Tuesday, 2 February 2021
Barker Electorate: Blackford-Avenue Range Bushfire, Barker Electorate: Queensland Fruit Fly
On 11 January, while many in this place were enjoying a summer vacation, re-energising before the year ahead, the township of Lucindale in my electorate faced a terrifying threat to their lives and livelihoods. The Blackford-Avenue Range bushfire at Lucindale burnt 14,000 hectares, with significant stock losses and an impact to 75 landholders, with homes and infrastructure destroyed. Despite those losses, I'm beyond grateful that the community came away from this fire with as many people as when it began. After seeing the fire's aftermath, it was clear that, without the numerous organisations and units that fought this fire, given the catastrophic weather conditions on the day, the outcome could have been much worse. To the paid and the unpaid professionals who fought the Blackford-Avenue Range and Lucindale fire, I have a simple message for you: thank you. To the brave firefighters, the CFS, aerial operations and the numerous farm fire units who fought this fire on behalf of the community, your actions saved lives and your actions preserved livelihoods. As always, you put yourself in harm's way to protect our community.
After the fire was safely contained, those who have unfortunately experienced bushfires before knew that the work had only just begun. The CFS, SAPOL, PIRSA, the Red Cross, representatives from state and local government and I were present at the community meeting the following day, and it was pleasing to see the Blackford, Avenue Range and Lucindale communities in relatively good spirits—not 24 hours from the fire itself. The meeting highlighted how important quick recovery of mobile coverage is to the recovery effort. I'm grateful that our government has extended battery backup in some of the mobile phone towers that we've funded under the Mobile Black Spot Program, but there is more work to do. Although the immediate threat is now over and services have been restored, the long-term recovery is just as important. I'm confident that the local council and state and federal governments will work collaboratively and closely to ensure the best outcomes for those communities.
Although I'm a member of this government, it's clear to me that the most effective assistance comes from the community itself. On one of my visits to Lucindale, I popped in to see James and Georgie McKay at the Lucindale Hotel. It was heartwarming to see that children from the local community had created appreciation murals on the wall of the hotel, with messages expressing their thanks to the heroes who fought the fire on their behalf. There was also a convoy of trucks carrying donated hay, which rolled into Lucindale within days and was welcomed by cheering locals. This relief effort was facilitated by a good friend of mine, Adam Smith of Mount Gambier, and his dedicated volunteers at the Mount Gambier Hay Run. The community spirit that's present is something that I'm immensely proud of. Other fundraising events have included visits by Adelaide Crows players, who have thrown their support behind the community and its recovery efforts. Funds raised will obviously go to support the recovery.
At the conclusion of this sitting week, I'm looking forward to going back home to the electorate—as I expect all my colleagues are—where I'll be going fencing with BlazeAid. It's an amazing organisation that arrives post fire across the nation and begins the job of refencing rural properties. For farmers like those in this community who rely on livestock for their livelihoods, the re-establishment of fences is critical. BlazeAid do immensely good work in this regard. Their work is not just about the fencing; it's also about returning confidence to communities and being there to provide a helping hand and a consoling conversation. The best way I have to describe BlazeAid, for whom I've volunteered before and with whom I've had many interactions, is that they don't just rebuild fences; they rebuild confidence and they save lives.
To everyone involved in the recovery from this natural disaster, I want to say thank you. The road to recovery will be a long one. But I know the Lucindale, Avenue Range and Blackford communities are resilient and capable, and I have every confidence they'll emerge from this crisis better than they came into it. There are many days left in this bushfire season, and I want to take this opportunity to urge everyone who hasn't already—and even those who have—to revise their bushfire plans. Have them read, so that, like the people of Lucindale, Avenue Range and Blackford, you're ready to act if an emergency presents itself.
As if the fire were not enough to deal with over the summer recess, my electorate is also dealing with another unfolding crisis: an outbreak of Queensland fruit fly in the Riverland. I've often spoken in this place about the horticultural powerhouse that is the Riverland. In my opinion, it's Australia's pre-eminent horticultural district. Riverlanders face lots of challenges—the cost of water, labour supply challenges that many in this place speak about regularly—but now they're also dealing with an outbreak of Q-fly. The fruit fly status of the Riverland is very, very important for international markets. It give us a competitive advantage. It means that our fruit doesn't need to be fumigated, cold treated et cetera. Currently a 1.5 kilometre outbreak radius has been declared in Monash and Renmark West. There is a further 15-kilometre radius implemented around the outbreak zones. My state colleague the minister David Basham has assured me that every resource is being thrown at this outbreak. Eradication measures such as organic baiting and the removal of fallen fruit are being pursued, but we know from earlier outbreaks that now is the critical time to get these outbreaks under control before we can't.
I commend the South Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regions for committing significant resources. Not less than 70 staff members are on the ground in the Riverland today dealing with this outbreak. I urge everyone in the outbreak area to follow the department's advice. Allow easy access to gardens for PIRSA staff so that they can do their work quickly and effectively. Make sure to pick up all fallen and overripe fruit in your backyard as well as removing any remaining fruit from trees. Also please report any larvae or fruit fly in home-grown fruit and vegetables to the fruit fly hotline. Don't move home-grown fruit from property to property, particularly in those outbreak areas. We need to reduce the risk of spread.
Riverland residents' outstanding work in cooperating with authorities has ensured that Queensland-fruit-fly-free status has remained in large areas outside the current suspension and outbreak zones in Monash and Renmark West. Unfortunately, this is not the first fruit fly outbreak in the Riverland and something tells me it won't be the last. After the 2018 Loxton outbreak I advocated for more preparation and coordination. Although there has been progress, there is always more to do. Hopefully, in the wake of this outbreak, growers associations, the state government and indeed the federal government can work collaboratively to prepare for the next crisis. We all have a role to play.
Queensland fruit fly, as the name indicates, obviously doesn't originate in South Australia. South Australia has a zero tolerance approach to fruit entering the state, and it's disappointing that the pest has arrived again. Although the penalties are substantial, I think it's probably time to re-evaluate them, as we know that the risk is all too real and the potential for harm is catastrophic. These are multimillion-dollar industries that rely on that fruit-fly-free status. So, when entering the Riverland, please think about the impact your actions will have. Obviously there's a potential of a significant fine to you, but the harm that you could be doing to your fellow Australians, to Aussie farmers, is immense. I assure visitors to South Australia that there's plenty of high quality produce that you can purchase on our side of the border without the risk of destroying an industry. So no fear there!
Colleagues, if we work together, if we put everything into this outbreak and, as importantly, if we plan for the future, I'm confident that—as with the Lucindale, Avenue Range and Blackford fires—we will emerge from the crisis stronger than we entered it. Thank you.