Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2020


South Australia: Bushfires

8:22 pm

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

The date of 20 December will mark 12 months since more than 200 bushfires started burning across my home state of South Australia, part of what has now become known as the Black Summer bushfires. The devastation of these fires saw four lives tragically lost, multiple injuries to our brave firefighters combatting the flames, and a damage bill in excess of $186 million.

Last year, our communities endured blazes in the Murraylands during late October and on the Yorke Peninsula in late November, which saw seven houses destroyed and 5,000 hectares burnt. In the lead-up to Christmas, with temperatures in the west of the state reaching around 50 degrees Celsius and following four days of hot weather, a major fire at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills spread rapidly, threatening townships ranging from Mount Pleasant to Gumeracha and Lobethal to Woodside. Over 40,000 hectares would be burnt before the fires were brought under control. The devastation caused by these fires saw 84 homes and over 400 outbuildings as well as 292 vehicles destroyed. On that very same day, Kangaroo Island experienced multiple lightning strikes, which caused further fires to burn through around 200,000 hectares, destroying 56 homes and damaging hundreds of other buildings before being contained some 11 days later. The devastation and tragedy those fires caused are still felt by those affected today.

But the communities ravaged by the fires have not been defeated. It is inspiring to see these communities stand together and rebuild. I commend those who worked tirelessly to protect life and property and those organisations who stepped up to provide crucial relief in the wake of these harrowing natural disasters. One such organisation is the national not-for-profit Disaster Relief Australia. Their mission is to unite the skills and experience of military veterans with emergency service specialists to rapidly deploy disaster relief teams in Australia and around the world in the wake of natural disasters.

From the beginning of January this year through to March, DRA, as they are more commonly known, deployed 194 volunteers from all over Australia in three operations across the Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island firegrounds, and that is not counting the international and sponsored volunteers who joined their ranks. Through operations named Hannaford, Tiger and Turner, DRA delivered almost $786,000 worth of services to the community at no cost to those in need. This is an impressive achievement. Importantly, DRA did not fly into South Australia and then disappear—they came and stayed. DRA's assistance to the community has continued through their ongoing Adelaide Hills service projects, which has deployed 28 volunteers to assist with further works on properties affected by the fires. They've been further deployed on Kangaroo Island, with only the restrictions of COVID slowing down their drive to assist communities requiring assistance.

DRA now have an enviable reputation of being able to deliver critical disaster relief to communities by deploying volunteers rapidly across the nation and further abroad. They utilise the unique skills of their volunteers, innovative technology solutions and their accomplished leadership team to provide the greatest impact on the ground, with the singular focus to make a difference in the lives of those affected by natural disasters. In the 2019-20 bushfire season alone, DRA deployed 523 volunteer members on disaster relief operations, contributing over $2.2 million in support to communities.

I want to pay a particular tribute to their director of development, Anastasia Bougesis, a South Australian volunteer for DRA. Despite her family being dramatically affected by the fires in the Adelaide Hills, she refused to think of herself, thinking only of others. She volunteered to be the state commander for DRA in South Australia and led their damage assessment team and subsequently their bushfire relief operations. I commend her for her self-sacrifice and dedication to her community, and as one of the key leaders of DRA. She is a shining light in the volunteer community in South Australia. As a consequence of the work of Ms Bougesis, we now have in the state a vibrant and very active team of DRA volunteers who continue to work for our country communities and change lives.


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