Thursday, 13 February 2020
Statements by Members
Many members will know that in recent months I've had some health issues which relate to renal and kidney problems. I want to refer to that in this opportunity, because of the lessons I've learned out of it. Effectively my conditions were caused by my service in the ADF, particularly my deployments in Somalia, Timor and Iraq, where I suffered some severe episodes of dehydration and had no idea what sorts of long-term effects that would cause. I was very fortunate to be in the hands of a wonderful doctor who has performed a magnificent service for veterans in our community here in Canberra, Dr Hodo Haxhimolla, and we all really support him for his dedication to looking after veterans. He's also pioneered some wonderful methods of treatment in this space.
The key lesson from that is obviously the issue of keeping on top of this dehydration issue. I would really recommend that ADF veterans get out there if they've had dehydration episodes on deployment or in training. They should get baseline tests and scans done to make sure that they're on top of this and get in early because I can definitely indicate that it's not fun when it actually blows up on you.
I also wanted to draw the connection to the situation with fireys through this disaster season. With the effects of climate change meaning longer periods of firefighting and the intense heat from that, fireys are all at grave risk from those sorts of dehydration issues and the long-term effects they can have. I would also recommend that we put a lot of effort into making sure we are putting a good management regime around our fireys to ensure they stay hydrated. One of the big factors in that, of course, is that they are overstretched at the moment. I had one firey telling me during this crisis that, with his brigade, the previous record for their teams being in continuous rotation was four weeks. They've been out there now for eight weeks at a time and not only are they completely buggered but it's very hard to stay on top of how you personally look after yourself in those sorts of conditions. So we have to look at how we get better numbers out there to respond to these mega disasters.
During this period, I've put out some ideas about how we might do that. I think, in the first instance, that's going to need to involve some sort of incentivisation regime that hopes to draw in more volunteers. If you look at it, not only do we not have the numbers out there but, when you go to all of the RFS stations—as I do to go to their presentation nights, and I've been pleased to be with Shane Fitzsimmons on those occasions—the demography of those stations is not great. Effectively you've got people who are in their 60s and even 70s. A lot of those people have to be backroom operators, so people who are on the front lines of the fires are really stretched at the moment, and they can't stay away from their businesses and farms for as long as we're requiring them to now. There's not only a very serious health issue here but also a management issue of how we deal with these crises going forward.