Tuesday, 4 February 2020
I rise tonight to lend my voice to this motion to send our condolences to those who have lost homes, property and tragically, in 33 cases across this great nation, their lives. The recent bushfires have hit the nation, and my home state of South Australia, very hard. Areas such as Cudlee Creek, Lobethal, Lenswood and Woodside in the magnificent Adelaide Hills were devastated by fires over numerous weeks. Those communities, famous for their wine, fruit orchards, historic townships and scenery, found themselves battling an inferno.
The beautiful Kangaroo Island was also ravaged by fire. Kangaroo Island is an enormously special place for South Australians. It's an enormously special place for me personally, as I have spent much time over the years visiting its beautiful and pristine surrounds. It's a place used to advertise South Australia to the world, with its unique and majestic landscapes and formations. Sadly, the western half of the island burned as a result of the fires this summer. Thousands of livestock were killed, many hectares were burnt, and significant numbers of trees, bushland and wildlife were destroyed. Rest assured, though, Kangaroo Island is open for business. South Australians are supporting the island in the best way they know how: by returning. So we must continue to support them, and the entirety of our bushfire affected communities, throughout this recovery process.
Fires across the Adelaide Hills saw thousands of hectares burnt, affecting approximately one-third of the region's wine production. Although it's easy to see the immediate damage, the long-term effects of these fires will continue to flow on to South Australia for years to come.
The triage and recovery efforts have been a true reflection of the Australian spirit. We've seen farmers donating precious water from their dams to fight the fires, countless donations from the public and volunteers working overtime to lend a hand to those affected.
Prior to Christmas, I spent a day visiting the Adelaide Hills with a group including the Prime Minister. We spoke to brave members of the Woodside CFS, many of whose members had been working around-the-clock shifts for several weeks. We visited Barristers Block winery in the Adelaide Hills, which had lost its vineyard prior to Christmas. But, with some true Aussie spirit, the cellar door remained open for business.
We've seen that great organisation, BlazeAid, rally for communities across South Australia. BlazeAid is a volunteer based organisation that works with families and individuals in rural Australia after natural disasters, helping to rebuild fences and other structures that have been damaged or destroyed. BlazeAid has been setting up camps on Kangaroo Island, in Lobethal, in Kingston and on the Yorke Peninsula.
During the break, I volunteered for BlazeAid in Mount Compass, where bushfires had torn through just weeks prior, spending a day repairing fences at a local farm with a group of volunteers from across the state. These volunteers' days are jam-packed, beginning at 7 am and working out in the sun until at least past three in the afternoon. Their work lifts the morale of those who are affected and contributes to a sense of community in tough times. To say the experience was eye-opening would be an understatement. Seeing the devastation caused by the fires was confronting, but it was also empowering to see the huge number of people who were willing to drop everything and help out those who needed it most.
I'd like to acknowledge the extraordinary work of the Australian Defence Force in their recovery efforts. The 6,500 Defence Force personnel, whose number includes approximately 3,000 reservists, we thank you. ADF teams got to work on Kangaroo Island with recovery operations in places such as Parndana and Vivonne Bay, where they were cleaning, providing fencing and working on infrastructure tasks. In the Adelaide Hills, they provided engineering support, focusing on infrastructure repair, route clearance and water distribution.
I would also like to acknowledge Dick and Clayton Lang, a father and son who passed away on Kangaroo Island after fighting a fire close to their property. Dick was a pioneer pilot, and Clayton was a top South Australian plastic surgeon. They were known and loved by many, and my heart goes out to their family and their loved ones at this terrible time.
I note that the summer is still upon us and that the fires still burn, including here in the ACT. My thoughts and prayers go out to those communities who are still fighting these fires across the country. I say thank you to the ADF, the firefighters, the CFS workers, the volunteers, the charities, the community leaders and the businesses, and I say thank you to the people of South Australia for your generosity. I join with my Senate colleagues to express my condolences and pay tribute to the lives lost across our nation and in my home state of South Australia.