Bangor Bushfire | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 15:41 :17 ): I rise today to advise the house of some of the issues about the Bangor fire, which happened in my electorate in January this year, shortly before the last election. I acknowledge that it was not the only bushfire taking place at the time: there was a very serious fire in Eden Valley as well, which was equally devastating. However, I am going to speak about the Bangor fire, which broke out on Thursday 16 January but really took hold, with devastating consequences, on the evening of Friday 17 January.

The fire burned out of control in two broad phases. It was nearly back under control, but it broke out again, and those two phases ran for about six weeks and had an absolutely devastating impact upon our community and stretched the emergency services people just about as far as they could be stretched at the time, given that they were also contributing to efforts in other parts of the state.

I would like to offer my personal thanks to all the people who contributed, and of course I think about the services: the volunteers and the professionals in the CFS, MFS, South Australia Police, Ambulance Service, and SES. I also thank the many community people who contributed, including local government and private businesses, who all contributed to that effort. I also have to acknowledge many public servants who took time out of their own off-duty lives to contribute their professional skills and abilities to access services in contributing to the recovery effort. They really did a wonderful job as well.

We were very fortunate that there were no deaths, but there were some minor injuries. Very unfortunately, six homes burned down and were lost, and that is very serious. We have had four bushfires in the last two years in the electorate of Stuart, all very serious bushfires, but this was the most serious by far. As well as that, 90 per cent of the pine plantation of the Wirrabara forest burned down.

I am very concerned about the fact that the government and ForestrySA are not rushing to commit to replant that forest. I really do understand from ForestrySA’s perspective that, if you just looked at a cost-benefit analysis based on the commercial revenue to ForestrySA alone, it may not stack up. I really do understand that, and that is the job they have to do. They have to work within their constitution and obligations, and their board and other officers have to make those sorts of decisions.

It is absolutely imperative that the government understands that there are so many other benefits to the community that have to be considered and so many other flow-on jobs, such as the local ForestrySA jobs, all the benefits to all the contractors who work in the forest, the sawmiller nearby at Jamestown, the beekeeping industry, and many others. This house may be aware of the Morgan Sawmill, which employs 44 people in Jamestown, most of whom live in the electorate of Stuart, but many live in the electorate of Frome as well. It is one of the most significant employers in the upper Mid North southern Flinders area.

There is extraordinary heritage value to the forest, as well as wonderful recreation and sport value to the forest. It is an asset that is used significantly, and I applaud ForestrySA for the access they give the public to the publicly-owned land they manage on behalf of the public. They are very good about allowing people to bushwalk, ride and run sporting events from time to time. They really do a good job, and all of that will be lost if this forest is not replanted.

Grazing rights for local farmers are very important, and there are myriad local benefits that must be included in the government’s overall cost-benefit analysis when it decides to replant. I am advised that the cost is around $5 million so, yes, it is a significant amount of money but, yes, among other priorities, it is quite affordable for the government.

I also advise the house that I have written to and spoken with the Minister for Forests and the Minister for Regional Development, and they have both agreed to come and visit the forest with me, and I am very grateful for that. They have been approachable and both have said, ‘Yes, we’ll come and have a look.’ I will give them full marks if they are then able to come back and convince cabinet to replant the forest—that really is the goal. I want this whole house and all of cabinet to thoroughly understand how important is the replanting of this forest.