International Day for Disaster Reduction Motion | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:31 :38 ): I move:

That this house—

(a)recognises International Day for Disaster Reduction, expresses its deep appreciation to both professional and volunteer emergency services workers throughout our state; and

(b)calls on the government to do more to prevent natural disasters from occurring and to prepare our emergency services workers to fight them.

In December 1989, International Day for Disaster Reduction was established to promote disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. Originally celebrated on the second Wednesday of October, in 2009 the UN General Assembly decided to designate 13 October to celebrate this day, and that is my reason for speaking to this motion today, in anticipation of 13 October, which will come very shortly.

The International Day for Disaster Reduction is a day to celebrate how people and communities are reducing their risk to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of disaster risk reduction. It is a day to encourage every citizen and government to take part in building more disaster resilient communities and nations—and, of course, that applies to states as well.

I will address my first remarks to part (a) of this motion, that we as a house recognise the day, and express our deep appreciation to both professional and volunteer emergency services workers throughout our state. The focus on professionals and volunteers is absolutely crucial because, while they might come from different services by name and wear different uniforms, and while some might be full time and some might be part time, and some might be paid and some might not be paid, when they are working on behalf of a community to try to prevent a disaster or are actively fighting one or helping with recovery afterwards, they are all at the same risk, they all have the same heart in the job and they all deserve exactly the same appreciation from us.

I think that in the heat of battle, so to speak, volunteers and professionals would be very willing to stand side by side to support each other on behalf of our community. I think that is a very important issue that needs to be recognised, so I do find it very unfortunate that the government has chosen to provide cancer compensation to professionals but not to volunteers.

I think there could be no starker example of the fact that the government has not quite grasped how important it is that we value these emergency service workers in exactly the same way, whether they be professionals or volunteers. The fact is that the government chose to grant the cancer compensation, if it should be needed, to professionals and, when asked to provide it for volunteers as well, they said no. When asked very clearly and very specifically, they said no.

Speaker, let me take your mind back to last year before the election when they were asked by the member for Frome to provide that cover. When the member for Frome came to this house and spoke on behalf of volunteer firefighters, the government said no, and that is exceptionally disappointing. I guess what is even more disappointing to me and to many people in the broader community is that the government held so steadfastly to that view and remained so steadfast that it has actually somehow encouraged the member for Frome to vote against a motion providing that same compensation.

Let me say really openly and really directly that the member for Frome is a friend of mine and he has a good heart, but I also have to say very openly and very directly that I do not believe he is using that good heart he has when looking at this issue. For him, last sitting week, to vote against a motion—not a bill but a motion, which is an expression of intent—to provide the same level of cover to volunteers as to professionals, I find exceptionally disappointing.

Of course, he is doing that as a minister in the Labor government. I do not pretend to understand exactly how all that works, but somehow the member for Frome, as a genuinely Independent country member of parliament, proposed that volunteer firefighters receive exactly the same support as professionals, but, as a Labor government minister, he voted against the principle last week. I very earnestly call on the government to accept this proposition that we recognise this day and express our deep appreciation to both volunteers—

The SPEAKER: Member for Stuart, there is a convention, nay, a rule that members cannot reflect on a vote of the house that is done and dusted, so by all means speak to your motion, but do not reagitate the issues around that motion that was dealt with by the house recently.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Okay; thank you, Speaker.

The SPEAKER: Standing order 119, I am told.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I will remember that one, thank you. I very earnestly call on the house to support this motion which recognises that there is equal value to our community in both professionals and volunteers. I hope that, in future, when similar motions or similar bills come before this house, the government and all members who took a particular position on the last occurrence will reconsider their position on the next occurrence.

With regard to part (b) of my motion, I call on the government to do more to prevent natural disasters from occurring and to prepare our emergency services workers to fight them. When I gave notice of this motion several months ago, I read exactly those words out. I looked across, and the senior government ministers sitting opposite me at that point in time laughed, sniggered and sort of joked and said, ‘We cannot prevent natural disasters and all that sort of stuff.’

I took exception to that, but I decided to just wait until today to comment on it, because—do you know what, Speaker—it is actually possible to prevent natural disasters. If infrastructure is in place, exceedingly heavy rains will not create the floods which would result in natural disasters. Mitigating infrastructure in place in advance and the effective use of it can prevent natural disasters. Even though the natural event cannot be controlled, the resulting potential disaster can be controlled.

Imagine the Brown Hill Creek catchment, which many people fear could result in a natural disaster of flooding in suburban Adelaide, imagine if the infrastructure was put in place and the earthworks were completed and other programs were put in place that people have called for so that exactly the same rain event would not result in a natural disaster. Imagine a fire, a very small fire in the bush somewhere in South Australia which is contained, which is stopped, which is put out, which does not turn into a natural disaster, versus exactly that same fire, a small fire, which gets out of hand because it is not dealt with properly and that does turn into a natural disaster.

Think of an earthquake that affects buildings that are built to a standard so that they can weather that earthquake, there is no natural disaster, versus exactly the same earthquake affecting buildings which are not so well built, the buildings collapse and then we have a natural disaster. It is actually possible in some instances, not all, but it is very possible to do work in advance so that exactly the same weather event, or other naturally occurring event, may not turn into a natural disaster. That is the intent of part (b) of my motion.

I again earnestly ask the government to support this. I have to say that I stand here with some happiness when I note that there was a joint press release put out by the federal Minister for Justice and the state Minister for Emergency Services just two days ago saying that the commonwealth Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, and South Australian Minister for Emergency Services, Tony Piccolo, today announced more than $7 million of projects to assist communities across South Australia to build resilience to natural disasters. That is fantastic. My motion has had some positive effect already and I am very grateful to both the commonwealth and the state government for responding so positively.

I also note that the Council of Australian Governments in a report of 2011 and the Productivity Commission in a report which I understand was released yesterday both called for more financial resources to be put into natural disaster mitigation as opposed to natural disaster recovery. So, there are a lot of people out there, it is not just me, who believe that it is actually possible. One of the fantastic things about the Productivity Commission report that came out yesterday was that it said that you could spend less. If you spend the money up-front you can spend less. Put that money into disaster mitigation, into avoiding natural disasters, into doing the sorts of things I was talking about before, so that natural events do not turn into natural disasters. That will actually cost less money than the clean-up and recovery efforts that are required afterwards.

I very earnestly call on the house to support this motion. I ask the government not to amend it, as is often the government’s way, because it is very genuinely put. I am quite confident that, whether the government chooses to amend it or not, government members, in their own individual hearts, would like the government to do more to prevent natural disasters. They would like the government to do more to prepare our emergency services workers to fight them. I think members opposite would like the government to give volunteer firefighters the same access to, essentially, workplace care and safety and medical support, if necessary, after the event as professionals get.

I do think that members opposite would like the money collected from the emergency services levy increases that have gone out to households to go to emergency services rather than to other parts of the budget. I have no doubt that members opposite would be much more comfortable if that were the case. I have no doubt that members opposite, in their heart of hearts, would personally fully support this motion, and I ask them to do so when they vote on it.

Dr McFETRIDGE ( Morphett ) ( 11:45 :15 ): I am old enough to remember 1956, when my father, who was in the South Australian fire brigade, as it was then, went off to help in the flood recoveries on the River Murray in the big floods. I was only four at the time, but it is a very poignant part of my life. I do remember dad going away and my mother’s concerns about what he was doing.

So, it has been a part of my life since my early childhood recognising that we do live in a state where we have natural disasters occurring far too frequently, and it is not just the 1956 floods. In 2003, in the second year of my role as a member of parliament, there was a malfunction of the lock gates at Glenelg, there were heavy rains, and over 200 houses were flooded in Glenelg North. I remember the impact of that natural disaster (some might say that it was a man-made disaster caused by malfunctioning lock gates) when the rains came and we had the floods.

We do live in a very flat capital city that is prone to flooding. In 2003, there were 200 homes flooded, some of which had to be demolished and some completely gutted and started again. Some people left the district because of it, and I understand that there were even some severe mental health issues because people could not cope with the stresses and strains.

Mitigating a natural disaster and recognising a natural disaster as a part of living in South Australia, as well as living in Australia, is something we must all do. The most important thing we have to do is to get together in this house to do what we can to make sure that the people of South Australia are given the best protection, both physically and mentally, from disaster and to help them to recover when there is a flood, an earthquake or a bushfire.

Let’s not forget that we do have a number of earthquake faults here in Adelaide and throughout South Australia. As far as bushfires go, the big ones which everybody would remember and which we have heard mentioned in this place many times are the bushfires of 1939, 1956 and certainly 1983. We had Bangor and Eden Valley and others last fire season. Let’s hope that we never have another Ash Wednesday or Black Saturday in South Australia. The Adelaide Hills, unfortunately, are a disaster waiting to happen. We have had numbers of speeches in this place about being prepared for bushfires.

Natural disasters are a real issue. The need to prepare both the physical infrastructure plus the need to prepare communities to cope with natural disaster is something this government has put some effort into, and certainly the federal government has put some effort into, and I will talk a bit more about that in a moment. The most important part of our preparedness for a natural disaster and the recovery from a natural disaster is the emergency service workers we have in South Australia, the thousands of men and women who give up their time; some are paid for it, many are volunteers.

As I have said in here before, when there is a fire or some other incident happening that is threatening lives and property, these are the people who are running towards that incident whilst other people are running away. They put their life and safety at risk, and we need to recognise and support that, and one of the best ways we can do that is by making sure that they are well resourced, well funded and well trained.

It is disappointing to see that the South Australian government is the only government in this nation that has reduced funding for firefighting services. The last state budget had $7 million in it for emergency services. That is nowhere near the real increase in costs of running emergency services. If we are to provide an expanded emergency service to the people of South Australia, this government really needs to look at what it is doing. It needs to grasp the nettle. It needs to recognise that the cost of recovering from disaster, whether that is a house fire for somebody or a large bushfire or flood, and the life-long impact for many people is enormous. It needs to put its money where its mouth is.

Let’s also not forget those who support our emergency workers: those in the volunteer marine rescue and the surf lifesaving organisations, and there are so many other organisations and service clubs that come in and assist when there is a natural disaster. I know the Salvation Army were at Glenelg at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning serving cups of tea and coffee and some food to the emergency workers who were down there and also to the people affected, giving them some comfort and assistance. There are so many people right across the South Australian community who I know everybody in this place is very proud of, and we need to make sure we are supporting them and letting them get on with the job that they want to do, because they want to make sure that South Australia is a better place to live and bring up families.

The good thing about the current federal government’s ability to get hold of a very difficult budget is that they are recognising areas where there is just an imperative to make sure extra funding comes in. Back in May this year, the federal government announced $15 million for national bushfire preparedness. I think South Australia has some share of that. I am not aware of the exact share, but I do know that in June $7 million was put out there by the federal government to improve natural disaster resilience. I am not sure what the national total was for natural disaster resilience improvement, but the federal government is certainly putting their money where their mouth is and working in a cooperative and bipartisan way with all governments.

I am very pleased to see that minister Piccolo was gracious enough to accept the fact that we are all in this together and that the $7 million that has been given to South Australia will provide funding towards 37 projects, such as social recovery at Eden Valley and Bangor communities—there is $60,000 there. There is $134,000 for flood mapping on Kangaroo Island, the member for Finniss’ area, and $63,000 for community education on the importance of animal management in emergency plans.

Can I just quickly mention a colleague of mine, Dr Rachel Westcott, who runs SAVEM. That is a veterinary organisation where vets, veterinary assistants and members of the public are coming together and helping with animals affected by natural disasters. A very important part of natural disaster recovery and resilience is preparing. Julie Fiedler at Horse SA is another person who has been involved there as well. I think everybody in this place knows how important pets are to people. One day I had a lady come in and say, ‘You can put the kids down, just don’t put the dog down.’ It is a well-known fact that people mourn more for their pets than they do for their family, so that is a very important part of it. I am pleased to say there is $63,000 in the Natural Disaster Resilience Program for preparing in that area.

The need to make sure that we are updating ourselves and communicating with all members of the public to make them aware of upcoming disasters and what they can do to mitigate the effects of natural disasters is being seen now in social networking. The Queensland Police Service has done an excellent case study on disaster management and social media. We see that in South Australia SAFECOM has developed Alert SA, along with the police, SES and the fire services. Those social networks, alerts and supports by electronic means are so vital for not only informing people and allowing them to prepare when there is an imminent disaster happening, such as a bushfire, but also making them aware of what they can do many months ahead.

With the upcoming fire season—I think it starts on 1 October in some districts, so really next week—it is not if it happens but when it happens in South Australia. We hear it every year and we should never ever get complacent about it. Whether it is a fire, a flood or an earthquake, we really do need to recognise the fact that not just on the international day for recognising natural disasters and disaster mitigation but all year round we should be doing everything we can to prepare for what can happen.

I heard someone the other day talking about stocking up on dry food. When something happens you are not going to have the food, the sustenance that you need. It is a real part of our life, so I strongly support the motion of the member for Stuart. I hope others in this place speak about the motion and their own experiences and recognise the fact that the people of South Australia need to be supported by this parliament.

Mr WHETSTONE ( Chaffey ) ( 11:55 :20 ): I too rise to support the member for Stuart’s motion. Once again, I think this is another commendable motion. The member for Stuart continues to put up many. Obviously we have heard a bit about the background to the motion. The International Day for Disaster Reduction was established in 1989 to promote disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. I think that is something that many of us take for granted. Our governments and our emergency services people are prepared and ready, and in many instances volunteers are always training, always getting better, always getting their equipment in preparedness for one of those disasters.

Obviously disasters come in many forms, but I will touch on just a few because of the time. Particularly here in South Australia, we have heard people talk about floods and fire, but also drought. Drought is one of the many unseen disasters that occur. It is one of those disasters that creeps up on us and, in many cases, there is nothing we can do. We cannot fight drought. We can prepare, we can help, but we cannot put out a drought. We cannot mitigate like we can for a flood. When a drought is upon us, it has implications far and wide: environmental, social and economic. It is something that my electorate and the people of Chaffey have experienced. When I was elected in 2010, we were on the cusp of coming out of a drought. It had huge implications on all facets of the electorate. It was a very damaging disaster.

It was a millennium drought, it had all the impacts, but it was reliant on something that we had always taken for granted. We had water in the river, plenty of water in our tanks and access to water whenever we turned on a tap. I remember that back in the late 1990s I went over to Canberra to lobby some of the federal politicians, to let them know that had they actually done their numbers they would know that the amount of water that was in storage and the amount of water that we were taking out of that storage did not balance. The numbers were not there. They looked at me in disbelief.

Over a matter of months it became very obvious that our take was going to far outweigh what was left in storage. It was their belief that it was going to rain and that enough water would be put back into storage and everything would be okay, but along came the drought. That prompted the Howard government to stand up and implement some change, a long-term strategy, and that was a basin plan.

I think along the way both colours of government have put their hand up to try to be a part of that reform. I feel that some elements of government have done it better than others, and I think right at this minute we are experiencing reform that has been long overdue. The basin plan will be rolled out by 2019, and hopefully we will look back in 10 years’ time and say that it was well administered, well rolled out and that we are the beneficiaries of good government decision-making.

One thing I am fearful of is that we will look back and say that we could have done it better, and I am sure that is what will happen, but it is about preparing for the future. What we do today is not about what we could have done in the past. What we do today is about what we are doing for our next generation and for tomorrow.

Natural disasters come fast and furious. The member for Morphett talked about the floods back in 1956. They were actually a build-up. It was not just a flood of 1956; 1955 was the wet year and 1956 just complemented that year, and it really ran over the top of South Australia. Obviously, the Murray River and the Darling River met and the floodwaters came together, and that is why there was so much impact in South Australia. The flood waters came down fast and furious and scoured the river corridor and flood plains and washed away huge amounts of infrastructure. It almost washed away the town of Renmark, because it is smack bang in the middle of a flood plain, and it just had to bear the brunt.

Volunteers, locals and farmers undertook all sorts of mitigation. I am led to believe that there were huge undertakings to try to divert the course of the river, which is a monumental task, particularly back in those days with the size of machinery and what people were able to do. There were a lot of explosives used and there was a lot of land dumping and intervention to try to stop the town being washed away. Those who might know the path of the river know that it comes around what we call Whirlpool Corner and that flood plain heads towards Renmark. It created considerable damage but it gave us a considerable lesson to learn about the way we could mitigate for the next flood.

We put up levee banks to mitigate the effect of the next flood and those levee banks are, in part, still there but, sadly, they are in very poor condition. I have made a lot of noise to this current state government that we should be preparing to have those levee banks fixed in case we have another inundation of floodwater but, sadly, it has become a blame game. ‘It’s not our responsibility. It’s not our doing. We will blame the local government.’ The local governments throw their hands in the air and, suddenly, they are looking for federal government intervention. While we are playing the blame game nothing is getting done and, again, I call on the state government to look at a better strategy. They are looking at it but it is almost in the too-hard basket and it is something that needs to be addressed.

I have talked about drought and floods and I will now talk about fires. The member for Stuart would well understand the impact of the recent bushfires in his electorate, and there were recent bushfires in my electorate. The fire at Billiatt was a huge fire, with many tens of thousands of hectares being fully burnt. The Billiatt Conservation Park was completely burnt. We lost species of birds and all sorts of plant species in that fire.

It was almost left to the farmers, in many cases, to stand ready and once that fire came out of the park they had to protect their land. There were many volunteers up there and they did a great job. There were many government department fire people up there. Some did a great job, some were left wondering, and some were left looking for where they could fill the fuel.

In all, the volunteer base performed very well, but I pay tribute to the landowners and farmers who fought that fire. They had a lot of machinery and a lot of equipment and, if not for them, that fire could have spread into much more private land and made a real mess of this country. If it had got away, it would have not only inundated farm country but it would have spread further into conservation parks and who knows what might have happened.

I call on the current state government to have a better fire-break program. The grid program is something that has been used, but not effectively, and cold burn has been implemented, but is not working effectively. Looking at some of the Billiatt areas where they attempted cold burn you can see the impact it had where the fire went through, and it definitely slowed the fire down. In many cases that cold burn was not initiated through lack of ignition in the cool period, and I think we need to have more of a will to make sure that those cold-burn and back-burning programs are put in place, implemented, and put into effect.

Time expired.

Ms DIGANCE ( Elder ) ( 12:05 :31 ): In support of this motion the government recognises International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October 2014. Whilst Australia does not formally acknowledge this day, we are a signatory to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction known as the Hyogo framework.

Each year Australia reports its progress against the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience which has been adopted by all states and territories, including South Australia. Announced this week was more than $7 million in natural disaster resilience grant funding that is a joint initiative of the state and commonwealth governments. The funding is directed at programs that help prevent natural disasters, build community resilience, and support emergency services volunteers.

There are 37 projects in total that cover a broad range of topics such as: developing our flood mapping data; reducing the human cost of heatwave; reducing bushfire risks to its central assets and infrastructure; and highlighting the benefits of joining the CFS and SES as a volunteer. A challenge we face across the nation is the rising cost of natural disasters. Deloitte Access Economics estimates the annual economic cost of natural disasters will rise from $6 billion in 2012 to $12 billion by 2030. This is simply not sustainable in the long term.

A Productivity Commission inquiry is currently underway to consider options for an effective and sustainable balance of expenditure between disaster mitigation and disaster recovery. The South Australian government has welcomed the inquiry, and responded to the discussion paper in May 2014. The Productivity Commission is due to release its final report in December 2014.

Last week, the minister released the discussion paper titled A Safer Community that focuses on improving the support arrangements for front-line services across the MFS, CFS and SES. There is no intention to diminish front-line services, and this is not a cost-saving exercise. Rather, it is about ensuring our structures can deliver proper coordination, collaboration, governance and value for money within the sector. The engagement process has been rigorous, including face-to-face contact with over 1,500 volunteers and staff. Subject to feedback from the discussion paper a comprehensive business case will be developed and provided to government before the end of 2014.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 12:08 :25 ): I thank government members for their support of this motion. I am very generally pleased that all of us in this house take this issue so seriously and recognise that more does need to be done.

I would also like to thank the member for Chaffey for putting droughts into the debate. That was very sensible and something that I omitted to do. I think that is very important, because drought in itself can be a natural disaster, but drought can also make other natural disasters more likely to happen. If you are in a phase of severe drought it is more likely that bushfires can eventuate. If you are in a phase of severe drought it is also, strangely enough, more likely that you can have severe flooding because you can have rainfall that comes from nowhere, and, if all your native natural vegetation and other vegetation are not there in the way that they normally would be, flooding can be much worse. So that is a very important issue that the member for Chaffey has brought up.

In my electorate of Stuart, we have had four serious bushfires in the last five years, and two of them—the Woolundunga and Bangor fires—were exceptionally serious. The Bangor fire was burning at the same time as many other fires around the state in the Riverland, Eyre Peninsula and Eden Hills in the upper Adelaide Hills. It was a dreadful time last January. I think we all, country and city members, should come together to focus on this issue.

I thank the member for Ashford and the Natural Resources Committee, which over the last several years has taken a keen interest in this area and has invited people to come and give evidence—private people, government and departmental people—and has recognised that the Natural Resources Committee, a standing committee of parliament, can contribute to a debate with regard to trying to mitigate natural disasters. It is very important.

I guess the most poignant thing for me, as a former member of the Natural Resources Committee which came out of the committee’s work, was the focus on the Adelaide Hills. I have to say that many members here are already familiar with that work and the Adelaide Hills but, please, anybody who is not, go for a drive, have a look and talk to some CFS people. There are very serious risks in place in the Adelaide Hills in regard to potential bushfires and the dreadful circumstances which could eventuate, so let’s use this as an opportunity to do everything we possibly can to get on the front foot. If there is a serious bushfire in the Adelaide Hills in the coming years, it is sadly probably going to be the case that lives will be lost, and none of us wants to look back and wish we had done more. Please, let’s all join together to do as much as we possibly can with regard to mitigation.

I would also like to put on record my thanks to all emergency services workers—professionals and volunteers. Of course, volunteers include private people who are not directly involved with CFS or SES or any of the other services. There are volunteers who contribute their own time, effort and skill—typically these people are farmers—but it might also be a passer-by, a doctor or a nurse or somebody who has some skills.

A wide range of volunteers contribute when there is a natural disaster or some emergency. They support the volunteer structured services as they do the genuine professionals. Thank you to all of them and thank you to this house for supporting this motion, because all of those professionals and volunteers deserve as much support as can possibly be given to them by the government and this parliament, whether a Liberal or Labor government. We really need to do everything we possibly can to support those people. Of course, their work is most notable in fighting emergencies and natural disasters and then in the recovery effort afterwards.

A very important thrust of my motion is that we need to be putting more work into the mitigation and prevention. The figures that the member for Elder read out were that it is estimated to be a $12 billion per year cost in 2030. We just will not be able to meet that; it will not be possible. Let’s heed the advice of the Productivity Commission and the Council of Australian Governments and put money into the prevention and mitigation up-front because it will save problems and avoid disasters. It will be cheaper, too, and put our emergency services workers under less stress.

Motion carried.