International Day for Disaster Reduction


I rise to speak on the motion acknowledging International Day for Disaster Reduction and note that this year's theme is 'reducing disaster economic losses in relation to global gross domestic product'—rather a mouthful, and I suspect somebody from the United Nations General Assembly has come up with that clumsy but nevertheless thematic description.

Essentially, I suppose this directs our minds to the fact that disasters obviously affect not only people's lives and property but also their productivity, and they are asking us to consider that and recognise how that occurs and its impact on the world. It is designed to ensure we promote a culture of disaster reduction, including prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

I have listened many times in this house to members talk about the reduction of fuel loads as we approach a fire season, and it has been touched on again today. It is a real and present danger we have in this state, and I heard just recently a proposed advance in some districts in South Australia in terms of closure of the fire operating season, essentially bringing forward the fire ban and enabling us to reduce fuel load.

Sometimes this is important, but it is equally important when we get early rains in autumn, and I again say to those who are in a position to make a decision on this matter that we need to look at bringing forward the opportunity to burn because, in my view, one of the big issues is that every year we have a lucky dip and we play Russian roulette in dealing with the protection of our environment when we fail to reduce the fuel load.

The minister has implored others to step up and take personal responsibility in respect of preparing their own properties and families in the event of a natural disaster, particularly a bushfire, and I thoroughly endorse that. I also say that it is important we have a culture, throughout our government and our instrumentalities in South Australia, of making sure that spring and autumn are used to maximum effect to undertake cold burns.

Fire, flood and storm damage are well known to us as being natural disasters, and power failures, interruption to the distribution of potable water, homelessness, injury and loss of life are all very direct and dire consequences. However, we should look at some of the newer and emerging not necessarily natural disasters but issues that have a human element, such as the vulnerability we have in relation to cybersecurity. Our state could, quite literally, shut down in its operations, with a massive impact on our productivity should we have a cyber breach, the theft of data, the extortions that sometimes follow, and threats in relation to shutting down access to data in business and in government.

This is a 21st century natural disaster, I believe, and it is one that we should understand is ever present. We only have to look at recent challenges in relation to access to data at the Land Services office, which was recently privatised by the previous government, and the concerns raised in relation to access. In terms of the stealing of data and identity theft, the value of this material should never be underestimated. The threat to our economic operations as a government and as a state is a real and present danger.

With regard to pest infestation, for a state that prides itself in being fruit fly free in its operation, and having protection against serious diseases in relation to our stock, given it is clearly our most significant income producer for the state, again, there are massive problems if that occurs. We have had a taste of that sort of thing. We had the flu that came in and affected all the horses, asses, donkeys and so on in Australia. As I recall, that was some mishap or failure on behalf of AQIS many years ago, coming through one of its international ports. These incidents have very serious consequences when they occur. In that case, we had to have a major quarantine shutdown and no movement of those animals off or on properties, etc.

Human disease outbreaks should be obvious. We only have to look around the world to see the legacy of recent disasters where there has been a contamination of water and there have been disease outbreaks and serious consequences for our health services and our emergency responses. May I also place on the record the significance of the legal costs in respect of a major disaster. I say this as a proud, newly minted member of the council that sits in relation to emergency management in South Australia. The costs that occur in relation to these types of events should never be overlooked.

In respect of this year's national theme, let's not forget the cost of insurance—not just claims but the disputes and litigation in respect of them—and litigation in respect of the liability and damages arising out of a person or persons who might be responsible for the failings in relation to that. Sometimes we have had royal commissions. I think of Queensland's major inquiry into the then Labor government's failure to release enough water out of its water reserves. When a storm event and large rain events came, there was massive flood damage in that state.

In recent times, we have also had a number of coronial inquiries that occur as a result of deaths in relation to major events. Every death is significant in these circumstances, but I think probably the most significant of those were the 11 or so deaths arising out of the fire north of Port Lincoln some years ago in 2005, 13 years ago. I think every member of the house should read those coronial reports. It is a sobering reminder of what on occasions we have failed to do, and what we must ensure we do if we are genuine about being prepared and actually protecting people's lives. No less important is the work of the forensics experts. Forensic Science SA provides considerable support, both in litigation and in coronial inquiries arising out of these types of disasters. The testing alone is expensive, as is reporting availability for evidence in court litigation, etc.

There are unforeseen but extraordinary costs that come from these events and nothing less should be considered than the rebuilding of people's lives. When the fire has gone, the fire trucks have gone home, when the fences have been rebuilt and when the fights with the insurance companies have occurred, people have to then work out how they are possibly going to rebuild their enterprise to actually be productive again. This is the hidden cost in relation to that.

I, too, wish to acknowledge the work of the first responders, many of them volunteers across South Australia in relation to our disasters. Of course, we thank them for the work they do and the trauma they themselves have to go through, sometimes sacrificing their own limb or life to do so. However, it is important to understand that when a community has to rebuild after these traumatic experiences, it is an extremely costly event, both economically and emotionally, and it should not be underestimated.