MOTION: South Australian Bushfires

Today, Mark paid tribute to the efforts of our paid and unpaid firefighters and emergency services personnel who have worked tirelessly for months on end to defend property, life and land. He noted there is much more to say and do in coming months in response to the fires and climate change is at the top of that list for the Greens. 


That this council—

1. Expresses its deep regret at the loss of life as a result of bushfires in South Australia so far this summer, and extends its condolences and sympathy to the families and loved ones of those killed;

2. Records its sorrow and support for those who suffered injury and who lost their homes, property and personal possessions;

3. Praises the work of firefighters and other emergency services, volunteers and community members for their courage and sacrifice in responding to the fires and protecting our communities in this time of need;

4. Recognises the profound impact on those communities affected and the role of governments and the South Australian community in assisting them to recover and rebuild at the earliest opportunity; and

5. Appreciates the great generosity and support to the affected communities by all those who have contributed to the State Emergency Relief Fund and other appeals.

I rise to wholeheartedly support this motion. I would begin, as others have, by offering my deepest and sincerest condolences to those who have lost their lives in these terrible fires and to the loved ones that they have left behind, both here in South Australia and interstate. Nationally, we have lost 33 people and we have lost three in South Australia. I would also offer my condolences to those who lost their homes, their businesses and their communities.

I did not personally know any of those who died, but I do know a number of people personally who lost everything else. In the main, these were people who I have worked with over the years on various conservation campaigns, especially on Kangaroo Island. It ceases to be just a story on the news when you know personally those who are affected. Nationwide, there were over 3,000 homes that were lost. In fact, it is not just a question of knowing people who lost their homes, there were some I have had in my home who, as we do in polite company, said, 'You must come and visit us in ours one day.' There are at least a couple of people for whom I will never be able to do that because they lost everything in the fires.

We also know that one consequence for those who survived will be to their mental and emotional health. Even those indirectly affected are likely to need our support long after the immediate danger has passed. That is why we need to make sure, in the tough months and years ahead, that we do not forget how we feel now or how we felt as we watched the tragedy unfold in news reports over the last few months.

I also wish to pay tribute to the phenomenal efforts of our paid and unpaid firefighters and emergency services personnel. They have worked tirelessly for months on end to defend property, life and land, and it is only because of their bravery and courage, showing the best of what Australians can be, that these fires and the results of them have not been much worse. I would like to give a shout out to the young trainee, Claudia, in the Hon. Tammy Franks' office, who I think undertook three tours of duty to Kangaroo Island.

Across Australia, one thing that has shocked so many people is how early these fires started. In August this year, Penny and I spent some time in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. We camped in the ancient world heritage listed rainforests. I got some great photos of lyrebirds, bellbirds and those elusive little log runners that forage in the damp leaf litter floor of the rainforest. These are areas that had never been subject to bushfires of the type or severity that ravaged the region just one month later in September.

The fires in South Australia came a little later, but there is now a consensus that the fire season is getting longer as our landscapes dry out, particularly as a consequence of climate change. Some that were not taken by surprise were scientists, community leaders and emergency services experts, who all warned the government of the risks and the need for action many, many months before the crisis began to unfold. Last year, we had 23 former fire chiefs begging the Prime Minister for a meeting; they could not get one. They were ignored.

There is much more that we need to say and do in coming months in response to these fires. At the top of that list for the Greens is addressing climate change. We are clearly facing a climate emergency and, as a nation, we are sleepwalking into the abyss. I do not accept that now is not the time to talk about climate change. Whilst this tragedy is still raw and fresh and ongoing, it is in fact the best time.

As this new parliamentary session begins, in coming days and weeks the Greens will be bringing bills and motions forward to deal with the climate emergency. We need to listen to the scientists and the community, we need to listen to the fire and emergency chiefs and we need to listen to the next generation who will inherit the disaster that we are creating. Most importantly, we need political will to prioritise the future because none of us want this horror fire season to become the new normal. I support the motion.