Pinery bushfires

In Parliament - Thursday, 3 December 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (15:16:06): The Pinery bushfire was a grave reminder of South Australia's vulnerability to bushfires. Catastrophic fires can arrive quickly and without warning. It does not matter if you live in the state's north, along the Peninsula or in our foothills—all areas are vulnerable. Our stunning countryside that provides us with such an enjoyable environment in which to live, work and play is, unfortunately, also excellent fuel for bushfires.

In January, the Sampson Flat fire in the Mount lofty Ranges destroyed 13,000 hectares, together with a large amount of community infrastructure. The Pinery bushfire in the Mid North in recent weeks destroyed more than 82,600 hectares, including 87 homes and over 70,000 animals. Many people were injured and, sadly, two people lost their lives, and I would like to take this opportunity to convey my condolences to their family and friends. I wish all those affected the best as they take their first steps to recover and rebuild their lives after this tragic event.These two bushfires left an incredible trail of destruction. These normally serene areas were quickly transformed into charred debris as deadly fires tore through with frightening speed and ferocity. Whilst the Sampson Flat and Pinery fires have garnered much attention, there have been many more bushfires across the state this year alone. It is a stark illustration of the importance of preparing our homes and neighbourhoods each summer to be bushfire ready. My electorate of Davenport covers large sections of the Adelaide Hills, including the Mitcham Hills, the southern foothills and Belair National Park. It is an area of considerable risk during the bushfire season.

Last Tuesday, I was pleased to host a community forum on how to be bushfire ready. We were fortunate to benefit from the expertise of Mr Dale Thompson, head of the Sturt CFS group. Mr Thompson delivered an excellent presentation on the realities of fighting fires, CFS resources—including, indeed, their limitation of resources—the importance of preparing your family, your home or business and the community for the bushfire season and, in particular, the value of completing a bushfire survival plan, leaving early and knowing when you will go if you are forced to evacuate.

The message from the CFS was clear: if the worst does happen and your home is threatened by a bushfire, leave and leave early. It was an honest and confronting presentation to those in the room and, notably, it was effective. There was widespread recognition amongst the audience that they had plenty of work to do when they arrived home.

Mr Thompson noted that they should never be overawed, as it is not that hard to be bushfire ready. There are straightforward steps we can all take to help reduce the risk and stay safe this summer. They include:

  • dusting off your lawnmower and cutting the long grass;
  • reducing the undergrowth around your property;
  • clearing your gutters;
  • moving flammable materials away from the house;
  • having an emergency kit with insurance papers, photos and other valuables ready for a quick exit; and
  • keeping a phone charged throughout the summer and knowing where to access bushfire information.

Firefighting is a shared responsibility. The CFS works hard to protect life and property, but they cannot be everywhere. We must all play our part, and these simple activities may help save your life and that of a loved one.

More broadly, I would like to acknowledge the outstanding efforts and sacrifice of the CFS last week during the Pinery bushfire, as well as the efforts of all our emergency services. I would also like to thank the 311 Victorian personnel who came to our assistance. I think it is important to recognise the incredible community spirit of all South Australians who have responded with enormous support, with donations of food and shelter, clothing, goods, furniture and financial aid.

Finally, I welcome the Treasurer's comments earlier this week that 'whatever our CFS volunteers need to fight these fires, they get'. It is a shame that this government needs a catastrophic event to be spurred into action, but at least it will be good to see the outrageous increases in the ESL in the last two budgets used positively and spent to provide the best equipment for those on the front line, including a working and reliable emergency radio system.

Radio blackspots are unacceptable in emergency situations and putting lives at risk. This Labor government refused to properly invest in the mobile phone blackspot program earlier this year, leaving us as the only state without funding. Every other state agreed to partner with the Australian government to co-fund base stations in their jurisdictions. As a result of this government's poor efforts, only 11 out of 499 towers funded nationally were located in South Australia.

The dangers faced by our CFS volunteers when fighting a bushfire are already acute. They should not be exposed to further danger by a failing emergency radio system. The Australian government has committed a further $60 million for round 2 of the blackspot program. Will our government? I do not know. South Australia cannot miss out on this opportunity.