Monday, 9 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, Senator McKenzie. Can the minister please update the Senate on the current situation of the bushfires across northern New South Wales and Queensland?
Thank you, Senator Davey. I'm sure all of our thoughts are with those communities who have been impacted by the bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland, communities who are also struggling with the drought. I'd like to commend the efforts of our first responders, many of whom are volunteers, who are working day and night to keep these communities safe. The bushfires burning in southern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales remain active and include an emerging situation at Shark Creek, near Yamba. The forecast of dry and windy conditions until Tuesday, with no sign of rain, means the fire situation will remain volatile. I urge everyone to stay aware of their surroundings and follow advice from local management authorities.
The full impact of the fires is still being assessed. The impacts that have been confirmed so far include: in Queensland, 17 homes have been lost in Stanthorpe and fire has destroyed historic Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland, which is part of Australia's World Heritage Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves; and, in New South Wales, one home has been destroyed, another five damaged and 15 other structures have been destroyed. Sadly, a New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighter was seriously injured while fighting a fire near Tenterfield on Friday afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured firefighter and his loved ones.
The Australian government is in regular contact with the affected jurisdictions and is positioned to provide assistance when required. On Friday 6 September, the Director-General of Emergency Management Australia approved the activation of a COMDISPLAN in relation to bushfires burning in South-East Queensland and northern New South Wales, which sees our Defence Force on the ground ready to assist in the recovery phase of the fires.
I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister please update the Senate on what actions the federal government, in conjunction with both the New South Wales and Queensland governments, is taking to ensure the safety and support of our bushfire affected communities?
Disaster recovery assistance is being provided under the jointly funded Commonwealth-state Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. The DRFA is available in the local government areas of Armidale, Clarence Valley, Glen Innes, Inverell, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha in New South Wales, and the Scenic Rim and Southern Downs in Queensland. It is important to note that the bushfire situation in both Queensland and New South Wales is considered active, and further assistance may be made available once the fires are controlled. The range of assistance available in New South Wales includes: personal hardship and distress assistance for individuals and families; support for affected local councils and state agencies to help with operational responses and restoring damaged essential public assets; concessional interest rate loans for small businesses, primary producers and not-for-profit organisations; freight subsidies for primary producers; and grants for eligible non-profit organisations. The assistance is administered by the New South Wales government, and anyone needing assistance should contact the New South Wales government Disaster Welfare Assistance Line on 1800018444.
The Australian government annually invests $50 million in aerial firefighting. Fire-bombing aircraft have been in action against these fires. Our national aerial firefighting arrangements are ensuring the best possible aerial firefighting equipment is available to protect Australians. In addition, the Australian Defence Force is assisting, under last Friday's activation of the COMDISPLAN, which provides non-cash disaster assistance, with the provision of accommodation, transport and sustenance for about 56 firefighters from New South Wales and the ACT.
I also encourage all Australians to ensure they have in place their bushfire survival plan. This has been the driest year since 1970. This is especially the case over the southern half of the country, which has experienced the driest January to July on record. The east coasts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as parts of southern Western Australia and South Australia, face above-normal fire potential. The BOM has advised this spring and summer is going to be unprecedentedly dry, as seen by this extremely early start to the bushfire season. We need to ensure— (Time expired)