the weekend between Port Adelaide and the Crows. There were footballers trying their hands at cricket. It raised over a million dollars and, to put some icing on that cake, Port Adelaide won as well, as I'm sure you'd be pleased about, Deputy Speaker Georganas.
At a more local and individual level, one example in my own community in the western suburbs of Adelaide is a hardworking mum, called Karen, who started a program called Backpacks For Bushfires, asking for donations to fill backpacks for kids who'd lost everything but were returning to school, as they did last week. It's been an incredibly successful program. I've been really happy to help as a location for people to drop off their backpacks to be distributed to those kids. It's got great buy-in.
Regis Aged Care in Marleston, an aged-care facility in the western suburbs, had all of their residents contribute money and goods and pack the backpacks and deliver them to my office. There have been those sorts of local and individual efforts right across Australia, including in my great state of South Australia.
I want to commend the extraordinary effort shown by Australians in this most awful of summers, which unfortunately is not over yet. Obviously, the most startling contribution has been through our thousands of volunteers, particularly our firefighter volunteers but all of those volunteers around them, who create that ecosystem of love and bravery that keeps so many of us safe. Like every person in this chamber, I want to pay my enormous respect and gratitude to volunteers and, also as the previous speaker indicated, to our proud ADF personnel, including the reservists. Across the coast in Adelaide we've seen the Chinook helicopters going regularly from the Edinburgh base down to Kangaroo Island. There are ADF personnel and reservists right throughout our country supporting the effort of those many thousands of community volunteers who are keeping us safe and then, after the fire has receded or hopefully even ended, helping those regions recover. I pay my respects and my gratitude to them as well.
In closing, as the spokesperson for climate change for the opposition, it behoves me to make a few remarks about how climate change fits into this current emergency. As distressing, as destructive and as, in many cases, tragic as this long summer has been, in many senses the unprecedented nature of the fire emergencies should have come as no real surprise, because we have been hearing the lessons and receiving the warnings of our leading scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology, from the CSIRO, from the Academy of Science and from all of their equivalents around the world, that the Forest Fire Danger Index, a scientific index, which, as the name suggests, tracks the danger of forest fire—an index developed by a CSIRO scientist here in Australia in the 1960s—has been rising steadily now for many years in line with the rise in average temperatures. It's reported every couple of years through the State of the climate report, which is published jointly by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. I remember in their 2016 report, for example, them showing that the FFDI, the Forest Fire Danger Index measurement, around Melbourne airport, which is one of the measuring stations—very close to the member for Lalor's electorate—had increased by around 50 per cent since the 1970s, in line with increases in average temperatures.
We have been receiving the warnings for many years now that the fire season would start earlier; that it would be longer; that when fires came they would be more intense; that they would come more frequently; and that areas of the country that had not traditionally burned would be burning. We have seen all of that come to pass. It does behove us, as the Australian Academy of Science has said over recent weeks, to start to come together and consider stronger action on climate change, because what we've experienced over the last summer is not necessarily the new normal. If average temperatures continue to climb, the new normal will be significantly worse than what we have seen in the course of this summer.
It is indeed an honour to rise in this place and speak in support of this motion, which—as outlined by the member for Hindmarsh—was very eloquently spoken to by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and many others.
I'm pleased to say at the outset that, fortunately, my electorate has been spared the horrors of the fires we have seen not only in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia but earlier in the season in parts of Queensland as well. I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the 33 Australians who lost their lives in these fires—not forgetting that, importantly, in many places these fires continue.
I would also like to recognise and acknowledge and pass on my condolences and sympathies to the families of the six volunteer firefighters who tragically died in the line of duty. I also extend my deepest condolences to the families of our American firefighter friends and colleagues who came to this country to help us out in our hour of need and perished, fighting those fires in southern New South Wales. Equally, I address my colleagues in electorates that have been affected by the fire. Over summer I spent an amount of time speaking to many of those colleagues just to touch base and see how they're going. I think it's right that we should mourn and commiserate with these families and these communities. It's right that we take the time to express our condolences in this manner, through this motion.
If there's one thing that this summer of fires has demonstrated yet once again, it's the resilience of our communities—the help that our fellow Australians will provide in time of need. With that, I want to take the opportunity to thank all our brave firefighters, emergency services and Defence personnel and the medical staff for giving their everyday support to these fire impacted communities right across the country. As I said in my earlier remarks, this is something that started back in September-October in Queensland and has progressively moved south. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our local rural fire brigades at Ormeau, Chambers Flat, Cedar Creek and Greenbank—and also nearby at Logan Village which is in the electorate of Wright. But equally, I would like to thank our metropolitan brigades at Beenleigh, Waterford West and Browns Plains. When there has been the odd small outbreak in my patch, they have been very quick on the scene to deal with those outbreaks. They have also been very readily available to help where needed.
Whilst my electorate has not been directly impacted, the impact of these fires has certainly been felt and has touched many across my electorate. I've spoken to locals who have had loved ones lose property and livelihoods across New South Wales and Victoria. And I know from the calls to my office that people are still looking at ways and means by which they can be of assistance. This is, again, a great tribute to Australia and Australians—that in a crisis our people are ready to pull together and support each other. Fortunately, now in Queensland we are seeing plentiful rain, and I hope that continues to move further south to bring some relief not only to the fire areas in New South Wales but also to some of the drought affected areas in central and western New South Wales.
Over the past few months, I've had the honour of witnessing businesses, organisations and individuals from all over my community—from Park Ridge to Pimpama, Carbrook and Upper Coomera, and all areas in between—who've come together to help our fellow Australians in their darkest hour. People like Louie Naumovski, from Logan House Fire Support Network who, with many other local stalwarts, organised and coordinated a mass bushfire recovery donation drive.
In total, our community donated over two tonnes of food and personal care items as well as over 3,000 bottles of water to rural and urban fire brigades across the south-east and to bushfire affected communities in New South Wales and Victoria through Food Bank. None of this would have been possible without Shane Drew from Drew's Sign It, who, together with his son, Ashley, and daughter, Tiffani, collected hundreds of donations from individuals and organisations across Logan in their vans every day and dropped them off at the Bethania Community Centre for our volunteers to sort, organise and pack into hampers. These were distributed to our local rural fire brigades, who'd offered their support to their counterparts and communities interstate.
People like Darrell Dhnaram offered his IGA stores in Loganholme and Boronia Heights as drop-off locations for contributions, and also the team from Bunnings at Bethania supplied the boxes necessary to pack up the donations. And let's not forget the wonderful ladies from Sewing for Charity who threaded and sewed over 100 cooling wraps for the SES volunteers and Robyn Eadie from Upper Coomera who made custom cards to distribute to bushfire victims with messages of love, hope and support. Just this weekend, I had the pleasure of being at Bunnings at Bethania, where the Marsden Lions Club were putting on a barbeque fundraiser for bushfire relief.
As we know, we still have over 50 fires burning across the country. Almost 3,000 homes were lost and over 10 million hectares have been lost this bushfire season. The devastation our country has faced is unprecedented in living memory, and many aspects in the subsequent road to recovery will be protracted. But, importantly, this government—and I think everybody from their contributions across this chamber on this motion—recognises that the long-term effort of planning for recovery and rebuilding is critically important; that once the news of the fires disappears from the front pages that we do not forget these communities; and that we are here for that long journey of building and recovery to ensure that they can rebuild their lives and once again take, pursue and follow the opportunities, dreams and goals they have as individuals and families. Whether it's in business or in other activities, we need to see these communities rebuilt and regain the strength that they once had—for our primary producers and our farmers for the contribution they make so importantly to our economy. I think we can safely say that all in this House are committed to ensuring that this occurs and we have demonstrated in the past that we have the capacity to do so. I wish all of those communities affected every success and support for the future as they face now the long journey of recovery.
I endorse the comments of most of my colleagues that I've have heard over the last day or so, and I'll try and be very brief. We were asked to keep it to four or five minutes if our electorates weren't directly affected, and I've seen some contributions that run over 30 minutes from people whose electorates were not affected.
Many other members here do represent communities that have been profoundly affected, and I particularly pay tribute to their words. I've heard many moving contributions from government members, but particularly on the Labor side the members for Gilmore, Macquarie and Eden-Monaro. Of course the member for Macquarie lost her own house just some years ago in the last bushfires in her electorate. The member for Gilmore is a newly elected member and she has been certainly thrown in the deep end beyond anything any of us would wish to experience. She's been out there every day visiting her communities, travelling, absorbing people's pain, empathising and fixing all of the problems that she can. The member for Eden-Monaro is a legend in his own community and has certainly been responding well despite his health issues.
I want to add a few words from the perspective of my community in south-east Melbourne. We are a multicultural suburban community, and it is fair to say, like others, that the fires haven't directly affected our lived area. Except like millions of Australians we have been watching in shock and horror at what our fellow Australians have been going through and we pay tribute to those who've lost their lives, particularly of course the firefighters who died in the service of others.
The loss of property is still being calculated. There is the loss and impact to our natural environment, to see areas never before in our continent being burnt—ancient rainforests. There was an article a couple weeks ago that really touched me to hear that ancient rainforests from the Gondwana times, before this continent was even in its modern form, had never been burnt or under threat with over a billion native and domestic animals with many now pushed to the edge of extinction.
The catastrophe over summer hasn't just shocked the nation; it's shocked the world. Images of red skies and smoke-filled choking air in what is supposed to be the world's most liveable cities were flooded around the world, changing people's image of Australia. As we know—and I'll touch on climate change briefly—those images, when contrasted with our appalling stance internationally on climate in international forums, have certainly provoked comment from other governments and neighbours.
But, of course, standing here in Canberra, the crisis isn't over. In the last few days when you walk outside you still choke from the smoke and your throat gets sore, reminding us that the crisis is still going on outside. Indeed, in my community in Victoria the CFA in the east of Victoria down in Gippsland has now been told that they're on standby and are rostered on until the end of May. I've got people in my electorate who help out in the CFA and have been seconded to those brigades who have said that this has never happened to them before: that the fire season is now going until the end of May.
In terms of my community, as I said we're not under threat but the smoke and all the other impacts that so much of the nation has experienced have been felt. However, we do pay tribute to the firefighters—many of whom do come from suburban electorates to help out and get seconded—for their courage, dedication and resilience. Of course there's the ADF's contribution.
The other thing that I've detected that I do think I need to reflect on—and sometimes I saw earlier in the debate when you say this some people accuse you of making political points; I don't believe this is political—has been the shock and fear emerging in the community about the impact of climate change. I believe that, from what I've heard at community gatherings in the last couple of months, the public are now way ahead of so many people in this place. People are joining the dots and they're thinking about it and talking about it, and there is deep shock and fear about climate change. As the shadow minister who spoke before me from this side outlined: if temperatures continue to rise, if the scientists are right—not the member for Hughes—then the new normal will be far worse than what we have seen this summer, and that's not a future we can accept.
There's also debate about the government's performance: questions about the adequacy of preparation and the response which will play out in the coming days and weeks. We heard in question time only today the debate about the Prime Minister's arrogant refusal to listen to expert advice, to accept advice that additional aerial firefighting capacity was needed and to pay any serious attention to the forecasts. The experts and scientists had said that all of the conditions were there for the horror that we have seen. As some people who were being perhaps kind to the Prime Minister in criticising his performance said, maybe he is just having a bad summer. I don't believe that to be the case. I see many character traits have emerged—I won't name them lest I be accused of offending the standing orders. I believe that many of the traits which Australians are now seeing from his performance are those we have seen day in and day out in the parliament. People will join the dots and realise that's actually who he is.
I do want to record the community's concern about climate change and the link between bushfires and climate change and the expectation of action. A very clear message that many of my constituents have sent me over the last couple of weeks has been, 'You have to speak up in support of greater action on climate change.' Yes, of course, adaption and resilience have to be part of that. The hypocrisy of the Prime Minister, as the Treasurer, to cancel the adaption fund a few years ago, and now to stand up and tell us that adaption is everything! We must not give up on mitigation. It is not acceptable to the people we represent that we say it's all about adaption and resilience and then say: 'We give up. There is nothing we can do. Things will go to hell in a handbasket, and we'll just make the best of it.' We have to do more as a country. We can do more as a country. We can be a good international citizen and encourage and demand that others do more. These are things that my community are saying.
I also hear the other stuff—the climate change denial stuff, most of which seems to circulate on social media, driven by the member for Hughes. That's a debate which we need to continue to have. The other point I would make, when we think about experts—it's funny, isn't it, the selective listening to experts. We heard in question time and over the last week in response to the coronavirus crisis that the government is listening to experts. Whenever they take a piece of action, they are very careful to say, 'That's because the Chief Medical Officer told us so,' or, 'That's because the chief state health officers told us so,' or, 'We've paid attention to the World Health Organization.' That's what they are saying. Why is it so different on climate change? The government is prepared to listen to expert advice, to follow it, to largely get the response right, to take tough and firm decisions and have the guts to stand up and try to explain the need for those decisions to the nation, to our neighbours and to people around the world. But they are not prepared to do that and to listen to scientific expertise on climate change. We know the reason for that is political because any leader of the Liberal Party that chooses to act on scientific evidence on climate change, as opposed to internet conspiracy theories, will be ripped down and torn apart by their divided party. The country should not put up with this.
The other thing I will just touch on briefly is with regard to recovery. As many members have remarked, governments and communities must support recovery. I have some experience of this from over 10 years ago, when I worked in the Victorian government alongside the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority after 2009. I know what a long hard road it is. There are psychological stages, the community decision-making and economic damage. I hope that all governments will work collaboratively together and not politicise the recovery process.
The final thing I want to do is briefly pay tribute to some people and organisations in my community. I am just going to mention a few; this is not a comprehensive list. We have played some small part, and I am so proud of so many people in my community who've played some small part to the best of their ability. We are not a wealthy community overall. The council that makes up the majority of my electorate is the most socioeconomically disadvantaged in the whole of Melbourne, and the second-most disadvantaged municipality in Victoria. That's why the government gave us no election commitments. We didn't get any sports grants or anything like that. We got zero dollars out of the government, because we are the most disadvantaged. That gives you a sense of their priorities.
Despite the lack of attention from the government and the fact there are so many people who are doing it tough, so many people have been generous. One in two Australians, we understand, have put their hand in their pocket and made some sort of donation, to a total now surpassing more than half a billion dollars. I particularly want to call out the Cambodian community. I am proud to represent a wonderful, vibrant Australian Cambodian community. I was down at the temple as part of the cheque presentation for over $50,000 they raised on the day. There is also the Victorian Vietnamese community. More than 12 per cent of my electorate speak the Vietnamese language at home. They are the largest single cultural or ethnic group in the electorate. They have been leaders in helping to raise more than $1 million across Victoria from the Vietnamese community, which was talked about at the Tet festival and celebrations last week. I was down at the Omar Farooq Mosque in Doveton—it is predominantly an Afghan mosque—to receive a cheque for $20,000. I will put on the record that they gave me the bank cheque and insisted I carry it away. It is made out to the bushfire authority. We are sending it off and getting a receipt. It was a very generous effort by the Afghan mosque. We received a cheque for $18,000 in this presentation ceremony from Reza Andesh and the Afghan Hazara community.
On Saturday night I attended a dinner with the member for La Trobe. It was a very bipartisan event. I think it was the largest multigroup gathering of Sri Lankan community organisations I have been to. There are many Sri Lankan community organisations in Victoria. We had 17: every organisation working together for a very large dinner to raise money for the bushfire appeal. They are still totalling up the money—there was an auction, this, that and the other. I pay tribute to them for their collaborative effort. Many of the local temples, like the Dhamma Sarana Vihara temple in Keysborough, were first out of the blocks collecting water bottles. They collected 30,000 water bottles and sent them down to the fire affected areas to help out the CFA volunteers. The Tamil senior citizens group raised money and presented that recently. On Saturday week, like so many others, I am going to the Bangladeshi community of Australia to an appeal in Keysborough College and speaking there.
There are two particular efforts of direct work that I want to call out and praise. Firstly, the incredible Sikh Volunteers Australia. These people are amazing. They are out there every week, week in week out, practising their religion and their culture, the custom of langar and the community kitchen and giving free vegetarian meals and water bottles to anyone. They went en masse down to Bairnsdale in Gippsland at the height of the fires. They camped there for over two weeks and fed the locals and SES volunteers and firefighters, working with some of the local Sikh and Indian restaurants but continuing that supply chain back from our part of Melbourne. It was an incredibly beautiful effort. The Sikh Sewaks of Australia took hundreds of meals up to Wangaratta and have done collections and donations and so on.
One of the most difficult things by mid-January was fielding the calls from so many locals who wanted to help and having to explain to them that it was not going to help to drive up to a fire front with cars full of stuff. The last thing they needed, the locals told us, was more things to clog up the halls where they were trying to make critical decisions. We actually had to talk so many groups out of that and explain to them that there would be a time for those things, but it wasn't now. I am sure that many people will continue to be part of that recovery.
The final thing I would say is thank you to everyone who has contributed in my community and nationally. It does show the very best of the Australian spirit. Thank you.
It is with great sorrow that I rise in the House today to share my deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones during this devastating bushfire season. While families lost mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, Australians lost brave, selfless heroes. It is so fitting that we dedicate today and yesterday to honouring and thanking those who have so courageously served our communities through the ongoing bushfire crisis and, importantly, those who have lost their lives. While the homes, roads and bridges can all be replaced, nothing can bring back the 33 people, including the six brave firefighters we lost. As a father myself, I can only imagine the pain of loss that these families are feeling. My thoughts are with you all as we grieve in this tragedy. To the families who lost a loved one, Australia grieves with you. To the families of the fallen firefighters, Australia grieves with you. The deep gratitude that we have for their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Through these tragic times, however, we have also witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of love, support, courage and generosity—the traits that continue to underpin the true Australian spirit. Every time Australians are knocked down in times of tragedy or natural disaster, our neighbours are there to pick us up. It is the selfless acts of donating goods, opening up your home or volunteering to help out that lifts our spirits and encourages us to carry on.
Late last year Moreton Island in my electorate of Bonner was impacted by bushfires. On 16 November a large electrical storm rolled in and sparked a fire that rapidly spread to the northern parts of Moreton Island. While a number of residents' homes were under threat in the Cowan Cowan and Bulwer townships, they were spared, thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters and local residents. While homes were saved, the same couldn't be said for much of the wildlife, bushland and camping grounds loved by so many. I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to the Queensland fireys, Queensland Police and volunteer firefighters from the Kooringal, Cowan Cowan and Bulwer townships of Moreton Island, who prevented this fast-moving fire from becoming a complete disaster. The amazing staff at Tangalooma Island Resort also ensured the ongoing safety of residents, guests, staff and displaced campers. Their Aussie spirit shone through as they offered free shelter, blankets, pillows, bathroom facilities and a barbecue dinner for over 300 people displaced in the event. I want to thank them for their outstanding efforts.
Back in September, Queensland was suffering with more than 50 fires burning across the state. We lost the historic Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Beautiful national parks burned and more than 1,500 homes were lost. The drought-affected Granite Belt, a region already struggling with water restrictions, suffered horrific bushfire conditions and, as a result, seven structures, including three homes, were destroyed in the area. Raging bushfires impacted Stanthorpe township and the surrounding areas of The Summit and Applethorpe, with the New England Highway being cut off. There were no words to describe the devastation in that region as we fellow Queenslanders watched on. Power was cut, water was already scarce and the dry landscape just lit up. It stirred a lot of emotion for many people in my electorate who are connected to our rural neighbours. The popular region is well known and many of my constituents wanted to help.
Leading up to Christmas, I decided to support the Granite Belt region with the Ross Vasta Christmas Appeal for Stanthorpe, to give people in my electorate of Bonner the opportunity to help out. Partnering with online charity GIVIT, I was so proud and humbled by the amazing donations received. We managed to raise more than $5,000 to help bring some Christmas cheer back to the region. It inspired people of all ages in my electorate to help. One donation that stood out was from eight-year-old Charlotte Mews of Wynnum State School. Charlotte held a bake sale with the Moreton Bay Girl Guides, raising $123, which she gave to our Christmas appeal. She recently visited her grandparents in Stanthorpe and decided she wanted to help farmers struggling through the drought. We also made sure that donations received were spent at local businesses in the area to further support the region. Stanthorpe's St Vincent de Paul Society branch identified a number of families in need, to ensure that the donations from my electorate of Bonner went to those who needed it the most. Thank you to everyone who donated to this appeal. You have helped to bring so much joy and relief to those who really need it. We had barely driven out of the city when Lee Stroud from St Vincent de Paul Society Stanthorpe called to say that she had already given some donations to a local family in need. The mum was so overwhelmed that she initially became speechless. She was so grateful.
To receive such warm-hearted responses from the community made it so apparent how much people in the bush are struggling and how much they value our help—big or small. As a nation, we are as strong as we are united and as weak as we are divided. The spirit, courage and mateship shown in times of crisis unite us and define us. Thank you to everyone who has united to support the families, businesses and communities completely devastated by the bushfires. Together, we will get through it and we will come out that much stronger.
To those who have lost family and loved ones during this horrible bushfire season, of course our deepest sympathies are with them. One life lost is one too many and we have lost far too many people this summer. To our tireless emergency service workers and volunteers, we all have thanked you for your dedication, your care and your heroism over the course of many, many months. We have heard so many remarkable stories of courage and selflessness. We know that were it not for those tireless and selfless people, many more lives would have been lost in these fires. There are those who, as we speak today, are still working to protect our communities from fires that are still burning. We all know that the threat isn't over and that we have a long way to go before this threat is over.
The devastation of these fires has affected so many across Australia and we've heard from so many members and senators about the impact on their communities. While my electorate is in the inner north—the suburban north of Melbourne—many of my constituents have written to me and shared their experiences, whether they themselves have had to evacuate or had family and loved ones who were under threat. Everyone has been touched by this, wherever they are in Australia. Over the past month, the people in my electorate of Wills, like so many communities around Australia, have come together to do what they can to support those directly devastated by the fires. Some people may consider this is very small, in the larger scheme of things, but the small efforts all add up. I want to say a special thanks to the people in my community who have made an effort to reach out, provide support, raise money and donate resources to the people who have been affected.
The staff at Wild Timor, the local coffee shop just near my electorate office, have donated all their tips to Foodbank Australia and Wildlife Victoria. The Coburg Market held a barbecue fundraiser for the Victorian bushfire recovery effort. The Pascoe Vale RSL raised money for the people of Mallacoota. The Fawkner Bowling Club went up against the Fawkner RSL in a bowls challenge to raise funds for bushfire recovery. There was even a yoga class fundraiser at Joe's Market Garden at CERES and a film fundraiser at the Coburg drive-in—yes, we still have one in my electorate. A bush dance at the Spotted Mallard in Brunswick raised funds. A barbecue and social tennis game and tennis class at East Coburg Tennis Club raised funds, and $1 from every pint sold at the Post Office Hotel in Coburg throughout the months of January and February will go to the bushfire recovery.
Each small act of generosity, each gift of time or money and each local event organised with those directly affected by this fire season add up and make a difference. In times of crisis, that's what we do: we band together, all of us, regardless of our backgrounds. We are, I think, reminded of what we share and what we have in common at these times. That Australian spirit of community, giving back and lending a hand has been on full display in my local community and, of course, in communities across the country.
As discussion inevitably turns to recovery and rebuilding, we must not forget that we are still in the middle of this. The bushfire season is not over, and communities are still under threat. We must acknowledge also that this bushfire season, extreme as it has been, has not been an anomaly. We know that climate change has impacted the length and the intensity of our bushfire seasons. That's why we must act in a unified way as a nation with urgency. I thought the member for Eden-Monaro's speech in the chamber yesterday really captured the essence of that call. The pleas that he made to those on the other side of the chamber were touching because it is about that spirit of unity and coming together to do something to tackle these issues, address climate change here at home and get to zero emissions. Only then can we take a leadership role on the global stage to urge other nations to reduce their global emissions. In the coming weeks and months, my hope—as we've all hoped in the last day or two—is that, as a parliament in this place where we work, we can not only honour those who have lost their lives by being there for the people and communities in their recovery but also work together in a spirit of bipartisanship for the betterment of our nation.
I rise to speak on the bushfires condolence motion today. It has been a challenging time particularly for much of eastern Australia, but right across Australia now as Western Australia is struggling with fires. It's unsurprising that we've had some fires in my electorate of Grey, since it covers over 92 per cent of the state. We are pretty well in drought across a lot of it, and I must say that, by comparison, we haven't had the incredible tragedies we have seen in the eastern states and to our south in South Australia on Kangaroo Island. I will touch on Kangaroo Island in a little while. But let it be said that we have had our challenges.
On 11 November, two homes were lost in Port Lincoln. A number of buildings and 280 hectares were burnt out. It is a concern that that was in an area on the outskirts of the city where we've had, I think, the third fire in about 10 years. That really does bring into question some of those things about local management, I think. It's like Kangaroo Island. It's very dense scrubland. It's pretty inaccessible and, of course, it supports a pretty good fire. I think it's going to be an issue for urban communities within the regions—to clear areas around their towns. We are going to have to have a serious conversation about it after this year.
It was, in fact, on lower Eyre Peninsula in 2005 that we had the Wangary fires, which razed 93 houses and 316 farm sheds, and burnt 78,000 hectares. There were 150 injuries and nine fatalities. As a ray of hope to those that have been burnt out, let me tell you: you would hardly know it if you went there now. The farms have been repaired, the houses have been rebuilt and, largely, the landscape has been restored. But I can tell you: the human scars remain. It is always particularly close to the hearts of those that have lost family and friends, but it is also the property losses, the grieving—I think it probably goes on for most of their life. They've readjusted and they're getting on with their life and all those things, but you know it's always there somewhere.
Then we had 20 November last year. That was a dreadful day. We had two fires on Yorke Peninsula and another one on the northern end of Yorke Peninsula at Port Wakefield. The worst was down at Yorketown—the fire at the southern end—where 5,000 hectares of cropping land was burnt. The crops were valued at about $1.3 million. Mercifully, no lives were lost, but 11 homes were destroyed. I have to say that, having driven around the fire scene a couple of days later with the mayor, Darren Braund, meeting volunteers and some locals, not all of the 11 homes were the first residence on the property, if you like. Some of them were older homes; they might have been rentals or whatever. But it occurs to me that it doesn't matter if you're renting a house and it doesn't matter whether one house or 100 were burned: if yours is the house that's burned and you've lost all your belongings, it's just as big a tragedy as if 100 of them burned. Eleven houses were lost down there.
I've got to say, as many others have said, that certainly the district has rallied around those people. And the local farmers—I rate the farmers on their farm appliances very highly. They are often the quickest, the first, to a fire. They're very valuable and make an enormous difference. Then, with their appliances, the CFS, the SES, the ambos and the Salvos were all there, and the community was generally working together, unsurprisingly. It is what we expect, but it is also what we see.
Then, barely a month later, we were back at it again, this time at Maitland, about 80 or 100 kilometres north of Yorketown. Once again, it was the great work of the fire units and the CFS that averted disaster. Only 1,700 hectares were burnt, but it was a long stretch, with a high potential for breakouts on a number of fronts when the wind shift came through. It took quite a bit of controlling. No homes were lost. The property losses in total were low; however, one farmer was substantially affected, even though his house was saved. I spoke with him recently. He was well insured and will spring back from the experience, but it was clear he was very moved by the help and offers of assistance that had come forward.
During this period we had a fire interstate in Western Australia, near Norseman. It cut the Eyre Highway, which is the main road between Sydney and Perth. It goes through my home town of Kimba. Cars were piled up at Ceduna, Border Village and other places for two weeks, so it was pretty disruptive to the national economy and pretty disruptive to people trying to go about their daily lives—and it was pretty disruptive for people trying to get to work. The effects have been felt there.
Then we had the Kangaroo Island fires. Kangaroo Island, of course, is not in the electorate of Grey; it is in Mayo. But there are many families from my electorate that own properties and operate properties on Kangaroo Island. Some manage them from the mainland, and others have family members down there living on the island. Such is the case with some of our friends. As of a couple of days ago, my friend had spent all but three days of the last month away from home, down on the island, battling the fires that just keep breaking out on the property from smouldering embers—from pastures, in fact, that keep smouldering. You get a bad day, up goes a puff of smoke, and he needs to be there with his workers. Over a long period of time friends who came down from the mainland brought their fire units and were ready to douse those flames when they came up. He contacted me and asked me to come over and have a look and have a chat to the locals and give a hand. He was a bit concerned about some local management issues. I let Rebekha Sharkie know that I was going onto her patch. He thought that maybe there were some lessons to be learned. I visited his property for a couple of days to give a bit of a hand. It was after the second catastrophic day they'd faced down there. We had a big burn out on the western end and it turned around on the second catastrophic day about a week later and was bearing down on the middle of the island. The damage on Kangaroo Island is of a different scale to what we have seen in Grey this year, more like those fires at Wangary in 2005 that I mentioned.
Mercifully, perhaps luckily, on Kangaroo Island there were just two lives lost as a direct result of the fire. A famous gentleman, outback pilot and pioneer tourist legend Dick Lang and his son Clayton, who was one of South Australia's leading plastic surgeons, tragically lost their lives on the road adjacent to Flinders Chase on the western end of the island. I'll come back to that in a moment, because I think there's a lesson to be learned there. Dick had been a great gift to South Australia as he opened up the outback and made excursions for city lovers possible to look at the wonderful things there are in the outback of South Australia—the outback of Grey, I must say.
So, to come to these lessons, this is what my friend wanted me to come over to the island and see. He said, 'Properties here on the island are generally livestock orientated, and they are crisscrossed by laneways.' Farmers want to be able to get their sheep in and out of the shearing shed and from one paddock to another, so they put in these 20 to 25 metre wide laneways within their properties. It became quite apparent to him—they've been there a number of years now—that farmers as a general rule of thumb turn their sheep out into the pastures in spring and eat down the spring flush. As they work their way through summer and as feed supplies get low then they'll graze their laneways. He said, 'It could be as simple as grazing the laneways first and doing a bit of light cultivation down the side of the tracks. We would have a crisscross of firebreaks across all these properties on the island.' It's such a simple message. Yet you can see it's not being done at the moment. I raise these as constructive comments. I'll round it up in a moment when I get there.
Another thing he talked about was that the road corridors carry heavy vegetation. In fact, this was confirmed by a friend of mine who is a CFS volunteer and who has worked on fires all around Australia. He is one of those blokes who put his hand up and said, 'Yes, I'll go.' He's a sector commander. He's worked his way up. My friend would be likely to be in charge of four, five or six fire trucks on the site. It's his job to make sure the trucks go to the right place to fight the fire and that his people are safe. He came away after the second stint over there, a three-day stint with the fireys, and said, 'This is the worst one I've ever faced.' The country over there is more inaccessible than any he had faced before. He said, 'I think I'm getting too old for this.' I doubt that he is, but he was exhausted by the process. He said, 'The gullies are so deep that you can't get the dozers across them.' Of course the gullies are where the heavy vegetation is, down along the creeks. On Kangaroo Island—it's one of the things that makes it so beautiful—you drive down the road and you wouldn't know that there is a paddock on the other side of the scrub not more than 20 metres away, because it is so dense. My friend said that in fact they've discovered about five or six farmhouses around their property that they didn't even know were there, because now they can see through the scrub because it's burnt. Then he went on to say that, unlike where I come from and he comes from, they don't have big machinery, so a gate on a farm on Kangaroo Island is typically five metres wide—an iron gate. Where I come from, we would have a 12-metre wire gate, because we have to get decent sized machinery through. If you've got a five-metre gate, you only need about a six-metre or seven-metre break off the road through this dense scrub land to get your sheep, your ute, your dog and your motorbikes in and out of the paddock. Consequently, the canopy still joins over. As these fires are coming down the road they're like fingers. They burn with great velocity and there is no way of stopping them. Then, when the wind turns or the road turns, they break out into the farmlands again. He said, 'It would be so simple, if we had some 20- to 25-metre breaks at each of these gates.' Some of them have been pushed in, I must say. People have taken things into their own hands in recent times. When I was talking to my friend, the sector controller, he came up with exactly the same answer. He said, 'If every half a kilometre we had a 50-metre break on one side of the road and down a bit further, about 500 metres, we had another 50-metre break on the other side of the road, that wouldn't stop the native wildlife getting around—that wouldn't stop the koalas; they could easily walk across that little bit—but it would give the firefighters a place to stop the fire, which doesn't exist at the moment.' These are the conversations we have to have now.
I said I wanted to talk about Dick Lang again. While I was over there we took the drive through Flinders Chase out to Cape Borda on the western end of the island. I hadn't really thought about where Dick had perished, and we came across the site. The police had painted on the road. You could see where they panicked. They were trying to get through the smoke and the car had veered here and there, and then Clayton must have jumped and run and they both perished. The tragedy of it was that they were only 25 metres from an open paddock, but there was no way they could get there because of the dense scrub that was alight. If there had been a hole in the roadside vegetation, they probably would have got through it, but we'll never know, of course.
The reason I bring these things up is I think what we need now on the island is for someone to bring in particular the farmers but also other land managers together now to actually go and have a look at what worked and what didn't work. What are the lessons we can get out of this to try and make sure that this kind of conflagration does not happen again?
There's another opportunity. When my friend brought this second farm about six years ago, the old bloke he bought it off said, 'You'll have a fire there in six years.' And it has been six years. My friend said: 'Why? How do you know that?' and the bloke said, 'Because there was a fire there seven years ago and it burns every 13 years.' My friend said, 'Why's that?' The bloke said, 'There's an oily acacia that grows up the creek lines and it burns right out. For 12 years it's too green to burn, and then it's ready.' If something is that predictable, there must be something we can do about it. What I want to see is the community get together over there now and go through those things that can make a difference. I've spoken to the member for Mayo about this, and I will give any assistance I can to her. It's obviously not my electorate, and so it's not my place to go rummaging around all over the place, but whatever I can do through my farming contacts to try and bring that community together to have that kind of conversation I will do. At least at the end of this terrible fire season, with the loss of life—and my heart goes out to all of those—we can take some positive land management steps forward. We can say: 'Well, it doesn't have to be like this. We can actually alter the way we live within our environment to make sure we can protect our people, property, family and friends.' Thank you.
Summer is an evocative word for Australians. We anticipate Christmas functions with family and friends gathered; holidays at the beach on golden sands and crisp, blue waters; caravan parks full of kids on bikes; backyards taken over for riotous cricket games; and sizzling sausages on barbecues in the evenings. This summer, across our nation, we were watching emergency apps over Christmas. Our beaches were either on fire or blanketed by smoke and covered in the blackened remnants of fires burning elsewhere, sometimes hours away. We couldn't sit outside for a meal as smoke choked us in our towns and our capital cities. It was nothing like we had ever seen before. It was unprecedented and so was the extraordinary response of communities across the country as people desperately wanted to do something to help, and this included my community.
I tried to keep up with sharing social media posts about fundraisers and donation points, and I just couldn't, as there was so much going on. I just want to share a sample of these with the chamber to indicate how deeply moved my community was and how they rallied to help. On Sunday 22 December, locals supported the Southern Highlands bushfire appeal by collecting and packing hampers in Russell Vale. The Russell Vale Connect Facebook group organisers were kept very busy organising and delivering toys, books, crayons, board games, gift cards, nappies, toiletries and non-perishable food items. Members of the Illawarra RFS region, including Mount Kembla, Mount Keira, Austinmer, Otford, Stanwell Park, Helensburgh and Darkes Forest in Cunningham, had been at so many fire fronts outside our area, fighting for communities in the mountains and along our coast, and indeed many of them are off today to the Cooma area. At the same time, local brigades such as Helensburgh, Austinmer and Mount Kembla were holding information sessions to ensure that our local community was bushfire ready, particular those along our escarpment and near our national parks, as well as providing one-off assistance to elderly, infirm or disabled residents living in bushfire risk areas to make sure that their properties were well prepared.
Surf Life Saving Illawarra were on standby several times during the fire at Sussex Inlet. Together with lifesavers from Sydney, the Northern Beaches and the South Coast, they had 14 inflatable rescue boats as well as defibrillators, oxygen and first aid kits ready to deploy. So many locals who work for organisations such as the SES, other state emergency services and federal agencies, such as Centrelink, were deployed in a wide variety of ways to provide support to the affected communities. The Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service established a South Coast Fires Indigenous Response page to coordinate efforts in southern New South Wales and collect donations of cash, food and other essential supplies. Lifeline and headspace in our local area regularly reached out to bushfire affected communities and volunteers. Both Lifeline and our local headspace provided vital mental health advice on social media. Organisations such as Greenacres Disability Services also used social media to ensure that people who are NDIS recipients and who were affected by the fires had information and knew where they could go to get assistance. Illawarra Retirement Trust and Warrigal care acted to provide support to residents in their aged-care facilities in the affected areas and to provide information for their families, many of whom are in my area.
Local families and community organisations were active across our community in raising funds, collecting donations and helping however they could. I will just give some examples. Unanderra Public School put out a call for back-to-school packs for South Coast students. They were soon joined by Woonona East Public School, Corrimal Public School and Figtree Heights Public School. The team at Tradies Helensburgh also got in and backed the fundraiser. Figtree Heights Public School also collected books in a partnership to help Mogo Public School. My office and the offices of my state colleagues, Paul Scully and Ryan Park, helped collect donations for this effort.
The Maritime Union of Australia, including our local branch at Port Kembla, put out a call for a fundraiser and collected cash and non-perishable food, including pet food, toiletries and clothing. Over 100 locals turned up to the Thirroul bowling club to participate in a sewing day for injured wildlife at the Shoalhaven Bat Clinic & Sanctuary/Wildlife Rescue South Coast. Many who couldn't sew contributed blankets and towels to be used to make pouches for joeys. Other sewing groups, such as those at the Warrigal care facilities, did the same. In Mangerton, Riley Hart, Lennox Gripton, Jude Smith, Sage Dawson, Ginger Smith, Blake Gripton and baby Alba Dawson, all primary school students, held a lemonade stand to raise money for the local Rural Fire Service, and it was wonderful to see them there. They looked so proud of their efforts.
In Towradgi, Jett Cervoni and his family and classmates held a lemonade and cupcake stand—so the stakes were rising—to help endangered animals affected by the South Coast fires. Jihad Salem and the Iman Foundation have been taking their barbecue to fire affected Indigenous communities. They partnered with Ripe Mentoring to raise $3,500 for the Indigenous crisis response and recovery. Local businesses donated directly. They helped raise donations. They provided raffle tickets and prizes for events. There are just far too many to name.
I do want to give an example of how wide participation by our local businesses was. Jania, George and Elie at Thirroul Fruit Barn donated fresh produce, including many boxes of sweet potatoes, to Wildlife South Coast to help feed the many animals affected by the fires. They are still taking donations and organising activities. Local Thirroul resident Michael Lavilles organised local Thirroul cafes to give away free coffee and other items to customers who made a cash donation to the bushfire appeal. That included Saffron's Milk Bar, Leading Edge Video—as an aside I want to offer best wishes to John and Marian Wallace, who have been running that business for 40 years, on their imminent retirement—Cucina Cafe, Black Market Cafe, Two Mountains Merchants, Seafoam Cafe, the Old School Cafe—there's a very strong cafe culture in Thirroul so, if you're ever in town, drop by and see these wonderful businesses—Revive 2515, Buck Hamblin, Finbox Cafe, Blackbird Cafe and Honest Don's cafe. Chase Murray, the owner of Alexander's Cafe at Dapto, raised $30,000 and gathered 300 weekly scoop lunch packs and 30 school bags with stock and supplies for kids to start the year at school.
Ash Fisher, owner of the Art House Cafe at Port Kembla, collected bottles of water, clothing, toiletries and other items. The cafe also hosted a 'Live and loud for the fireys' event, with performers Grace Mae, Marley Fox, Estelle, Emily Koumakis, Jamie Walsh, Dear Violet, Zayden Spinelli and Kayla Shea. They raised $2,500 for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Wollongong Music Foundry and Mark Lenzo did a similar event—a 'Playing for fireys' concert—and raised about $5,000. Our local Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and sports clubs helped neighbouring communities in the South Coast through assistance and donations. Rotary Clubs of the Illawarra held a community collection at Wollongong City Council's New Year's Eve celebrations and donated $3,162 to the Rural Fire Service. Twenty thousand dollars was raised at a special charity football match at Kembla Grange, organised by Football South Coast, the Wollongong Wolves and Albion Park City FC.
This week there was a fundraising golf day called 'Illawarra codes combine', with the Wolves, St George Illawarra Dragons and the Illawarra Hawks. Figtree Bowling Club donated $2,000 to the Mount Keira brigade. You could buy lemonade, you could buy cupcakes, you could buy raffle tickets, you could go to a concert, and you could go and watch a sports event. Our community was so creative in the many, many ways they found to enable people to come together to help those who were affected and that they were so concerned about.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the critically important role our local media played in supporting affected communities by providing fire information, sharing information about community fundraising activities and helping raise spirits with amazing and heart-warming stories. I saw this in the pages of the Illawarra Mercury, I heard it on the radio from i98FM and Wave FM and I saw it on our local WIN TV and Channel Nine news. But I want to give a special mention to the amazing people at our ABC locally, across our region and indeed the national team. Their professionalism and compassion were on display day after day—and continue now.
My community would want me to express their deepest condolences to the families of the firefighters who lost their lives in this battle, to the community members who died fighting to save their homes and to the wonderful three aerial firefighters from America, killed when their plane went down while helping fight our fires.
Lives have been lost, properties destroyed, businesses smashed, communities gutted, wildlife lost in unimaginable numbers and the land deeply scarred. We must learn the lessons of improved response. We must put all effort into support during rebuilding. We must listen to the local people about their experiences. We must heed the knowledge and deep understanding of land of our First Australians. We must come together to rebuild but also to ensure we are protecting our land for the future—by listening to the science, acting on climate change and giving our beautiful land and animals and our amazing people a future that doesn't see these unprecedented fires as business as usual.
It is a period over the summer months—that we've just been through—that has been incredibly trying for everybody, because we have that sense of duty to our people but also to the people that our friends and colleagues represent. For the vast majority of the time over the summer, I've been incredibly lucky and grateful that the seat of Nicholls has been able to avoid any major fires, predominantly because it's a very, very flat area—mainly pastured land. When fires do break out, the fire trucks are normally able to get to them and simply put the fires out, with good access right across the electorate. We do have areas to the north, around Barmah, that are heavily forested—and we were lucky that we had no fires there—and also to the south of the electorate, around Broadford and Seymour. It's a heavily forested area there again. We were lucky that we didn't have any outbreaks there.
I was able to keep in contact with my good friend Darren Chester—certainly the worst affected electorate in Victoria, where so much of Gippsland and so many communities were severely damaged. When you were talking to Minister Chester, it was really quite worrying because you knew that your good friend wasn't coping very well and that the situation that he was dealing with day after day was really troublesome, when it affects the MPs in the way that it was. I had exactly the same response from my good friend in the Victorian parliament, Tim Bull, the member for Gippsland East—again, the sheer trouble in their voices when you're ringing to ask how they're going, and they simply say: 'No, not good. This is horrible. Our people are being put through an absolute entree into hell here.'
It wasn't until I had the opportunity to travel up there, along with a group of other National Party members, to see if we could help for a few days. On 13 January we took off for a few days and went past Bairnsdale, into Gelantipy and up near Buchan—which is normally famous for the Buchan Caves. We went up to a few places seldom seen. We went nearly up to the New South Wales border, where we were able to help a few farmers there roll up some old, burnt out fences. It's heartbreaking work for the farmers to do this recovery work. To have a handful of pollies trying to help in the best way we could for a few days was well received, I think. Again, it was not our patch; it was the patch of our colleagues.
Until you actually go there and witness it, you don't realise the predicament that these farmers are left with: 200-odd cattle on a farm that doesn't really have any fences. So, how do you build a makeshift stockyard and a makeshift ramp—because the previous one's been burnt out—and how can you do that in such a way that's going to enable you to round those cattle up? They're big strong cattle, so how are you going to be able to round them up and put them on trucks to get them to another farm?
It was Paul Sykes's farm that we were actually working on to rebuild the stockyard. I've never seen such ingenuity. They say that there's not much that wire and a bit of duct tape can't fix—but to see a temporary stockyard get thrown up within a couple of hours, the cattle fed and then the cattle loaded and taken away. The ingenuity of these guys was very impressive. They had been put through the wringer, with the fire going through their property and burning thousands and thousands of dollars worth of hay. You could see the generosity, with a couple of hay trucks coming in to help them get through.
While we're talking about hay trucks, I want to thank my brother Des Drum from Shepparton and his mate Howard Phillips. In conjunction with the Katandra Men's Shed, they've been raising money around the district and taking donations of hay and sending them up towards Corryong. Four trucks have gone up there with hay worth about $20,000. I know that right around Australia there are so many people like that who have gotten off their backsides, raised money and put it to productive use. It was great to see people from around Shepparton, which wasn't touched, contributing in such a fulsome way to people 300 or 400 kilometres away. When we were up there we saw the absolute necessity of the hay trucks that were turning up. There were no questions asked. Obviously people know that the stock are there, they are alive, they need something to eat and there is nothing there for them at the moment. It has enabled these farmers to persevere.
It really is incredible to see the loss. We drove through the Buchan and Gelantipy area. Clifton Creek lost their school and quite a few houses. We talked to some of the landowners there. The sense of loss is quite astonishing. Again your heart goes out to these people who have lost their houses and have had to struggle through. The other thing we have to look at is the amount of people who have been in business—from hoteliers to cafe proprietors—and understand how much income they have lost. They had already gone through some very tough seasons and have had this on top of all of their previous drought problems. It really has knocked so many businesses in. I know some may not recover from that.
I'd also like to mention a Goulburn Valley fruitgrower who has expanded his operation beyond the Goulburn Valley up into the Batlow area. Some 20 or 30 farmers up there are growing some of Australia's best apples. There was a combination: some orchardists were somewhat lucky and lost 30 per cent of their crop while others, such as Billy Barolli, lost their entire crop plus the posts, netting and fencing. It was a total wipe-out for some of the growers.
There's going to be an enormous amount of work for the New South Wales government, with the criteria they've put in place, to see who's going to be able to receive what type of assistance. We're going to have to have that criteria fully tested to make sure the right people get assistance. That's going to be a very complex piece of work for the New South Wales government and the Victorian government, which are going to be in control of putting in place that criteria. I don't want to talk too long on this condolence motion because, as I said, my area wasn't affected and I only visited the affected areas for three days.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 18:18 to 18:30
The bushfires that we have seen rage across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and here in our nation's capital have been nothing short of horrific. Thirty-three people now have lost their lives in this disaster. These include Australians who put themselves in harm's way as volunteers, as firefighters, and those simply trying to defend their own homes. That includes five firefighters from New South Wales and Victoria, as well as three firefighters who came out here from the United States to lend their hand in our fire effort. That includes 25 people, most of whom were defending their homes and their farms, who now will never come home. More than 2,000 homes have been lost across Australia since these fires began. I think I speak for us all when I say that our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts are also with those who are part of the volunteer and professional fire services as a whole, as well as with those in our parks and wildlife services.
I wish to thank not only the various fire services from around our country and around the world who have lent their support but also our Australian Defence Force and, indeed, the defence forces from other nations that have come to help us in our time of need. The impact the ADF has made in the fire effort is extraordinary, and they continue to work tirelessly in the clean-up effort. What we have seen during these fires is the value of deploying our Defence Force and reservists and the need to ensure that the mechanism for their deployment in such domestic emergencies be examined further. We must ensure that should we be confronted with such disasters again, as I am sure we will, our ADF can be quickly and appropriately mobilised to anywhere they may be required across our vast country, with all of the equipment they may require in such circumstances.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 18:32 to 18:52
As I was saying, we must ensure that, should we be confronted with such disasters again, our ADF can be quickly and appropriately mobilised to anywhere they may be required across our vast country, with all the equipment they may require in such circumstances. Our thanks must go also to our civil mariners who helped with evacuations, providing essential supplies and sheltering those in need of refuge from the fires.
There have been many words spoken in this place, yesterday and today, of the pain and suffering that has been experienced by thousands across this country, and we know that the effects of that will continue to be felt for some time. I join in the contributions of my fellow members to this motion, and, in the interests of brevity, I will only make some brief points.
The experience of these fires is something familiar to my community in Perth's south-eastern suburbs, having been subjected to many fires over the years, most memorably—at least, for my family and community—the 2011 Kelmscott fires, where my parents were subsequently out of their house for two years, and many of our neighbours' homes were decimated. Then, imprinted on the mind of every Western Australian, there is the Yarloop fire of 2015, which left the entire town flattened. And there have been so many others.
These fires all over the country have been burning for months, including the Yanchep fire in the north of Perth, the Baldivis fires just south of my community, and the Nullarbor Plain fires, which cut WA off from the rest of the country by road for nearly two weeks. Together, all of these fires this season have burnt over 18 million hectares.
Before this season's fires, so many small businesses were already suffering, due to the already floundering state of the economy. It's the industries in many areas affected by fire, the small businesses and tourism operators, who rely on the summer holidays to bolster their annual incomes. They were relying on the summer break to strengthen and fill their coffers. The loss of the usual trade and tourism opportunities they traditionally rely on because of the fires will leave an impact on these communities long after the vegetation itself has regenerated. That's why last week I, along with the shadow minister for small and family business and the member for Macquarie, met with small business representatives in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Yesterday we also met with members of the Bilpin community to hear their stories. We heard how many visitors have stayed away from these areas during what is usually their very busy time of year. This impacts business; it reduces employee hours; and it means that these employees then have less money to spend in their community. We heard from small business owners whose businesses survived the flames but are floundering nonetheless, as town centres remain empty of local and visiting customers. They told us that the economic conditions they now face feel worse than the global financial crisis. Some businesses have already been forced to close their doors, and many are at risk of the same fate if they don't get cash soon—not just loans that they can't even apply for yet. Together we can and must continue to work to support our fellow Australians, including these businesses, not just now but for the long haul.
This summer we saw extreme weather events, from hail to flames, flood to dust, on the back of record-breaking droughts. So we must act to mitigate the increases of such extremes. We cannot ignore, as some insist on doing, the impact of human caused climate change on the increased frequency and severity of weather events. We have to stop having this fight about climate change, because it is real and human activity is contributing to it. We can't keep burying our heads in the sand, especially when 195 countries in Paris agreed that it was so. We need to take collective action, not continue to have political argument; action that is real; action that protects and creates even more opportunities for growth; action that everyone is proud of now and in the future.
From these fires we've also seen some fantastic demonstrations of solidarity across our country, from mind-blowing fundraising efforts to grassroots community campaigns, even in my electorate of Burt. For instance, the Armadale Mosque, the Australian Arab Association, and even Sienna, a 10-year-old from Piara Waters in my electorate, who sold cupcakes at a stall outside her house over the holidays to raise money for the victims of these fires. My community couldn't get much further away from these east coast bushfires and, frankly, they really don't have much to give either. But they get it. They know the horror all too well, as do so many other Australians. In response to these bushfires, still raging, we see the solidarity that is the foundation of our nation. Firefighters from my community and many other communities in WA volunteered to uproot their lives, leave work and leave their families to travel to fire zones in the east to support the fire effort there over the summer. And they know that fireys in the east would do the same for us. For we all have that shared humanity, that sense of mateship which arises within us and surfaces across Australia in times of crisis like this.
So together we must and we do pay tribute to those who we have lost and to those lives that will never be the same again. And our help must not just be now, but ongoing. Reconstruction and the emotional effects will last for years, and it is important that all of us, as I know we do in this parliament, stand together with all those affected. Our hearts, our prayers, our thoughts are with all of you, and we will continue to do our best to ensure that your lives in the future are better than what you are suffering now.
In starting my remarks today the first thing I want to do is acknowledge how Australians are so affected by the 33 people who lost their lives during the fires that we've seen in Australia over the summer period. Our deepest sympathy goes to their families, their friends and their communities, and equally for the three US firefighters who also lost their lives.
The extraordinary day in, day out efforts and courage of volunteer and career firefighters, the parks and wildlife people, the local people who helped each other, the Australian Defence Force, the animal rescue groups and all of the organisations who have and are helping communities—I want to acknowledge and thank them all. I want to thank those who are still out there fighting fires and those who will spend weeks and months after the fires patrolling the fire affected areas. It's a massive part of our firefighters' work that is often overlooked, and this is where so many of our volunteers spend so much of their time after a fire.
I want to acknowledge the local people in the fire affected regional communities, who've worked so closely together to support each other and their communities, for their resilience, courage and strength to face this challenge and deal with the rebuilding of communities and the long haul ahead.
I acknowledge the businesses, particularly small businesses in regional towns, who've supported and encouraged the volunteer firefighters. Several very serious fires have occurred in my electorate over the past 10 years or so, most recently the Yarloop fires around Yarloop, Waroona and Cookernup and several in our south-west. There have been other fires this year as well over the summer: in Nannup and Kemerton—just two. They were fires that were well controlled due to the efforts of our volunteers and career firefighters.
But no matter what the crisis is, Australians step up to help each other, even if they're suffering hardship themselves, and often taking the view that there's always someone worse off than they are. A wonderful example of this has been the Harvey Hay Run. It was instigated by Belinda Hall and her husband Joe from Cookernup—one of the communities that was so badly affected in those dreadful Waroona-Yarloop fires of 2016; in fact, those communities are still recovering four years on. The plan was to take hay from the south-west of WA nearly 4,000 kilometre to the Cooma area in New South Wales to provide feed. It was almost like one dairy area to another. The process started on 3 January and, as happens in our rural communities, word spread really quickly and soon there were eight road trains pledged to do the trip within about four days. Donations of hay ranged from a single bale—some of the big rolls and big squares—through to one company that donated 52 bales. There was hay in all forms. There was really generous support from individual local farmers—those who were so badly affected by the 2016 Yarloop-Waroona bushfires, those whose businesses and communities are still recovering from the fires four years on. These donations came from a farming community in our south-west in the middle of what is a really dry season that comes on the back of successive dry years where stockfeed, hay and silage are all in short supply and are very expensive. So they've committed their hay to those on the east coast that are worse off than they are.
We've recently seen significant increases in dairy pellet feed prices in the last two weeks as well, and this just shows you the generosity and genuine willingness of our local farmers to support their fellow Australian farmers who are so much worse off, 'They're 4,000 kays away but let's do our bit,' and that's what they did. This is the spirit, the courage, the resilience and the compassion that makes Australia a country that we are truly proud of—the country we celebrate and acknowledge on Australia Day.
Cash donations were also pledged to the Harvey Hay Run: $5,000 from a company; a $4,000 anonymous personal donation; and a lot of support from the people of Yarloop who lost their own homes from the fires four years previously. Phil and Paul Curulli offered their Cookernup property as a hay drop-off point—you had to get it together. The practical coordination, loading and logistics efforts mostly happened at Tommy Rose's farm in Roelands. Now Tom was really quick to volunteer his truck. He's a long-term farmer. He volunteered his time to be the driver. He volunteered his property and whatever practical support was needed to make this happen. Considering the various shapes and sizes of bales that were donated, Tom made sure they were all rebaled into squares that would fit on the back of those trucks. They were road trains, and they had to fit to travel well. His farm at Roelands was a hive of activity in those days and nights leading up to the run. We shared a few phone calls at the time. There was no doubt that they were all tired. They took an extra day and they had a barbecue and got together. I want to thank those who sponsored and supported the food and refreshment for those drivers and the people who supported them on their trip.
Eleven road trains left early on 18 January. It had taken just 15 days, basically, from the time that this was thought of to the time the trucks got on road. The drivers and trucks included professional haulers, transport and logistics companies—those who deliver every single day around Australia. And I've frequently said, as you know, Deputy Speaker Hogan, that Australia runs on the back of a truck, particularly for those of us in rural, regional and remote Australia. There were owner-drivers who put their hands up to deliver the hay, local farmers with their own trucks.
I want to thank each and every one of those drivers who donated their time and effort. I know the wear and tear on a truck from that distance. They were—I want to mention them; I think it's worth it: Joe Hall, Tommy Rose, Sandy MacPherson, Danny Jaimeson, Tim Bowman, Shane Tyson, Brett Catalano, Trent Cole, Rob Muldoon, Tom Skudder and Phil Slattery. What a great job they did to drive that 4,000 kays. There were a total of 22 trailers in that convoy, including 21½ trailers of hay, which was over 300 tonnes. What a great effort. Another half of the trailer had a range of other supplies and other donations that had been given.
When you think about it, the fuel costs were around $100,000. That was the expectation. A lot of donations were needed to fund this, and I thank everyone who donated. They received a lot of support along the road. Almost everyone driving with a CB radio offered their congratulations and support across the Nullarbor and beyond. They got a really massive fabulous reception in Wagga Wagga. The kids were along the streets, waving signs, waving to them, and there were streets that were closed just to allow them access, given that these were road trains.
I talked to Tommy Rose straight after this, and he said the drivers were all emotional at this point because they realised what it meant locally and because they were seeing the damage that had been done. They knew their efforts were really, really appreciated at that local level, and that meant the world to them. Given that they were heading towards the end of the drive—and they were tired, as you would understand—that really meant a lot. So to all of the people who turned out to welcome them along that trip: thank you. It meant so much to the drivers. I know they were really emotional about it and really appreciated that support.
There were streets around Canberra that were shut down. They had expected to have to skirt Canberra but were given an escort by police. The emergency services and plenty of other vehicles drove through Canberra. We were told that this was the first time that road trains had been driven through Canberra and on the Hume Highway. They had a police escort. There were around 40 or 50 police officers escorting this convoy from Narrandera to Cooma. I really want to thank the officers involved because they were so much a part of what these drivers, these road trains were able to deliver. The officers knew that they were there to support these people to get the hay to those that really needed it. I want to thank those who helped deal with the state regulatory issues, the NHVR and Scotty Buchholz, the minister.
They reached Cooma on 22 January. It had taken 19 days at that point, from the concept to the hay landing for the farmers to pick up. Seven of the road trains headed back the following day—those with just single trailers—and some of the hay was distributed by a south coast rural relief group. Four trucks, including Tommy Rose's, stayed on to deliver hay to various locations. They actually got to meet the farmers—and that was a profound experience, seeing those who broke down when the truck rolled in with some hay for cattle that they didn't have any feed to feed. I know what this meant to my farmers in Yarloop.
As I said, these guys had travelled nearly 4,000 kays. The four remaining trucks were escorted out on Wednesday. Belinda and Joe got home on Saturday. They saw their 17-month-old daughter for the first time in two weeks. Tommy Rose and some of the others got home the day before yesterday. We had a chat. He's now working on delivering some more hay. More donations came through while they were on the road as people were following their trip. They bought another 58-odd bales with the money that has been donated, and they're looking at how efficiently they can get this hay through to the drought- and fire-affected areas.
I'll just repeat that the drivers were profoundly affected by the warmth of the reception they got when they drove through and when they got to their destination, but mostly they were affected by the response of the farmers who were so desperate for that feed to feed their cattle. They will never forget the faces and the gratitude. Often it's what you can't say; it's the look on your face. That's what they saw, and they were really grateful for that response. I know that Belinda, Joe, Tom and all of those drivers wanted to thank everyone who helped out—not just those who made donations but also those who supported them with food and other support as they made their way across, their support crew, people who helped by fundraising and donating, and those who supported them by saying, 'Just go and get it done.' And that's really what we wanted—to just do it and to make this happen. I spoke to the wife of one of the drivers who got home on Friday. Courtney said Brett was just catching up on some sleep. What a good fella!
What our communities know only too well, through our experiences with fire, is that all of the affected communities will take a long time to recover and rebuild. This will also require really dedicated, capable local people who are listened to and who are committed to the long-term recovery process—local people who best understand how their communities work, what's needed and in what order, and how much can and should be delivered by local tradespeople and businesses.
I want to acknowledge the work of the PM, Minister Littleproud, Minister Hunt and Stuart Robert and all the agency people across the board who've made things happen quickly. They've done a fantastic job. We've heard that there is consideration of a royal commission. The PM has talked about this and is consulting with the states. We've heard repeatedly—I think everyone has—about the need for a range of measures including fuel and hazard reduction measures that draw on the practical knowledge and experience of local Rural Fire Services, volunteers and foresters—those who really understand what's needed in that space—and draw on Indigenous practices as well.
Finally, I offer my sincere thanks to all of the firefighters—volunteer, career and other—around Australia. I thank them for everything they have done and everything they'll continue to do. And I give a special thanks to our ADF men and women.
I too rise to share my most heartfelt condolences to members of the Australian community impacted by this terrible ongoing season of bushfires—to a mother or father who has lost a son, to a grandchild who has lost their grandparent, to a son or daughter who'll grow up never knowing their dad, to those aunties and uncles who lost a nephew, to a friend who lost a great mate, and to a volunteer or workmate who lost a comrade. These fires have had an enormous effect on their families and their communities across Australia.
As the member for Bean, I represent the southern part of the Australian Capital Territory. It's a beautiful part of the ACT, with Namadgi National Park within its boundaries and the Murrumbidgee River flowing through it. Every day of parliament, we acknowledge the First Nations people on whose land we meet: the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. Their land is on fire and will be burning for some time to come. In this sitting period, this is something we should reflect upon during that acknowledgement. The smoke that you can feel and taste that has been choking this city for more than 40 days first came from the horrific South Coast and Snowy Mountains fires but now comes from the Orroral Valley fire in beautiful Namadgi National Park—an area rich in our First Nations history, our settler history and our connection to space travel in the 1960s and beyond. This fire has burnt through a third of the ACT and caused spot fires across the border into Bredbo that have resulted in the loss of houses. The fires moved from 'advice' to 'watch and act' to 'emergency' and back again constantly over the past fortnight. This is also the region that lived through the devastating 2003 Canberra bushfires, which spread from Namadgi up into the southern and western suburbs of Bean.
But we are also part of a broader region, part of the Capital region. I know that when our region is impacted, our community here is impacted. Last week I spoke with Karl from Banks as he and his neighbours prepared for fires to potentially come through to his southern Tuggeranong suburb. It was only weeks before that he had been protecting his parents' home in Malua Bay. His is a classic story repeated across our region. We are deeply connected.
It was in this region, in the Peak Hill area up in the Monaro high country, that we lost the American aerial firefighters. They were part of an effort to protect property and bushland against a raging fire fanned by strong winds, bushland that included a koala sanctuary set up by a former Canberran. Tragically, those efforts were not able to hold back the fire, taking the Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary. As a small gesture to help heal and recognise that tragic loss, three rescued koalas from the area have been named after these brave men.
This has been a long summer for the Bean community. Not only have we felt the anguish of our region, we have faced the impacts of fires across the territory. Our community has dealt with air quality readings 23 times the hazardous level, at times the worst air quality of anywhere on the planet. During the period of 15 December to the end of January, the Monash station down in Bean has recorded hazardous levels of air quality on 27 days. On the other days since mid-December we have gotten away with merely poor air quality. This acrid smoke saw the closure of businesses around the ACT—the Department of Home Affairs; the National Gallery shutting its doors and engaging in measures for the protection of artworks from the pollution; the university campuses; child care and other community facilities; organised sports; and even the closure of Canberra Airport. With community anxiety rising across the region, we actually ran out of P2 masks and air purifiers. We don't know what the effect on health and the economic impacts of this exposure to hazardous air quality over such a sustained period will be. Also, in the last fortnight the southern villages and suburbs have been under attack from a bushfire that is now a third the size of the ACT—now over 80,000 hectares.
The ACT community, though, has gotten through this because of our collective efforts. There are many to thank and commend for that collective effort, but I would like to start by thanking our volunteer and professional firefighters of the ACT RFS brigades, and their New South Wales colleagues, and everyone across our emergency services; the ESA; the SES; the ambos; ACT Fire and Rescue; ACT Parks and Conservation; the AFP and the ADF; those manning the air traffic control towers hour on hour; those community members who fundraised to bring in P2 masks; the Vikings club down in Bean, for hosting the very well-attended and important community forums; the families of our key workers; ABC 666, here in the territory, and all of our local media for the amazing job they have done in ensuring that we have been kept up-to-date with what is happening. And thanks to our great volunteer networks, including ones like Slabs for Heroes that are relatively new, through to our school communities like Holy Family Gowrie and St John Vianney's, which have all played an active role in helping people not just in the immediate ACT but also in communities across our region.
I would also like to note the great contribution of the leadership of our emergency organisations. Their efforts throughout the summer to keep the community informed, to prepare for each sudden weather change and provide calm, sober advice to our community, have been nothing short of outstanding. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of our local emergency services minister, Mick Gentleman, and Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Most of all, my humble gratitude goes out to the members of my community for your endurance, generosity and support of your fellow Australians.
My community has a determination to get through this, but this cannot become the new norm. If it is, then we have abrogated our responsibility not just to the people we represent but to the following generations—not just to our children but to their children. With a third of the ACT burnt, our community want to see governments work together across all levels. Our community is demanding that it is now time not to just listen but to act on expert advice. It is time to put away the arguments not based on evidence. It is time to listen to our agencies, it is time to listen to our experts and, as the member for Eden-Monaro said, it is time for facts and then acting.
Finally, I finish where I started. Thank you to those who are the reason for this incredibly sad condolence motion. This parliament will never forget you, and my community will never forget this summer.
It is difficult to put into words the devastating impact of the fires that so many Australian communities have experienced this season. The eerie blanket of smoke that has engulfed cities and suburban areas of our nation meant we had a daily visual and physical reminder of the depth and breadth of the natural disaster that so many of our fellow Australians were dealing with. The smoke that managed to stop international tennis and cricket matches was of course just a transient and minor representation of a much more serious situation. It continued to be a constant sign of the daily fight, and, more than ever before, Australians feel connected to those on the front line of the response. This condolence motion is an opportunity for each of us in this place, as representatives of our local communities, to give voice to the care and concern that the people we represent have felt for our fellow Australians.
As I said at the beginning, it is difficult to put into words. The scope of the loss feels too big to capture with phrases. The depth of the emotion we have all felt this summer is too immense the sum up with a sentence. Words feel terribly inadequate. But let me say on behalf of southern Gold Coast residents: I extend our very deep and sincere sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts are with you in this incredibly difficult time. On behalf of southern Gold Coast residents, I convey our ongoing concern for those who have suffered trauma and loss of property, pets and livestock, and are now facing the rebuilding and recovery process. We know that the aftermath of the fires will be felt for months and years to come, and we stand ready to help.
Let's not forget that the threat has not passed. There are still fires being fought, communities on alert and hot conditions ahead as we face another month of summer. We all hope the worst has passed, but we can be certain there is still more to come. So, on behalf of Gold Coast residents, I also thank our brave firefighters and their support crews for their dedication and effort. While words feel inadequate, we know at this time that actions count. On that note, I thank many Gold Coasters who have made generous donations, who have supported the RFS, and particularly those locals who are part of the RFS. I also know that while my electorate has been spared extensive bushfire damage, neighbouring Gold Coast Hinterland areas were among the first to experience bushfires this season, with fires in September claiming the historic Binna Burra Lodge and with blazes throughout the region and nearby Scenic Rim.
As I said, today's debate is important, but the Australian people know it is action that counts. It would take more time than we have to run through the list of assistance and support being coordinated by the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which is a $2 billion investment from our government to ensure individuals and communities get the help they need to rebuild. I would like to briefly run through some of the work being done within my portfolio, particularly by the CSIRO, Australia's world-class science and research agency.
As I said recently, science holds the solutions to meeting the challenges of a changing climate. CSIRO has led bushfire research for close to 70 years, providing knowledge to firefighters on the front line and managers planning for bushfire preparedness and resilience. Right now CSIRO scientists are supporting the analysis of the amazing efforts of our brave firefighters to combat the overwhelming force of these fires. We need to know what more we can do on the front line to manage fires in future, to continue to limit the kind of devastating damage we have witnessed this season. CSIRO's scientific analysis of bushfires forms the basis for many advice guides and warning systems currently used by our fire agencies. CSIRO trains fire authorities in fire behaviour and prediction and has world-class facilities and models to understand, predict and manage fires under future climate conditions. Just one example of what CSIRO science can do to help firefighters on the ground is Spark. Spark is an app for use in the field, which links together methods and models to understand fire speed and spread over different terrains. Tools like Spark enable authorities to prioritise efforts to suppress new and running fires according to their potential to cause loss. CSIRO science has also helped to develop technology to protect firefighters, so that they can do their work as safely as possible when they are out in their trucks fighting raging bushfires. The bushfire burnover protection system installed in fire trucks was co-developed by CSIRO with fire agencies, and it has undoubtedly saved lives this fire season. As the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, I'll continue to work with our scientists, researchers and businesses on solutions to the challenges our nation faces now and in the future.
But primarily, in the context of this motion, I want to express the gratitude of the Gold Coast community to our firefighters, our best and most hopeful wishes to those engaged in the recovery and rebuilding process and our condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones. Nothing can reverse the loss and the trauma of this bushfire season, but we hope there is solace and comfort in knowing that your fellow Australians, no matter where they live, feel for what you are going through and have pitched in to help whenever they can. Among the worst conditions imaginable, we have witnessed the very best of the Australian spirit. Over and over we have seen acts of kindness, bravery, empathy, generosity, care and optimism. For that we are a very grateful nation.
On behalf of the people of Lilley I extend my condolences to the 33 families who have lost loved ones over this summer's bushfire crisis—lost souls who stood and fought the fires. Some ran into the fires. They saved countless other countrymen from fires, and we honour them. On 25 January I marched with my community for Survival Day, which is a day about resilience. We finished at Koobara, a kindy in Zillmere which works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families on the north side of Brisbane. Speaking with local elders, we began talking about the land we are all charged with a moral duty to care for, and of karrikins. Karrikins are a family of small organic compounds found in smoke that can stimulate germination of dormant seeds in the aftermath of bushfires. Karrikins can also make seedlings more responsive to light and adapt to grow in new conditions. The name is derived from the word 'karrik', which means 'smoke' in the Indigenous language of the Noongar people in WA. Different plant species have different reactions to bushfires. Some plants are completely lost. Others survive but their leaves are incinerated or their bark becomes charred. However, from the charcoal littered soil, plants will continue to grow after the havoc ends and eventually new green emerges. After this devastating bushfire season I hope that all Australians can take some heart from the resilient purpose and way of the karrikins.
It is hard to fathom the level of destruction these bushfires have inflicted. Thirty-three people have lost their lives, thousands of people had to abandon their hopes, over one billion animals have perished, and Indigenous communities who have a strong cultural attachment to the land have once again been displaced. We will remember the ripple effect that bushfires can have and we will make sure that firefighters, emergency workers, volunteers and affected families have access to proper health care and counselling for the trauma, grief and loss that they have suffered.
No-one wants to see their national parliament play party games at a time such as this, but they do want to hear, see and feel true leadership from those of us gifted with the honour of representing them in the federal parliament. I am not here to try to score political points, but I will not shy away from an honest and robust debate about how we got here and what we must do now. These bushfires have decimated the economies of too many Australian communities. We cannot go on as we have before, because this summer has shown, more starkly than ever, that the cost of not acting to protect our people, our flora and our fauna from our harshening climate is a cost that we should not and cannot bear any longer.
Every Australian has been impacted by the bushfire season. Tangalooma is just off the coast of my electorate of Lilley and is the gateway to Moreton Island. Its stunning national park is a quiet and serene relic of what the world was like before humans inhabited the land. It is home to a wild world of native wildlife, including 36 types of reptile, 14 species of mammal, 11 species of amphibians and 11 native terrestrial mammals. On 16 November a devastating fire rapidly spread through the northern parts of Moreton Island. Parts of this ancient relic have now been lost. The fires affected many of the native animals, who had to flee their homes as trees around them burned. Tangalooma served as an evacuation centre for displaced travellers and locals who were seeking shelter from the fire and from the smoke. Thankfully, due to the indefatigable effort of firefighters, no homes were lost.
But too many Australians elsewhere have been devastated by fire with loss of life and the destruction of property. Australians have come together to help those who are suddenly without. Some donated food, water and blankets and some donated money, knowing what the measurable cost of rebuilding would be. Some, including emergency service workers, dedicated their time to coordinate efforts to evacuate communities and fight the bushfires.
The comradery and bravery of emergency service workers and volunteers cannot be praised enough. They work for exhausting hours in conditions that push human strength to the limit to keep our communities safe. As the member for Lilley, I would like to highlight the work of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services personnel at the State Disaster Coordination Centre in Kedron, at the southern point of our community. The centre has been activated during this bushfire season as a watch desk and communications centre to create an agile and advanced response to disaster. The men and women at the centre have been, and still are, dedicating countless hours of their time to ensure that fire and rescue services are working efficiently with other emergency stakeholders.
To all of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services workers who operate the State Disaster Coordination Centre in Kedron: thank you for your service. To the approximately 134 Queensland Fire and Emergency Services personnel who have left their families to fight fires across our borders: thank you for your courage and your bravery. To the many Australians who are looking at what the bushfires have left them with and wondering how they're going to begin again: I assure you that, like Australian karrikins stimulate the dormant resilient seeds of our ancient land, we will recover, rise and thrive again.
The Sunshine Coast is not synonymous with bushfires, although there have certainly been fires around the Sunshine Coast in the 27 years that I've called it home. But, like in so many parts of this great brown land, this year's bushfires have been very different. There are many reasons for this, including drought, a changing climate, the fact that there are now many more homes being built in bushland areas, high fuel loads through a reduction in hazard burns, and that this year there have been many acts of arson. The fact that some people could deliberately light fires beggars belief. Those people should be prosecuted and dealt with by the courts and they should suffer the maximum penalties available under the law. Just the other day I was following a vehicle whose driver threw his cigarette out the window. You just cannot believe the intelligence of some people!
The fires in my electorate of Fisher, by comparison with many parts of the country, have paled into insignificance. There've been no lives lost and minimal property damage. In the neighbouring seat of Wide Bay—thanks to the courageous efforts of our firefighters—the fires which began in Peregian Springs were quickly contained, resulting in the loss of just one home. As devastating as that would be for the affected family, but for the efforts of our emergency services personnel it could have been far, far worse. At the Kawana fire station, along with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Littleproud, I was fortunate to meet a number of the fire crews which had battled those blazes—some of whom had worked for 18 hours straight. We thank them for their dedication and their selflessness, particularly the volunteer firefighters who give up so much for so many out of a spirit of generosity and ask for nothing in return.
I do want to give a shout-out to Tony Abbott. I spoke with Tony on several occasions over Christmas, and every time I spoke with him or communicated with him he was working on the fires—on the trucks. It's not lost on me that a few years ago he was pilloried for being on the trucks, and now he's a hero—go figure.
I also want to give a big shout-out to John and Simon McDermott of McDermott Aviation. They run Australia's largest privately owned helicopter company that provides a lot of helicopters to act as water-bombing aircraft. I was in constant contact with both John and Simon over the holidays. They unfortunately lost a helicopter during the fires due to an accident. Fortunately, the pilot walked away. But those are the sorts of hazards that are involved in this line of work.
Like all Australians, my constituents have seen the images and heard the stories of loss and destruction from all over the country. I know that everyone in Fisher would join me in sending our condolences, our thoughts and our prayers to the families of the 33 who have been lost this summer. It's been shattering for all of us to see lives cut short, communities destroyed and our environment laid to waste.
But with those images, we've also seen the best of what it means to be Australian. Alongside our firefighters, we've seen 6,000 ADF reservists and regular personnel called out to help: ordinary men and women who choose to stand ready to defend and protect their fellow Australians at home and overseas. We've seen millions of others donate money or hold fundraisers for firefighters and affected communities, offer their houses and their businesses to accommodate those whose homes have been destroyed or travel to fire affected areas to offer their skills where they're needed most. We should be grateful to each of them and we should remember their example.
Our volunteers and our community spirit achieved incredible things this summer, but there are consequences of destruction on this scale that only the resources of government can alleviate. The terrible impact on the mental health of thousands of people is one such consequence. To evacuate one's home is one such consequence or to leave your community, to see it destroyed, to lose your livelihood—or worse, to suffer the loss of a loved one. These are experiences that would leave the most resilient amongst us in need of support. I was pleased to see the government step in and provide not only more than $70 million so far in disaster recovery payments to support affected Australians but also $76 million for mental health support.
Another consequence has been the destruction of vital community assets like roads and utilities infrastructure. Once again, these are things that only a government can step in on, and that's what we did, with 41 $1 million grants to local councils. The Sunshine Coast Council was one council that received those funds. Already, we're seeing these funds being used around Australia to help get these communities back on their feet.
We must also recognise the tragedy of the broadscale loss of our fauna and flora during these fires. Prior to Christmas, I was very proud to announce the funding of $1 million to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, to go to assisting the rehabilitation of our koalas. The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is one of the largest providers of emergency care and rehabilitation of our koala population. They've treated more than 800 koalas each and every year, and that was before these bushfires arose. Despite the tragedy of the fires, it was good to see the federal government support the hospital, along with similar financial commitments to the RSPCA and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. I want to thank the environment minister and the Treasurer, when he held that portfolio, and I was working with him back then to see funds going towards the care of our koalas. Since these fires began, the government has committed a further $50 million to protect affected wildlife and to restore habitats, and I am sure that the zoo's wildlife hospital will be heavily involved in informing and executing this work.
In the 21st century, it has become all too easy for us to feel like we have everything under control. Great tragedies like this 'black summer' shake us out of our complacency. They show us once again how vital it is that we all get to be involved and stand ready to do what we can to support one another in difficult times. Life is both precious and precarious. The people we have lost can never be replaced. But I know that, as a nation, we will pull together and we'll rebuild devastated communities so that they can become stronger than ever. As we do so, we should keep in our hearts the stories of the many who sacrificed so much to keep us safe, and resolve to always do what we can do to help one another in good times and bad.
Thank you for your forbearance, Deputy Speaker. And I see my friend the member for Canning is here as well, which is good, particularly for what I'm about to say. I do so basically speaking to my constituency, who have been pretty profoundly affected by the bushfires—not directly, in the sense of 'by the bushfires themselves', but by the smoke haze. Also a number of people who were in my constituency provided the essential firefighting relief and firefighting services and emergency services that helped to keep people out of harm's way and to literally save lives. I will take this opportunity to speak on this condolence motion that was moved by the Prime Minister in the other place and to make a few remarks with respect to that. Again I thank you, Deputy Speaker, for your forbearance in allowing me, at this late hour, to speak to this motion.
I think it was summarised best on Australia Day. We celebrated that in Hampton Park with the Hampton Park Day of Nations, where we have people from every walk of life, from every country, basically, on earth, come together to celebrate what's best about Australia on Australia Day. On that day, we honoured a number of people who provided services to people affected by the bushfires. I'll touch on that later, but what I said then and I'll say now to those people is that our country's had a shock. Our country's had a profound shock. We've seen vast tracts of our land burnt and singed beyond recognition—millions and millions of hectares. We've had the tragic loss of life, including the loss of life of those who were fighting to keep us safe from these fires, these awful infernos.
Importantly, too, for Australians, we've seen our places of holidays, of happy times, of fond memories, obliterated. We've lost so many of our national symbols, which are recognised around the globe: our koalas and kangaroos and other marsupials—so much of our distinctive wildlife, and our beautiful habitat.
Then, as I've said, our cities have been choked for days by the resulting bushfire haze, which has affected millions of Australians. I listened with interest to Deputy Leader Richard Marles yesterday, and he gave voice to the sheer number of days where people—particularly those here in Canberra, and I was thinking very much of the staff who look after us so well in Parliament House—were affected by the bushfire haze in Canberra. Richard was making note of the number of days of bushfire haze—an often choking haze—in our capital cities. Melbourne, he said, has had nine days, Brisbane's had 20 and Sydney's had 28 days of bushfire haze. Canberra has had 49. If you add today, that is 50 days. When I came up in early January, shortly after the really acrid, choking smoke—and I was there before the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum—people were quite knocked around. Subsequent to that there were the hailstones literally the size of grapefruit, smashing through everything. Many people in my constituency—and, I think, up here—were basically looking over their shoulders for the next event.
But I want to talk about the Australian response. The quintessentially Australian response to these calamities was best summarised by a very good friend of mine—a local senior sergeant policeman who has worked in counterterrorism and who, unfortunately, I can't name, for obvious reasons. He is a very close mate of mine, and he said something really significant to me. That very good friend of mine was at Bairnsdale and was being choppered from township to township by the Army—who did great work—to evacuate people. The work that he did, as it always does, literally saved lots of lives. He said something to me that I absolutely agree with. He said: 'Mate, we've been smashed to our knees, but we're rising up. We're rising up together.' I was kayaking with him on Sunday. Mate, you couldn't have said it any better. You symbolise what is best about Australia. Again, I thank you for the work you did to keep our country safe and our community safe. I wish I could name you. One day down the track, when we don't have the threat of terrorism hanging over us, perhaps I will.
The tragedy of the inferno, the bushfire haze and the smog brought us together. It didn't matter where you came from. I related this at the function at the Hampton Park Day of Nations. We weren't people who came from India, Afghanistan, Vietnam or Malaysia. We all felt the same horror, as Australians; we grieved together, as Australians; and we rose together, as Australians—Indian Australians, Afghan Australians, Vietnamese Australians and Malaysian Australians. We rose together, as Australians, to confront this. Again, that says a lot about our national character and our sense of inclusion. We do this. We have done this in the past, we always do and we always will. I like to think about that, and I use the term 'mateship'.
The member for Canning, who served our country with great distinction, literally on the battlefield, would know about that. I talk about it in a broader sense as well. For me, mateship is not gender specific. I would say, in this place, that the member for Canning is a mate, but the term can also be used in a broader sense. To me, it's a term of community, collective responsibility, egalitarianism and equality. It doesn't matter where you came from, who you are and what religion you follow. I would say that we're all equal in the eyes of God, but we're also all equal under the norms and the laws of this land and our country. Our mateship has no religion, it has no race and it has no creed. What we've seen, I think, is people coming together in that spirit of mateship, doing great deeds and putting their lives on the line to save others and to provide support—people like the Sikh volunteers; Fiona and Colin Crane; the St John of God hospital, and Kim Warlond, a midwife who works there, who decided to put together a water bottle drive and, in the space of 24 to 48 hours, collected something like 600 pallets of bottled water—15,000 bottles. She is a midwife who wanted to do something because she was delivering kids in smoke-filled rooms at hospitals. She wanted to do something and she did it, and that's the Australian way. That's what we do. I wanted to mention her specifically.
I want to say again that what I think we can do best in this place is to respectfully disagree—and we will, as time goes on, about how we might deal with the bushfires. But the key thing, and what I commit to—as I do in my work on the Intelligence and Security Committee with the member for Canning in a bipartisan way in difficult circumstances—is: the Australian people crave bipartisanship in our response to these bushfires. We're going to have to be very careful. Everyone in this place is going to have to be very careful in the future about how we address this issue, because I'm not hearing about this thing or that thing, or how it was caused or whatever. What I'm hearing is: 'We need help. We need support. We need you to be a government and to be an opposition. We need you to face this problem together.'
So my call to all of us here—and I know this will be mirrored by the member for Canning—is that we address this issue in a spirit of bipartisanship, otherwise we will lose the faith and the confidence of the Australian people and we can't afford to do that. They've been knocked around too much. We owe it to them collectively to respond in a way they want, which is to focus on them and get them the support, the encouragement, the leadership, the maturity and bipartisanship that they need. I will finish by acknowledging that in two ways. Andrew Colvin is an excellent appointment as the head of bushfire recovery. He is a good man. He is a man that feels passionately about this and I know he will do a good job.
There's one more person I want to mention, who doesn't get mentioned often, and that's my good friend Andrew Shearer, the cabinet secretary who works for Prime Minister Morrison. It's a great thing in this country that I can pick up a phone and speak with or meet with a cabinet secretary and mention something about a problem in Bermagui and something is done within 24 hours. It says a lot about this country. Andrew and I have worked together—and the other Andrew—we've worked together closely in national security, but it should give people confidence that I was able to do that. It says a lot about cabinet secretary. Andrew Shearer, I wanted to say a specific thanks to you for the support, the updates and the briefings I've received.
This has gone way over time and everyone knows we could keep on talking, but thank you to the Australian people. Your resilient spirit that runs through the heart and the soul of this nation will overcome the very worst of what we have seen. It's here where we need to give you that ongoing encouragement and support; it's here that we need to think about you every day. I will. I know the member for Canning will and everyone else here will. We will work for you, we will make sure that you get the services you need. We will rebuild and we will become a stronger, better nation. As I said, we have faced challenges and adversity in the past. It's what we do. It's who we are. It's in our DNA. We will prevail. Thank you.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:52