Bushfire Condolence Motion

Thursday, 06 February 2020

I thank the Premier and the Deputy Premier for the opportunity to contribute to this condolence motion, I feel a sense of helplessness in doing so. Helplessness because the words said in this House mean little to the brave 25 men and women who lost their lives this summer. Helplessness because these condolences will not rebuild the 2,400 homes lost and nor will the wildlife and livestock be brought back to life. Helplessness because they will not properly convey the extreme gratitude that the people in my electorate of Oatley and I have for the heroic career and volunteer firefighters who sacrificed so much for us. However, it is my hope that my words will play a small part in honouring the lives lost throughout this terrible tragedy.

We must never forget Laurie Andrew, Russell Bratby, Colin Burns, John Butler, Michael Campbell, Vivian Chaplain, Michael Clarke, Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr, Julie Fletcher, David Harrison, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, Gwenda Hyde, Geoffrey Keaton, Robert Lindsay, Captain Ian McBeth, Samuel McPaul, George Nole, Andrew O'Dwyer, Barry Parsons, Ross Rixon, Patrick Salway, Chris Savva, John Smith and a man aged 56 who is yet to be identified. Those people represent so much more than just a statistic. They leave thousands of friends and loved ones behind them. They leave behind empty chairs at a dinner table, empty desks at work and empty hearts among many.

I echo the words of many previous speakers in acknowledging many of the communities they have left behind, such as Buxton, Jingellic, Albury, Cobargo, Wytaliba, Glen Innes, Kangawalla, Johns River, Taree, Willawarrin, South Arm, Nambucca Heads, Port Macquarie, Yatte Yattah, Milton, Sussex Inlet, Batlow, Bodalla, Kangaroo Valley, Mogo and Lake Conjola. Over the break it was heartwarming to visit Port Macquarie—as my family and I do every summer—and I checked in with my dear friend Leslie Williams. I say to Leslie and all affected members that I am always here to support you or to just have a chat.

In acknowledging these communities, I thank Andrew Constance for his vulnerability and transparency during this time. Andrew is one of our great leaders in this place. He has shed light on the mental toll these fires have had not only on his life but also on the people he represents. I thank Shelley Hancock for showing healthy grief and encouraging others to grieve. I can only begin to imagine the heartbreak those two members must feel in watching the communities they have represented for so long suffer. I offer my deepest condolences to their communities. Premier Gladys Berejiklian has once again shown that she is one of the best leaders we have seen. She has been dedicated to visiting as many people in fire-affected communities across New South to hear directly about the impact of the fires and to be a source of support. Her tireless efforts have been nothing short of inspiring.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has mirrored the Premier's dedication. He is a true Australian hero. Indeed, the Premier and the commissioner have given us hope and direction in this most hopeless and directionless time. I also thank my good friend Matt Kean, whose leadership in protecting wildlife encouraged my family to adopt a koala on our recent trip to Port Macquarie. The toll that this bushfire has had on our wildlife is heartbreaking and I thank Matt and organisations such as the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service for their ongoing support and advocacy for our treasured wildlife. I thank the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, David Elliot, for his continual briefs and updates, which have been instrumental not only in communities directly affected but also across New South Wales. I thank the Treasurer, whose strong economic management has led the financial recovery.

Finally, I thank my great friends in this House, particularly Gareth Ward, Lee Evans, Mel Gibbons and Shelley Hancock, whose electorates have been directly impacted. We are thinking of and praying for them. I am always here should they or their electorates ever need me. I encourage the people of New South Wales to visit these areas, particularly the South Coast, to help rebuild economies and communities and to also offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. The word of the summer in Australia has been "unprecedented"—and for good reason. The fires are unlike anything we have ever seen before. The mass-scale response of the Australian people and the spirit they have shown is also unprecedented. Unprecedented, but not unexpected. It is estimated that donations to bushfire fighting and relief have surpassed half a billion dollars. While we rightfully celebrate the enormous donations of billionaires and celebrities, it is the combined effort of regular people that makes this story so special.

I congratulate organisations such as Foodbank, The Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and the Australian Red Cross for their efforts in supporting bushfire-affected communities. The Australian spirit has shone through, and is more powerful than any fire. In my local community, the spirit of generosity has been just as strong. I thank the Oatley and Lugarno Lions clubs, which launched their bushfire relief initiatives and gave locals an opportunity to contribute. I will highlight one particular initiative that typifies the inspiring approach that has captured the hearts of local residents. I was delighted to hear of the combined effort between local small businesses Mortdale Wholesalers, Mortdale Fruit Box Market and IGA Mortdale to provide much-needed goods and food to affected communities. Through working together they were able to get multiple truckloads of food, water and sanitary items to areas that needed them most, such as Batemans Bay and Mogo. Looking locally, I also thank the people in our fire stations, who have been based in rural New South Wales all summer, including Mortdale, Hurstville, Riverwood and Kogarah fire stations, amongst others.

This bushfire season is not over and our response as leaders will challenge us. No matter what side of politics we are on, we are now tasked with the thorough investigation of how to best ensure fires of this scale never occur again. But for now, let us give thanks to those who have given so much and honour those who have given their lives. I also acknowledge staff in the electorate offices across the State who have been directly impacted. They have continued to support their communities and, for many of them, their bosses. Their hard work does not go unnoticed and, again, I am always here if they need to reach out. I conclude with one of the most articulate and emotional poems I have ever read. Just before Christmas last year, members of my local community 11‑year‑old Hailee and Casey of Riverwood captured the hearts of New South Wales with this beautiful piece:

It's Christmas in Australia

And we're ready for the heat

It's backyard cricket and swimming pools

And it really can't be beat!

But this year feels a bit different, I'm only 11 yet I know,

Our country is on fire And this drought? It just won't go There's smoke and ash and burning leaves

That cover our Aussie sky.

Our wildlife, bush and property,

Incinerating before our eyes.

Our farmers are losing their cattle,

Our country businesses going broke.

Yet our Aussie spirit of helping another,

Has not gone up in smoke.

We're not in a movie, a book or TV,

Not a bat phone or signal in sight.

But a bonded group of heroes we have,

On the fire front they fight.

No super speed, no flash costume,

No cape attached on their back.

Just kilograms of equipment, a truck,

And a will that knows no slack.

It's yellow suits and helmets,

It's dragging a heavy hose.

It's facing a wall of fire,

Guessing which way the wind might blow.

They have a heart that pumps for this country,

A strength that's rarely seen.

It's a selfless act to put your life

On the line, as we've all seen.

They won't be home for Christmas,

They won't get the family feed.

No break, no rest, no knock off time,

They won't leave til they succeed.

They will fight to save OUR Christmas,

Our homes, our lives, our land.

While losing their own properties,

They continue to take a stand.

These heroes that I mention,

The ones that fight for us,

They're our NSW Fire and Rescue

And our volunteer RFS.

So this Christmas please remember,

While we are in celebration,

To maybe pop in and say thank you

To the heroes at your local fire station.

 

I commend the motion to the House.