Monday, 15 February 2021
Western Australia: Bushfires
Last summer's unprecedented bushfires, our first national climate change disaster, were of course concentrated in Victoria and New South Wales. While there were significant fires in Western Australia, including blazes in Cape Arid and Stirling Range National Park, we were fortunate last summer that human communities in Western Australia were little affected. This summer we have not been that fortunate. There have been numerous fires that have threatened residential suburbs, including Cockburn in my electorate, and the fire that raged through the Perth Hills a fortnight ago that was devastating for those communities. There were 86 homes destroyed as a result of an inferno that tore through 11,000 hectares. Power was cut to 600 residential and business premises. It is estimated that the damage bill will run to in excess of $40 million.
Deputy Speaker Irons, as you will know, the response from fire and emergency services was incredible, and the conduct of community members in terms of following advice and supporting one another was crucial in facing that emergency. Since that time, the outpouring of support from the wider Perth community, especially through the Lord Mayor's Distress Relief Fund, has shown exactly the kind of solidarity and generosity of spirit that we rightly value as part of our character in WA and in Australia more broadly.
I particularly want to acknowledge the 500 professional and volunteer firefighters and the SES volunteers, without whose work we may well have seen loss of life, and we certainly would have seen much greater loss of homes and natural habitat. I know that volunteer firefighters from my electorate, coordinated through the Jandakot and South Coogee bushfire brigades, put in some 800 hours of work in hot, blustery, scary, exhausting conditions over the course of 12 days. I say thank you to all those people.
I'm glad these efforts ensured that the fire didn't affect two critical sanctuaries—Karakamia and Paruna—that are operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, in the Perth Hills. Our biodiversity is in such a bad state that we really can't afford to see these vitally protective enclosures harmed. It should be a reminder that the climate change disaster we saw last year in eastern Australia resulted in the scorching of 12 million hectares and the loss of three billion Australian animals. We already have so many species close to extinction. These fire events push endangered animals close to the brink. It's bewildering that in these circumstances the government has no interest in acting to address Australia's failed environmental protection framework. Instead it seeks to maintain the status quo, a weak and ineffective set of national standards and no monitoring and compliance agency to enforce them. That's despite the clear recommendations by Dr Graeme Samuel, who was appointed by the government to lead reform of the EPBC.
The fires in WA, which coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown, have made it a very difficult start to 2021 for the communities that we all represent. But Western Australians have faced those challenges by living up to our values, by showing great resilience and forbearance, by supporting and caring for one another and by facing dark days together with as much energy and laconic good humour as possible.