HON COLIN de GRUSSA (Agricultural) [10.04 am] — without notice: I move —

That this house —

(1)  acknowledges the significant loss of life and property across the nation during recent fires and natural disasters;

(2)  extends its gratitude to volunteer and career emergency service personnel for their enormous contribution at a national and state level; and

(3)  recognises the role of those Western Australian personnel who travelled interstate to support relief and response efforts.

Comments and speeches from various members

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.16 am]: I also rise to say some words on this very thoughtful motion moved by Hon Colin de Grussa. I also acknowledge the bipartisan approach that has been taken on the next motion to be moved by Hon Pierre Yang; that is right. When we talk about acknowledging the amazing work of our firefighters, both our professional and volunteer fireys, I think it is appropriate that all of us show our enormous debt of gratitude to them for the work they have done. It has been particularly devastating this summer to watch the sheer scale of the bushfires that have occurred around our country, but particularly on the east coast. I give my most heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost loved ones fighting those fires. I also acknowledge the three American firefighters who came over to Australia and lost their lives. I am sure that everybody here shares in the sadness at the loss of those lives. I think particularly about the children who have been left without parents. I also want to acknowledge those members of the community who have died in the fires.

I am going to make only a quick comment about this matter, but I think it is really important that we do not silence our firefighters and the chiefs of our firefighting brigades by trying to pretend that climate change has not played a role in this, because they are the ones who have made it very clear that they want to be heard. They are unequivocal that the scope of the fires that we have seen have been caused by a changing climate. I for one am not prepared to disrespect them to the degree of denying them that voice and pretending that they are not saying that unequivocally and emphatically and demanding to be heard. It is very real.

I want to reflect on the sheer level of devastation that the Australian community has felt from these fires. It was truly devastating in the lead-up to Christmas and over the new year period to watch our country burn from these out-of-control fires. Every day we got the news that these massive fires were about to connect and that we were losing entire landscapes. There has been genuine grief from the community over the extent to which our beautiful country has burnt and I want to acknowledge that. I certainly felt it. I felt it particularly in the first week of this year. I felt really quite devastated and an overwhelming sense of grief for our country. I felt that at the same time as I felt, and continue to feel, an enormous amount of pride for all community volunteers as well as our amazing firefighters, who, in true spirit, have come out and done their all to try to help people who have lost everything.

I will reflect on part of the devastation that I think the Australian community has felt. A lot of the people I have spoken to, certainly in a lot of the online communities, have been particularly impacted by the devastating impact on our Australian wildlife. The koalas, in this instance, have become almost a symbol of what we as Australians feel we have lost and feel devastated about. Leading wildlife experts have now estimated that we lost over one billion animals and hundreds of billions of invertebrates because of these fires, and that many other animals that rely on these ecosystems have perished as a result of bushfires. We also know that thousands of head of livestock have been killed or badly burnt. It has been pointed out that for some species we are now looking at imminent extinction. I think that although only those who have been personally threatened or affected by these fires and have lost loved ones—property or animals—can have a full understanding of just how devastating and upsetting those bushfires have been, many of us have shared that trauma, watching or listening in horror. We have felt heartbroken and quite aghast at how these fires have burnt and destroyed many people’s lives and livelihoods, their homes and gardens, and those forests and the bush that are home to our precious native animals.

I note that there are still things that we can do, such as donating to the many bushfire appeals, and I note that Hon Stephen Dawson referred to some of the really innovative and good work that has been undertaken to raise awareness. But I will also say that I am a bit sad that, as usual, some crooks come out to try to take advantage of the fact that they might be able to make a bit of a buck out of this, so I think it is also important that we make sure our money is going to reputable charities. But I want to acknowledge how much is happening in that space. I also think that we can directly support those organisations and individuals at the front line who are supporting and caring for injured and stray animals. Seeing people bring injured animals into their homes and make sure that they recover from their burns and receive appropriate food has been incredibly heartening to watch. It is a wonderful response from so many Australians.

We also know that the bushfires threatened more than just those animals that were affected by the initial fires. We know that once the fires pass, any survivors will have to cope with a lack of shelter and food, and the subsequent invasion of feral animals into those burnt areas. We need to make sure that we are securing those unburnt landscapes to ensure that those surviving animals are not going to be predated upon, and we need to make sure that we address the issue of feral animals. A lot of good work can also be done and is going to be done to ensure that threatened and endangered animals, in particular, have nesting boxes rolled out and strategically established captive breeding programs are put in place. That insurance will be needed to try to protect these species to the degree to which we hope we can, and preferably before any future fire events occur.

I give a huge shout-out to those wildlife carers who are doing the work now. Although the majority of the fires are now out, their work continues. We must, of course, acknowledge those people who have been on the front line, and who put their lives at risk to try to save homes, lives and entire ecosystems. It has been a terrible start to the year and the decade. With all my heart, I hope that this is not a sign of things to come. That is obviously going to be unpicked in the year ahead, in particular, but for today, I want to again give my heartfelt thanks to all those amazing Australians and overseas volunteers who have been part of the efforts of recovery.

The PRESIDENT: Hon Colin de Grussa, you have about 20 seconds, so be very quick.

HON COLIN de GRUSSA (Agricultural) [11.24 am] — in reply: Thanks, Madam President, and thank you to everyone who has contributed to this debate. I am sure we will hear plenty more when Hon Pierre Yang moves his motion very shortly. By and large, it was a very respectful debate, and that certainly was the intention, so thank you to all those who contributed.

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


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