Bushfires and Emergency Services


I rise to indicate my support for the motion and thank the Premier for bringing this matter to the parliament so that we may place on the record our concerns about and appreciation for what occurred in the events of 20 November. I also acknowledge all other speakers in relation to their contributions.

This is not the first major fire South Australia has had this season and it will not be the last. However, the events of 20 November, whether they were at Angaston or Port Wakefield, or the Yorketown fire, as it is being described, which culminated in significant distress and damage at Edithburgh, are a sobering reminder to us of what will occur and what we need to do about it. I also thank the Premier and the Minister for Emergency Services for attending the area in Yorketown and Edithburgh particularly on this occasion. That is not to diminish the suffering and loss in other parts of the state, where I think close to 70 fires progressed on that day, with varying levels of damage. It is a lightning bolt spot that gives us these reminders.

It is important that the Premier and the minister visited not only to indicate their appreciation directly but also to view the damage, listen to the people of the area and understand and learn from it, as we must. It is also a good opportunity when anyone who has the privilege of a leadership position leaves the city to see other areas that are in need in our country, and I am sure that they travelled on some roads that need some improvement. These are aspects that are always good to learn from.

The acknowledgement has been made today of the work of the volunteers in our emergency services—unsurprisingly, that is the Country Fire Service and police, particularly, who are obviously at the front of the fire—making a contribution that places themselves in danger so that they might protect persons and assets across the state. The losses in this area, of course, were massive in respect of livestock and the general extent of the fire damage across agricultural land. It is important to recognise those who were protecting these assets via the CFS volunteers and the general volunteers in the community who assisted—people who are neighbours, friends and relatives who come out on these occasions to assist.

The extra support was given by other CFS brigades across the state. I would like to acknowledge those who attended from Burnside, in my own electorate, led by David Wilson and supported by his son, Tim Wilson; Rory Martin; Paul Stickland; Sophia Sadri; Cameron Langley; and Andrew Hughes, who were there over this period to provide their direct assistance in the fire. I am advised that Andrew Bray also travelled up there to drive back the new truck from Burnside, which was six days old and had its baptism by fire, literally. It obviously has not only assisted in the fires that we are referring to today but is now back at Burnside, dusted off and ready to go for the rest of the fire season.

I especially acknowledge and thank the Minister for Emergency Services for ensuring that our brigade had that truck before we deal with what will inevitably be significant events over the forthcoming season, and that will be well into February, March and April. We have to recognise that this is only the warm-up and that we have a lot of work to do. These brave persons not only protect our own areas but travel across the state. I know many of our people from Burnside have travelled interstate and provided support when asked.

I would also like to acknowledge the extra support from other ministers who are involved in the recovery, such as the Hon. Michelle Lensink. Our ministers for health, transport, education and environment obviously play a role on the ground, to the extent that they are leading the people who are going the extra mile. That might be nurses who are working in the Yorketown hospital to deal with those who might be injured or it might be ambulance service providers.

It might be teachers in schools who need to assist with the supervision of children, particularly where attendance at school continues but even if they are to be kept at home and schools are closed. Often on catastrophic days, which have occurred across the board, they need to be involved. The environment workers are frequently not only members who work for parks, etc. and who have a clean-up role but they are also members of our own CFS brigades, and so they have a dual role.

Can I acknowledge the Minister for Energy, who has a role in terms of energy and electricity being transmitted as significant parts of the West Coast were closed down during this catastrophic period. His agency needs to work. I also recognise the Minister for Primary Industries, whose department is very much involved in advice and support to regional areas to ensure that there is much preparation done, which has been acknowledged today, but also in the recovery and clean-up.

Fences need to be rebuilt, damaged property needs to be removed, livestock carcasses need to be disposed of. These are the ugly consequences of fire. It is expensive and traumatic, and it needs to be understood that it will take a long time. Our message, and our care, to the people who have been most severely affected is that we understand this and that we are with you to support you during this period. It will be expensive, it will be exhausting, it will be time consuming and it will go on for a very long time, but we understand that and we will support you.

Finally, I wish to echo the sentiments of being prepared and of having a plan, as the minister has outlined. I am proud of my own family ensuring that we have a newly updated bushfire plan for interests we have on Kangaroo Island. I expect my family to know how to change a car tyre, to know where they need to go, what to pack, what to do, and to have the firefighting equipment ready to deal with an emergency. The older members of the family will need to lead that, but knowing where to go and what to do is important, and everyone has a role in that.

If a circumstance is identified where someone is going to be at risk, if there is a fire in the district, they need to be alert to that. If you are visiting those areas—even if it is for a holiday in our regional areas—please make sure that you have an understanding of where your local police station is, what numbers are available for the local CFS and the like and that you have some understanding of what the fire plan is to vacate a property in the event that you need to evacuate. Frequently, this is not done because people go for a holiday and it is the last thing they think about. They think about unpacking the towels and getting the kids to the beach, rather than actually just checking what the fire plan arrangements are in those circumstances.

It is a very real and pressing danger in regional communities and it is incumbent on us as either infrequent visitors or holiday-makers to parts of our state to ensure that we minimise the risk to our local CFS people and emergency people on the ground by being incumbent, as in a burden in those circumstances, in not knowing what to do. I urge everyone to really be prepared, whether you are in a peri-urban or a regional part of South Australia. If you are visiting those areas, make sure that you understand what the plan is and get the hell out of there if you are not prepared.