Condolence Motion: 2019/20 Australian Bushfires

06 February 2020

I rise today to speak on the motion put forward by the Prime Minister and spoken to by the opposition leader. We certainly have experienced a truly difficult and, for many communities, horrendous summer break. Instead of being able to enjoy some time off with their loved ones over the Christmas and new year period, Australians from all walks of life have been tormented by devastating bushfires. From the outset, I wish to express my deepest sympathy to all of those who've been affected by the bushfire crisis in recent months, and I want to express my utmost gratitude to those who've been working so hard to control these fires and to deliver services in their aftermath.

As a politician, I can see the great leadership that has been given by politicians around the country in Australia. In particular, the Premier of Victoria and the Premier of New South Wales have been completely outstanding, and I congratulate them on their leadership in these difficult times. I'd also like to mention my colleagues the member for Gilmore, the member for Macquarie and the member for Eden-Monaro for their great leadership and their support for their own communities.

I also want to single out the fantastic staff and volunteers at the Rural Fire Service, led by the very formidable Shane Fitzsimmons; Fire and Rescue NSW; the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service; and the Forestry Corporation. I want to acknowledge the brave and valuable work undertaken by the New South Wales Police Force, NSW Ambulance, the Australian Defence Force, the St John Ambulance, the SES and other volunteer organisations during this very difficult time. I'd also like to single out Andrew Constance, the member for Bega in New South Wales, for his outstanding leadership as well. Australia has certainly been sorely beaten over recent months. We should acknowledge the efforts of those agencies and their representatives.

My thanks extend also to the interstate and international delegations who've worked so generously to defend countless homes and businesses across Australia, including our American colleagues at Coulson, United Aero, Valhalla and Erickson, who've contributed so much to our aerial firefighting capabilities. Each and every person who worked to defend communities throughout the country, along with various business, charities and community organisations, are worthy of commendation, from the retained, professional, contracted and volunteer firefighters to the businesses who donated meals all over the country. I congratulate them and I thank them for their support.

I wish I could name everyone and thank everyone personally, but for today I wish to specifically acknowledge the people who've lost their lives—in particular, Geoffrey Keaton, Andrew O'Dwyer, Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson, Rick DeMorgan Jr, Samuel McPaul, Bill Slade, Mat Kavanagh, David Moresi, and Dick and Clayton Lang. These brave men are amongst many others who have joined a list of heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend lives and property. I give my condolences to their families. I know how devastating it must be to lose a father, husband, son, relative and friend—how devastating it must be for them—and I send my condolences to them. They gave their lives in the service of our nation and to protect the lives not only of their families and friends but of complete strangers. These men, along with every man and woman who has fought the onslaught of blazes in recent months, are heroes, and we are eternally in their debt. I will not be the only one today to note that this disastrous fire season has brought out some of the best in people, and the way that communities and our values of mateship, bravery and selflessness shine bright in times of crisis is something that all Australians should feel proud of.

Macarthur, thankfully, has been relatively unscathed. However, we sympathise with the many communities that are close to us who've been so tragically affected. I'd like to mention, in particular, the shires of Wollondilly and Wingecarribee, and I'd like to thank personally the mayor of Wollondilly, Matt Deeth, for allowing me to be personally briefed about the bushfires and fully informed of what was happening to our near neighbours.

I'd also like to mention that I'm very concerned about the health effects of the bushfires, both physical and mental. In particular, I am very concerned about the long-term effects on children of our bushfires and of climate change in general. Recently I met with my old friends and colleagues Professor Guy Marks and Professor Bin Jalaludin from the Ingham Institute to discuss, with Chris Bowen, the health effects of prolonged smoke exposure and the long-term effects of climate change. I would like to encourage the government to consider funding a national institute to look at the health effects of climate change—in particular, the long-term effects on our young children—and to provide funding for this.

To finish, I would like to say how sorry I am to all who've lost loved ones and have lost property, and we as a nation are eternally grateful to those who have supported our communities around the country. Thank you so much.