February 06, 2020

Bushfire Condolences

I join my colleague the member for Balmain, Jamie Parker, who spoke on behalf of The Greens, in wholly supporting the motion and extend my deepest sympathies to the victims of the bushfires that swept through our State and our nation.

I extend that sympathy and heartfelt sadness on behalf of my community to their families and loved ones. I thank the Premier for bringing this motion before the House and for her moving words of sympathy and commendation to all those affected by these tragic events. I also thank my colleagues who have spoken to the motion over the past three days.

It is with great sadness that I am here today to add my condolences to those already expressed in this place. Like many of us, I and my community were on high alert during this summer. My electorate was affected at the beginning of the season and it was extremely frightening. Summer is usually a time of rest, recovery and spending quality time with loved ones, but we were on high alert and anxious. So many were affected personally by the extreme weather events and the worst fires in living history, and everyone in the country and internationally was affected emotionally by the loss of life, the destruction of places we love, and the devastating loss of animals and biodiversity.

Fortunately, there was no loss of human life in my electorate. However, the communities either side of us were devastated. There is a kind of survivor's guilt, despite the fact that our frontline workers and communities performed unbelievably to support them. The scale of the loss at Mount Nardi is something that we are still getting our heads around. It has been an honour to participate in the bushfire recovery efforts along with colleagues from bushfire‑affected areas and to take part in weekly check‑ins with the commissioners and representatives from across government. I thank the Premier. I thought that the way she conducted herself and the way that the recovery support was offered were outstanding. All of my frontline workers, area commanders and fire chiefs have said to me that the communication was outstanding. It has been truly humbling to hear stories of families in neighbouring communities who lost everything, of children and teenagers who were displaced during their school holidays and of the emotional effects of such a protracted disaster period.

I thank everyone who worked tirelessly to keep us safe over this period. I formally acknowledge the frontline workers and emergency services personnel for their exemplary management of the emergency situations across the State and specifically in the Northern Rivers area. I also acknowledge personnel from the Ballina electorate, many of whom—as others have shared—left our community to defend the communities adjacent and across the State. No sooner were we out of the woods than they left to assist neighbouring communities. On Australia Day in Ballina, we recognised some of the outstanding fire chiefs and saw how tired they were, because this has been a four‑ or five‑month period for them.

I commend the activities of Brian Daley, NSW Rural Fire Service Operations Manager for Region North, for keeping community members informed of the bushfire situation as it developed. I acknowledge the zone commanders of the RFS: Superintendent Greg Lewis, Northern Rivers Zone Commander; Superintendent Michael Brett, Northern Rivers Zone Manager; Northern Zone Duty Inspector Les Gorey; and Northern Zone Duty Acting Inspector Glenn Willsallen. Further, I acknowledge the captains of each of the fire stations in the Ballina electorate: Alstonville Captain Jason Simpson, Ballina Captain Dennis Henry, Bangalow Captain Andrew Hill, Brunswick Heads Captain Graeme Wakely and Byron Bay Captain Gary Speers. There is not time today, but I will put on record the countless police and SES frontline staff—and even Marine Rescue NSW in my area—the Red Cross and, of course, Byron and Ballina councils, which were absolutely outstanding during this period.

Aside from the fact that this disaster has highlighted the need for our country to move to a low‑carbon economy and reduce the impact that our activities have on the climate and environment, it has highlighted the need for us to build resilience in our communities. I know that "resilience" has become a bit of a buzzword of late, but the type of resilience I am talking about is not just an individual's ability to withstand stress, but also a community's ability to band together in times of crisis. We know that social infrastructure is key to that. I encourage all of us in this place to look at the social infrastructure in our communities and determine how we can support it to become stronger. I thank the House for the opportunity to speak in debate on this important motion. Again, I extend my deepest condolences to those who lost their lives, and to their families and loved ones. The onus is on all of us to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives or been affected by this tragedy by acting to prevent this from ever happening again.

Transcript of speech in NSW Parliament 06/02/20. https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Hansard/Pages/HansardResult.aspx#/docid/HANSARD-1323879322-109555/link/119

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