Thursday, 13 February 2020
Statements by Members
Australian Capital Territory: Bushfires
It has been 17 years since the 2003 Canberra bushfires, but the memory loomed large over the capital in the recent summer months. Emergency services battled multiple fires in record-breaking heat. My constituents in Jervis Bay were evacuated as the fires closed in. One blaze still burns, despite the rain. The Orroral Valley fire, which started in Namadgi National Park on 27 January and burned out of control for more than a fortnight, is now contained, but it has burned more than 86,000 hectares, around 30 per cent of the land area of the ACT.
Away from the fire front, the impact of the bushfires has been felt across the capital. There was an air quality index of 4,091 on New Year's Day 2020, around 20 times the level considered hazardous. It was the worst air quality recorded anywhere in the world on that day. The smoke forced offices to evacuate. Questacon, Old Parliament House and the National Gallery were among those that had to close their doors. The Australian National University and the University of Canberra asked staff and students to stay home. It hit our business community hard. As my Labor colleague Mick Gentleman told the ACT Legislative Assembly earlier this week, 'Canberra businesses rely on our excellent weather, characteristic of the most liveable city in the world.' But these conditions changed and we entered what Canberra Business Chamber chief, Michael Schaper, described as uncharted territory. Businesses were closed, somehow continuing to pay staff wages while getting very little trade in through the door. Those businesses affected by the fires can access the Barr government's disaster recovery assistance, including concessional interest rate loans for small businesses, by contacting Access Canberra.
But we know that it's a bandaid, not a solution. Action on climate change is needed not just from an environmental standpoint but from an economic one as well. Peter Strong from the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia was right when he said it was clear that climate change is having an economic impact. Ask any insurer.
This is a problem that requires answers and action at a federal level, but those in Canberra can do their part. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and I urge all parliamentarians to give a little love back to the capital by spending a bit more time here in the ACT. Support a local business that had to close its doors due to smoke. Get a coffee from the best barista in the world, Sasa Sestic, or go to BentSpoke and try their Barley Griffin beer, which took home a championship trophy from the International Brewing and Cider Awards. Get the best burger in Canberra from Young & Frisky, which coincidentally is right next to my electorate office in Gungahlin. Or try the award-winning chocolate from Jasper + Myrtle. Let's celebrate Canberra and let our businesses get back to their award-winning best.