05 February 2020

Yesterday and today we have heard in this place some very harrowing stories, and no doubt we'll continue to hear stories of loss and sadness for some time to come. We have also heard stories of incredible courage, resilience and humour in the face of the extraordinary fires that have caused such destruction along the east coast of this nation from Queensland to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and of course South Australia. I, for one, will never forget the very moving speech yesterday by the member for Eden-Monaro, who spoke so directly from his heart, as of course this summer he has been at the very heart of this unbelievable catastrophe which has made our country quite unrecognisable.

We've all seen the images of a charred and blasted Kangaroo Island in South Australia—wildlife and livestock burnt and confused, wandering aimlessly around the bushland—and those unforgettable warlike images of thousands of Australians huddled on the beaches at Mallacoota and Eden as the fire crept towards them from the dunes. These images have been seen around the world. They are unforgettable and of course they will stay with us forever. They show the world the human and ecological catastrophe of the Australian bushfires of the summer of 2019-20.

I'd like to take the opportunity in this condolence motion to pay tribute to the families of firefighters Geoffrey Keaton, Andrew O'Dwyer and Samuel McPaul—brave members of the NSW RFS who died in the line of duty this summer. To the families of Mat Kavanagh, Bill Slade, members of the Forest Fire Management Victoria team, I am so very sorry for the loss you have suffered. These men gave their lives serving their communities and their country under extreme, terrible and unimaginable conditions. I would also like to acknowledge the loss of Dick and Clayton Lang, two men of Kangaroo Island, who gave so much to their community. Of course, on top of this, there's the three US servicemen who died in the heartbreaking Hercules crash: Captain Ian McBeth of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A DeMorgan Jr of Navarre, Florida. These American men died helping the people of Australia. We are forever in the debt of the families of these brave men. In all, 33 lives have been lost in these fires. To all of the families and friends, I cannot imagine your grief, but in this place I acknowledge it, knowing our words are little consolation for the enormous loss you have suffered and will continue to suffer for the rest of your lives.

All of Australia is grateful for the firefighters coming to our aid in our time of need from countries as far afield as France, the US and Canada. All of us here and all of us around the country have grieved and are deeply saddened for the loss of life, for the thousands of homes and livelihoods destroyed and for the many millions of hectares of beautiful bushland of this country that is now burnt to the ground and even beneath the ground.

Western Australia has not been immune from these disastrous fire conditions, although it has been far more fortunate this summer compared to our friends here on the east coast. Nonetheless, throughout the summer there have been blazes ripping through the south-west in Stirling Range, in Collie and in my own electorate of Brand, especially in areas of Baldivis and Kwinana, and in the lovely bushland settings like the Spectacles.

I'd like to pay tribute to the many Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services volunteer brigades who have given up their time to ensure the safety of our communities this summer. A number of volunteers from the Rockingham Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service have deployed to the east coast disaster zone since October last year. I thank the Secret Harbour Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services and the Karnup Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services volunteers who recently travelled out to regional towns, such as Collie, to assist local brigades there. The Baldivis Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services have had a very busy few months battling a number of blazes in both rural and urban Baldivis. The Kwinana South Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, ably led by Brigade Captain Eddie Mouna, has been assisting locally as well as regionally out as far as Norseman in the Goldfields. Eddie has rightly and publicly called for more members of the public to stand up in their communities and volunteer their time and effort to their local fire service. His call to action should not be ignored. I implore my community to join with Eddie and his comrades in the bushfire brigades to help in any way you can.

I'd also like to thank Kwinana Volunteer Fire and Rescue and, of course, the wonderful Mandogalup Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade. As well as fighting fires, they've been fundraising for their sisters and brothers on the east coast, recently raising over $10,000 at the Perth Motorplex in Kwinana for families who have lost loved ones fighting these fires.

I'd also like to thank the cities of Rockingham and Kwinana for keeping people informed while these scrub fires and semi-rural fires have taken off in our electorate. They've supported residents affected by the fires, especially the City of Rockingham, having set up an evacuation centre at the Mike Barnett Sports Complex. I commend the mayor, Barry Sammels, and his team for all the work they've done to help local residents.

I would especially like to commend the WA emergency services minister, Francis Logan, for his cautious and sensible approach to the fire emergency that closed the vast Eyre Highway near the Goldfields in the town of Norseman for 12 days. That fire destroyed more than 500,000 hectares of land. For those unaware, the Eyre Highway is Western Australia's only sealed road into South Australia, and one of only three land based links from Western Australia to the east coast.

It is at times like this, when highway No. 1 is cut off and it becomes impossible to cross the Nullarbor, that we become so very aware of the vastness of the continent, how distant Perth is from here in Canberra and how easily we can become isolated. The WA economy is reliant on Eyre Highway and the access it provides. The impact on the state is significant when these routes are blocked, preventing our truckies from getting their goods from the east and travelling across to us.

Hundreds of Australian travellers make the trek across the Nullarbor Plain and they were stand stranded in towns like Ceduna and Norseman. Some were stranded in the roadhouses of Caiguna, Cocklebiddy and Madura, but they made do, in good humour, playing car park cricket to pass the time. Very importantly, towards the end of the closure of the highway a helicopter was able to drop in some much-needed toilet paper to the roadhouses, so I congratulate Emergency Services on dealing with a very real need for those stranded.

While those people were passing the time patiently, dozens of firefighting teams battled the blaze and won, with the highway opening on 10 January, luckily with no loss of life. That was because we learned from past mistakes, and at this time we remembered the dark tragedy of the 2007 Boorabbin bushfires, when three truck drivers died in a firestorm as they drove along the Great Eastern Highway.

I want to thank all our emergency services personnel, particularly the WA DFES Commissioner, Darren Klemm, who has been at the forefront of the efforts with the Norseman fire and, of course, all around the state. I also pay tribute to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, who has been the public face of the firefighting community and their efforts around the country. I thank him for his commitment to public service at this time.

There have been a few good stories in this disaster. One that really captures my imagination is the effort of the National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighters and the specialist firefighters of the New South Wales RFS who worked together to save the last remaining grove of 200 Wollemi pines, which are an incredible living monument to the history of our land but also the world. The Wollemi pines survived the dinosaurs, but there was every chance they would not survive this summer, so I'm grateful for those who put in that effort to save a remarkable part of our ecology.

Lastly I want to thank the ABC, whose exceptional coverage during and after the fires has brought a sensitive and compassionate insight into the lives of people affected by this catastrophe. Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the critical role the ABC plays as the emergency broadcaster during times of disaster, especially in bushfires. People trust the ABC. They believe the alerts. They listen and they listen carefully. As such, it is an irreplaceable resource for emergency and disaster management in this country. It deserves the funding it gets, and it particularly needs adequate funding to serve the rural, regional and urban communities affected by fire so they can know exactly what is happening, when they need to go and when they need to be aware and can do their best to be safe in these times of tragedy. I commend the motion that was put to the House yesterday and support it wholeheartedly. I urge all Australians to stay safe, be alert, be aware, be fire ready and be prepared to act when you are required to over the course of the remaining summer and bushfire season.