Bushfires and Emergency Services | MOTION


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (12:40): I, too, rise to support this motion moved by the Premier and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, and I do so on behalf of the people of Stuart. The people of Stuart have been, I suggest, affected by more fires in the last 9½ years that I have been an MP than any other single electorate, but the reality is that the impact of any one fire on any one family or one farm or one home or one business is as great for that home, farm, family, business, etc. as it is for anyone anywhere else, and one is more than enough for anybody.

The people in Yorketown were in a terrible situation but, as we know from previous speakers, they were not the only ones under great threat that day. Since first looking at the map when the fire was going, I have thought fairly constantly of the positive of the fact that it was heading towards the gulf and that, without a late wind change, it was going to hit the coast and burn out. That was a plus but, on the negative side, it was going straight at the town of Edithburgh. Essentially, the people there were fighting this fire that was going to come to them and pass them by, but they needed to save as much as they possibly could in the way. That is the perspective of the people in the town, of course.

The people on the farms in the open country were doing everything they could to protect their homes, stock and other assets, whether it was sheds, hay, crops, etc., but they were not doing it alone. As we know from all other speakers here today, they were not doing it alone. They were doing it with the extraordinarily important volunteer service and a paid section of the Country Fire Service. Overwhelmingly, it was the volunteer CFS service and of course the unsung brigade of farm firefighting units, which in recent years have become more and more organised and more and more important. They deserve as much praise as anyone else.

I want to talk very briefly about the impact of fire. I am not talking about the homes lost or, as in Pinery, the two deaths that occurred, or, as in the fire at Southern Flinders, Wirrabara Forest, a few years ago, the six or eight houses that were lost. One of the things that struck me as a CFS member—although I was far more active a few years go than I am at the moment—and also as an MP, is the impact that fire has on people decades afterwards. I have had a lot of contact with people who were near a fire in recent years, but they were also very dangerously exposed to fire in some cases 20 or 25 years previously.

The second occasion when they were not really in any great danger but fire was a danger to their district brought back memories, feelings, fear and anxiety from decades earlier, and this was not something I was aware of or exposed to until about six years ago. It is real. It is palpable. It is very genuine how terrified people are, in large part because the feelings of a couple of decades ago, when they were actually in danger, had come back to them. What really struck me was what can we do to try to help people who have very recently been at risk due to fire so that they do not have this locked up or bottled up inside them for the next 10, 20 or 30 years and how we can try to avoid that.

After thanking everybody who has worked so hard in South Australia and outside South Australia—I suspect we all know CFS volunteers who have volunteered in recent weeks and who in previous times have gone interstate to help others, putting themselves in very grave danger—my desire in this speech is to call on this house, through our collective capacity and presumably mostly through our government’s capacity, to see what we can do now, shortly after the Arthurton/Edithburgh fire, and perhaps more effectively at the end of this fire season, to help people who have this year and maybe last year been affected by fire.

I know from my experience over the last five, six or seven years that the less obvious trauma and the less obvious impacts exist, so what can we do to try to lessen that impact for people so that as much as possible we can contain the impact of the fire on the community to the more physical, and that extends through to loss of crops and stock that are very emotionally confronting? How can we try to contain it to those things and try to remove or diminish the impact that lingers for decades? If we can do that work as well as the immediate firefighting work, which of course on any day is more pressing, then we will take a massive step forward in what we broadly call fighting bushfires.