Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Queensland: Bushfires

7:24 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening with a sombre tone to express my sympathies to residents affected by the 120 bushfires that have been burning, some for over a week, across Central Queensland. I express my condolences to the family of the young man who tragically lost his life over the weekend. My sympathies also go out to those who had to be airlifted to safety. These fires have spread far and wide over Queensland—fires that have threatened almost 20,000 people and around 8,000 homes. They've destroyed more than 527,000 hectares of land. I rise to thank the heroes who are fighting these blazes and to lend my support to the communities, the friends, the families and, in some cases, the total strangers who are helping affected residents in their time of need.

These bushfire warnings were first issued on the 25 November—on a Sunday—for the Baffle Creek and Deepwater National Park area. Sadly, they were the first of many. By that afternoon, Deepwater residents were being urged to evacuate as hot, dry conditions fuelled the burning bushfires. A community meeting was called for Monday night in Agnes Water, where attendees received briefings from council and emergency services personnel on the state of the fires. Local disaster plans were put into effect as evacuation zones widened to include the Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek areas. As our firefighters fatigued, reinforcements began arriving from other states, most notably, New South Wales.

I particularly want to mention the Gracemere evacuation, where 8,000 people were evacuated using a fire stimulation system designed in Victoria after Black Saturday. The Premier of Queensland declared that it was a miracle that no lives were lost. Sadly, as one fire continued and the Gracemere residents were able to return home, 29 November saw fires threaten residents in Captain Creek and Winfield. Schools across parts of Central Queensland remained closed due to extreme heat and danger from the bushfires. We saw that more reinforcements arrived on the 30th from New South Wales and the ACT.

The Premier visited the Miriam Vale evacuation centre. Before thanking firefighters and volunteers and rallying the troops to dig deep and keep on fighting, the Premier announced a bushfire appeal with $125,000 from the state government to kickstart recovery efforts.

On Saturday 1 December, while many Australians were fortunate to enjoy the first warm day of summer, the bushfire update was 21 active fires in the Gladstone area, including fires at Deepwater and Eurimbula and other areas. There was a disaster declaration in place for the Gladstone disaster district, and fire bans in place for 37 local government areas in Central Queensland regions. Despite all of this, the Queensland spirit remains strong, and, together, we'll keep fighting.

I want to make some time for some very big thank yous. Firstly to our emergency services personnel—our firies, SES and volunteers—thank you for your dedication. Thanks to other essential services workers for keeping our health services open and making sure our kids were safe in schools and to those working in grocery and other supply stores that communities need open to keep functioning. To our elected representatives—the Premier and Deputy Premier, Mayor Matt Burnett and his wonderful team at the Gladstone Regional Council, Mayor Strelow in Rockhampton, state members and councillors, and Zac Beers, the federal Labor candidate for Flynn, who's done a remarkable job keeping his community informed through regular Facebook posts—and to the other jurisdictions—New South Wales, Victoria, ACT, South Australia and Tasmania—thank you for your help in Queensland's time of need.

In my conversation with Mr John Oliver of the United Firefighters Union, he stressed the point that given that we've got more protracted and intense fires these days, with the seasons now being more unpredictable, we probably need to look at resources being dealt with on an Australia wide basis rather than on a state-by-state basis. Thanks also go to the businesses that opened the doors and hearts to affected residents—Airbnb and GIVIT are two examples—the Red Cross for helping to monitor the movements of people, the charities taking donations for the bushfire appeals, the parents and families of children who were not able to go to the school due to the bushfires.

I want to say in advance, thank you to the extensive clean-up crews that will be deployed across Central Queensland. While the immediate threat to safety may have passed, in most areas the damage is done and recovery is only just beginning. People have lost their homes. Farmers have lost their crops. The trauma of having to leave behind pets and possessions will haunt victims for some time to come, maybe forever. These fires have been described as unprecedented and catastrophic, more intense and longer lasting. But Queenslanders are made of strong stuff. We are resilient. In tough times we come together. We did after the 2010-11 Queensland floods that devastated our state. We do so in times of severe drought. I want to conclude by encouraging those who want to donate to visit www— (Time expired)

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Sorry, Senator.