Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Statements on Indulgence
Western Australia: Bushfires
As we gather today, hundreds of firefighters are responding to the fires in Perth's north-east. Thoughts of all those in this House, I know, are with the people of Western Australia, and especially with the firefighters, who are working around the clock. Over recent days, and as recently as just the past hour, the Premier and I have been in regular contact, as have our respective ministers.
I can report that the Australian government's Disaster Response Plan has been activated, which means the Commonwealth has all of its resources ready to assist, upon request of the Western Australian government. The minister for emergency management has also activated the Australian government disaster recovery payment and the disaster recovery allowance. The disaster recovery payment will allow impacted individuals to receive an immediate cash payment of $1,000 for adults and $400 for children. This will be available through Services Australia from 8 am tomorrow. The disaster recovery allowance will provide income support payments to individuals whose income has been affected, including employees, small-business persons and farmers. We are also working with the Western Australian government on activating the disaster recovery funding arrangements, which will provide further support for impacted families.
A short time ago I was also briefed by the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia, Joe Buffone, along with the minister for emergency management and the members for Hasluck and Pearce, and I will update you briefly on the fires. I report that over 70 homes—71 at last count—and properties have been destroyed in the Wooroloo bushfire. The fires have burned through over 9,400 hectares. Thankfully, at this point, no lives have been lost and no-one is believed to be unaccounted for, and for that we are deeply grateful. Hundreds of people spent last night in evacuation centres, and we thank all of those, the Red Cross volunteers and others, who are providing support and kindness in those centres. But there is danger still ahead as we speak. An emergency warning remains in place as the bushfire continues to move rapidly. Adverse weather, including hot temperatures and gusty winds, is forecast to continue. As we speak, more than 220 firefighters are currently attending that fire. Aerial support has also been sent to assist ground crews. I can report that six firefighters have incurred injuries fighting these blazes, and our gratitude, love and support, and best wishes go out to them and their families.
To everyone in those affected areas, we simply say, as you know, to please listen to and heed the advice of the official warnings and authorities and, of course, as always, please look out for each other. I know this has been a hugely trying few days in Western Australia, not just with these terrible fires but of course the lockdown as well. Everyone living in the Perth metropolitan area and the Peel and South West regions has demonstrated great patience and forbearance playing their part to prevent the spread of COVID. Thoughts are with those Western Australians as they respond to the challenges before them. Every Australian is standing with Western Australia, and, as always, we will get through this together.
I spoke with Premier McGowan just this morning and I've been in regular contact with him over recent days. As the Prime Minister has said, more than 70 homes have been destroyed and more than 9,000 hectares have been burnt. This is a fire front that stretches some 80 kilometres. Perth, of course, already in lockdown, is shrouded in smoke. More than 200 firefighters are putting themselves on the line, and it's a reminder once again of the magnificent work that firefighters, those on the payroll, but by and large just volunteers in the community, do on behalf of their neighbours and their local communities.
We can be very thankful that no-one has lost their life. Animals haven't been so lucky, of course, and once again, pets, livestock and wildlife are suffering terribly. The Mayor of Swan, Kevin Bailey, said this morning that the lockdown appears to have helped, because people were at home, so they were able to go and lock up particularly horses and other animals. They were on site, rather than being away in the CBD or away from their homes.
Firefighters are bracing for wind gusts up to 70 kilometres an hour today, although, when I spoke to the Premier just a short while ago, he said it hadn't reached that point yet. But, of course, it's earlier in the day in Western Australia. There are concerns about the effects later this week of a cyclone which is forming to the north of the state. Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said:
… while we may have slightly cooler temperatures, we will be dealing with stronger winds so there are some difficult times ahead …
Today, our thoughts are with the courageous, selfless firefighters who are, once again, putting themselves in harm's way for the sake of their communities, their families and their fellow Australians.
On behalf of Labor, I stand to offer whatever support the Commonwealth can provide and to make whatever representations necessary from the people of Western Australia to make sure that we regard this as a national issue. A crisis in one area of this country is a crisis for our country. The Premier informed me that the tanker has arrived from New South Wales and is on the ground providing support, and that's a good thing. It would appear from the assessment, though, that what we're really waiting on is rain—a bit similar to what has occurred when we've seen fires in other parts of the country in our past. Our hearts go out to everyone who has lost their home. We stand with you, and we offer whatever support we can give.