South Australian Bushfires


I rise to endorse the comments of the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition and thank them both for their contribution to the chamber expressing the sentiment of so many of us in seeing what has transpired during the bushfire season for 2019-20 in South Australia. Most of us were following the three major fires on Yorke Peninsula, the Adelaide Hills and then Kangaroo Island over a time when we were expected to be preparing for and enjoying the Christmas and holiday season during which our state was alight in those regions.

The similarities in these regions are obvious. All three are rural and, secondly, they are major food and fibre producers of our state, and they are also major areas of destination for tourism in our state. There are of course other industries, but I highlight those as being consistent with all. Unsurprisingly, whilst there has been a focus, as has been repeated in this motion's contribution to date, on the heroic response of the work to the fires themselves and their containment by our emergency services personnel and other volunteers and people in the communities, the relief and recovery aspects are also important. Again, they have been acknowledged, and I will not repeat them all, but it is ongoing.

Can I say that, of the communities that I think I and many of the members have been in over this period of time, once the fire is put out—and of course they have to be alert to the next fire starting because it was not the first fire in South Australia and it will not be the last this season—they are having to consider how they are going to rebuild. Some in those communities will draw a line in the sand and say, 'I've had my turn. I'm not going to do this again. I'm not going to be exposed to this.' We respect that; it is a hard decision to make. There are those who get up, throw off the ash, say, 'Yes, we will rebuild. We'll order new fences, we'll build a new home, we will build up our livestock again, we will make sure that we establish our tourism venture again,' and the like. With help from all of us, initially at least, they will have a chance to do that.

I draw the attention of the house to the third group. The third group are paralysed into indecision. They are incapable of making a decision at this point. They probably need our assistance more than ever to support them during the period until they are fit and strong enough, resilient enough, not only to be able to make decisions but also to be able to make the right decisions and, secondly, to make sure they do not lapse into a period of depression or despair during that journey. That is a really important aspect of the recovery of this fire.

I commend all the personnel who have been involved in mental health and other services to help support people. I have seen strong farmers, usually pretty tough nuts, certainly on football fields, on Kangaroo Island in recent time in tears as they are trying to explain it and go through a form with someone who is assisting them in a recovery centre. It is a fragile period, and these people will need our continued support for a long time. I am confident that everyone in this house understands that.

Our commitment of course must be to ensure that we be part of the repair and rebuild and that we join with others who can go out and demonstrably do physical things such as rip up fences—as the Australian Defence Force and the reservists are doing, and we appreciate that—and clean up burnt buildings and so on. These are all important jobs to do, and we thank them for it. In a way, it is a physical expression of that level of repair and it is necessary. However, the mental and emotional repair is equally significant. Those in the emergency service recovery world have each been acknowledged; I will not repeat them today.

I would like to refer to the Kangaroo Island fire because, as most of you know, this island is dear to my heart. It was the first settlement in the colony of South Australia, I remind you, in July 1836. I did again receive a recent submission to have another public holiday for the settlement day, but I will raise that another day. Unsurprisingly, it is not the first fire that these communities have had and it will not be the last, so it is terribly important that the public has a chance to have a say in relation to the Mick Keelty review. I thank the Premier, and indeed my colleagues, for understanding the significance of reviewing not only the performance of what occurs during the recovery of a fire but also the preparation in the future. To invite the public to be able to have a say in this regard I think is an important initiative.

Of course, we have a number of experts in the emergency services world who will be able to define what has occurred and document the horror of the events. They will be able to analyse all the responses. However, we do need to bring the people with us when we talk about the future decisions that will need to be made and what actions we are going to employ to try to minimise the horror of what has occurred in these periods. Also, whilst today we are acknowledging the best and the bravest, and that is great, we also need to listen carefully to what they have said.

I also bring to your attention that a lot happens during a fire. People still die of natural causes or other reasons, sickness and the like, and children are still born. I want to say that although the burial of one person on Kangaroo Island had to be delayed for a couple of weeks because the football club burnt down and he could not have his service there, it was transferred to the racetrack and hundreds of people came to that occasion to celebrate the life of Rodger Borgmeyer.

Rodger would be unknown to most of you, but he symbolised for me somebody who had made an enormous community contribution. He had been burnt on the day, and had burnt himself over the years, and on his own property he had lost a lot of stock and part of the buildings and structures on his properties. He was really a means by which that community came together, hundreds of them, to celebrate his life and also to support each other. On a happy note, in the last week of the fires we had the first bushfire baby born that I know of: Charlotte Riggs.

It is really important to remember that these are events those communities can celebrate and embrace, and they are symbolic of a new future. To draw a line in the sand will help those who are not able to make a decision straightaway, but we will support people to assist the community in rebuilding the economy, as homes, buildings and fences are all important.

I will tell you a brief story—not about me in a fire; there are plenty of those and I do not need to share them with you. Kate Stanton and I started school at the same time. We both married and had two sons. She married the boy next door; I did not. She lived her life on Kangaroo Island; I did not. In this last fire, she and Richard lost everything, except her two sons. They lost all their stock. Richard's two brothers and their families lost their homes and all their stock. Their Stokes Bay hall/church/meeting centre/tennis facility went to dust, and as a community and a family they were devastated.

Kate symbolises to me someone who is prepared to say, 'We are really well into our period of time of farming, but we have two sons and we are committed to making sure that we rebuild and that we stay strong for them to ensure that they rebuild.' Twenty years of developing a special breed of sheep to a very high standard have been wiped out for the younger son. These are the sorts of hidden losses of fires. Homes and loss of lives are obvious, but decades of work to develop a certain product or skill or benefit for others just evaporated overnight with these fires.

The other area I would like to implore members to remember is this: for all these small businesses and people who operate enterprises that have been wounded in some way in these areas, there are also a very large number of people who have been employed by them, casually or on a permanent basis, and the business or shop that they went to work for has just disappeared. There is no work to do, and so a lot of these people are unemployed and without any direct future. They do not have something they have insured. They do not have a job. They do not even have an income.

Of course, some government benefits are available to support those who are unemployed, but there is a whole area of particularly young people on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills who have lost their employment and will need a future. We have to rebuild these rural communities not just to ensure that we have the food and fibre production that we need and the beautiful places in tourism to sell to the world but so these people have a future as well. So the message from Kangaroo Island is very simple: do not forget us. We will be green again.