Tonight I rise to join members of this parliament in paying my respects to all of those Australians who have been impacted by the devastating bushfires that have burned through so much of our country over the past few months. A number of Australians have lost their lives. This is an absolute tragedy first and foremost for their families but also for the local communities that these families come from and for the nation as a whole. We are all grieving with the families and communities who have lost loved ones, and I cannot begin to comprehend the pain and suffering that they’re currently experiencing.
We know that without the heroic and extraordinary efforts of our firefighters, along with the defence personnel and all of those who have helped to protect homes and lives from bushfire, the toll could have been so much worse. Tragically, some of those people who volunteered to fight these fires and protect others are amongst those who have lost their lives. The nation has collectively wept for the firefighters who’ve lost their lives this summer. We will never forget the sacrifice that they’ve made to keep others safe and we will never be able to truly quantify how many lives that they and their colleagues have saved.
As Australians, we also extend heartfelt condolences to the families in the United States who lost their loved ones when their water-bombing aircraft went down in New South Wales. Their commitment to come here to help Australians in our time of need was truly heroic, and we are devastated that they’ve paid the ultimate price for their bravery and their willingness to help their fellow man on the other side of the world.
In my own state of Tasmania, the communities of Fingal and Pelham were impacted by bushfires. I know that I speak on behalf of all Tasmanians when I express my thanks and my gratitude to the Tasmania Fire Service and its volunteers, to Sustainable Timber Tasmania and to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service for all of the work that they have completed over the last few weeks to ensure that those fires remained as under control as possible and impacted on as few lives as possible.
The bushfires we’ve seen this summer have demonstrated once again the way in which Australians pull together in a time of crisis. So many have donated food, money, clothes and other goods to help those who have lost their homes or been evacuated. A staggering amount of money has been raised by Australians, let alone those around the world who have also raised tens of millions of dollars for this effort. I join with millions of other Australians, I know, in calling on the charities who have received much of this money to do everything in their power to ensure that donations reach families and the causes that those donors intended their money to go towards.
As the fires are contained and eventually put out, supporting affected communities to rebuild and recover will be a critical focus for the whole nation. The Australian government will certainly be at the forefront of these efforts, and this is already well underway with the establishment of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the initial $2 billion investment into the Bushfire Recovery Fund. Many specific measures to support recovery have already been announced and will continue to be announced. As the Prime Minister has said, we will do whatever it takes to support these communities and businesses hit by these fires, and if we need to do more then we will.
Going forward, there will also be plenty that we can do as individuals, not just through donations but also by playing a part in keeping affected local economies moving by visiting and holidaying in these regions, buying local goods and produce and supporting businesses in fire affected regions. The tourism industry in particular needs the help of all Australians in holidaying at home and supporting the visitor economy across the country, especially in affected areas, as much as possible.
Of course, in many parts of Australia, the focus remains firmly on fighting active bushfires and protecting life and property. Across the whole nation, we must remain highly vigilant and alert to the threat of new fires starting as hot, dry conditions persist. I know that in my own state of Tasmania February is regarded as a more dangerous part of the fire season, so we will certainly be remaining vigilant for at least the next few weeks.
As with every disaster situation, we will, of course, need to review the response and preparedness and find out what we can do better ahead of next summer. Bushfires have been a part of the Australian landscape for thousands of years but, with longer, hotter and dryer conditions leading to increased fire seasons, we must continue to review what we do to protect lives, property and the natural environment. We all know that there is no way of eliminating the threat of bushfires in Australia. But whatever we can do to reduce, even in small ways, the number of fires that are ignited, the severity of the fires that do start and the chances of those fires threatening lives, homes, businesses and infrastructure must be considered. I look forward to these reviews occurring and producing evidence based actions that can be implemented to make Australians safer next fire season and every year into the future.