Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 February 2020


Australian Bushfires

4:03 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

From the worst of circumstances, I think we have witnessed the best of community spirit over the last few months. People from all walks of life have rallied together to fight these devastating bushfires but particularly to support those people in need. I think it speaks volumes for the Australian character and our national identity—neighbours helping neighbours, mates helping mates, friends helping one another and strangers supporting people whom they've never even met. Amidst this tragedy, I think it has been extraordinarily humbling to see Australians at their best.

So, today, I want to join with others in this place to put my thanks on the record to the volunteers and the emergency crews who risk absolutely everything to protect lives, property, community, wildlife and livestock. Today, they continue to be out there on the fire fronts fighting fires that are still burning and they are supporting communities as they start to rebuild now that the fires, in some places, have gone.

I also want to acknowledge our soldiers, reservists, carers, mental health workers, local community leaders and public servants engaged in all manner of practical ways to help people in these fire-strewn areas. Whether it's the Army airlifting fodder to help feed livestock or wildlife, community leaders rallying behind local families and helping out however they can, emergency service people clearing roads and making sure that the debris from the fires is removed so people can actually get access to their properties, or the wonderful multicultural communities who've been cooking up food and taking it to our volunteers who've been out on the fire effort, it has been nothing short of one of the most amazing all-of-community responses to what has been a national tragedy.

In my home state of South Australia, two particularly devastating bushfires have impacted very severely—that of the Cudlee Creek fire in the Adelaide Hills, and the Kangaroo Island fire that saw over half of Kangaroo Island completely razed. There are so many people who have shown the most extraordinary leadership and extraordinary courage during this time—way, way too many for me to possibly name. But, sadly, such courage has not been without sacrifice. Australians may not remember what we're saying here today, but the one thing that we should never, ever forget are the brave firefighters who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty as they fought to save other people's lives, property and homes. Thirty-three people have lost their lives to these fires and tens of thousands more have felt the despair and the loss through the destruction of their homes, businesses and livelihoods. Entire communities have been stripped bare, leaving towns totally ravaged. Today, along with everybody else in this chamber, my thoughts are with those Australians.

As I said, in my home state of South Australia, the two major fires—the Cudlee Creek bushfire in the Adelaide Hills and the Kangaroo Island fire—wreaked havoc across our region. One hundred and forty homes were lost. These were in addition to other fires in our state: in the Mount Barker area, the Murray Bridge area, the mid-Murray area, the Yorke Peninsula and the south-east region, where thousands of South Australians have felt the brunt of the fires. Tragically, these fires have not been without fatality either. Today, I acknowledge Ron Selth, and Dick Lang and his son Clayton Lane, who lost their lives in the South Australian bushfires. Our thoughts are equally with their families.

We now must turn our attention to restoring our towns and our regions, our people and our communities. I'd particularly like to acknowledge the Premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall, who, throughout the time the fires were burning in South Australia, spent every single waking moment at the fire front making sure that he was reassuring South Australians who were impacted that the South Australian government was there to help them in whichever way they could. As the recovery begins, all governments must work together—the federal government, state governments and local governments—because between us we can maximise the speed with which we can help people rebuild their communities. Along with my colleague in this place, Simon Birmingham, and my other federal colleagues, I'm committed to working with my state ministerial colleagues, particularly Michelle Lensink and Corey Wingard, local members who've been out on the fire front. There are also people like Dan Cregan, Leon Bignell and Rebecca Sharkey, and of course all of the local government people who have been helping every day at the fires and, now, with the recovery.

I also acknowledge the extraordinary effort of the CFS in South Australia, who have been on call for weeks and weeks and weeks without rest. To Mark Jones and his team: it has been an absolutely amazing effort. So many people have given selflessly during this time, but none more so than Mayor of Kangaroo Island, Michael Pengilly. As a long-term resident of Kangaroo Island, Michael has become the face of Kangaroo Island and particularly the recovery effort. I just want to say, Michael, that you have been an absolute rock for all the people on Kangaroo Island.

I also particularly want to acknowledge the primary producers, the tourism operators and the small businesses that have been terribly impacted and will continue to be impacted by these fires. To stand next to a Kangaroo Island farmer who's just come back in because he's been out shooting his injured livestock is something I will never forget. Seeing vineyards in the Adelaide Hills totally blackened and an orchard charred beyond recognition, knowing that it will be years and years and years before those particular plantings will be back in full production, if ever, is an incredibly confronting thing for an orchardist, a vigneron or a winemaker.

The loss unquestionably has been significant, but the recovery is already well underway, and I would encourage everybody in this place, and anybody who happens to be listening: the best way that you can lend your support to these communities that have been so devastated by the bushfires is to start thinking, when you buy something or go to do something, about whether there's a way that you can help these communities. Buying local food and produce has never been more important than it is right now for our bushfire-affected communities.

Everyone can also help by holidaying in an impacted area. There are many, many areas that have been impacted by the bushfires but whose tourism products can still be used and accessed, so I would encourage everybody who's thinking about having a holiday to think about going to one of our impacted areas. There are some great campaigns out there running at the moment in my home state of South Australia. They're running a #BookThemOut campaign. What they're saying to South Australians is: 'Go and book out everybody in the Adelaide Hills. Go and have lunch up at one of the wineries. If you're thinking you'd like to get away for the weekend, get over to Kangaroo Island and support them. Book them out.' Equally, there is the national campaign, Holiday Here This Year. For those people who might have considered going overseas in the coming months: why don't you reconsider that and think about having your holiday in South Australia? Many of our regions are already open for business, and many more of them will be open for business shortly, and they really need your support. So we collectively, as a nation, need to unite behind our local communities as they rebuild now and into the future. It has never been more important that we collectively, as a nation, support each other. It'll take time, but I'm sure the Australian spirit will prevail.


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