My Condolence Speech on the Bushfires

  • February 6, 2020

 I’m pleased to have the opportunity to support the condolence motion moved by the Prime Minister. My electorate of North Sydney has been distant from harm’s way during the horrific bushfire season Australians are witnessing this summer. However, for much of December and January, we have been reminded by the smoke-filled skies over Sydney of what so many communities across eastern Australia have been enduring. This of course does not compare with the devastation experienced by some of our fellow citizens. For most of us, we cannot really appreciate the ordeal, the loss and the grief experienced by residents in bushfire affected communities. But I know residents across my electorate have been united in concern and compassion towards those who have lost homes, properties, businesses, livestock and tragically, in 33 cases, the lives of their loved ones. The impact on Australia’s ecology and wildlife has also been deeply felt by my constituents.

Today we pay tribute to the role of RFS volunteers and all those fighting the fires. They are ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things. We can only imagine the circumstances faced by RFS volunteers. Photos and videos give us some insight into the ferocity of the fires, but only just. One RFS volunteer recently gave me this piece of metal. This unrecognisable molten shape is a mag wheel from an RFS support vehicle consumed by the fires. It’s a demonstration of the intense heat they have been encountering on a daily basis.

Today I want to particularly acknowledge local residents who are members of the RFS. Recently the ABC featured two of those local volunteers, Simon Adams and Barry Lanigan, who faced horrific circumstances at Rainbow Flat on the Central Coast during a daring rescue mission to help a trapped resident. The RFS volunteers have been supported by so many others, often behind the scenes. I want to pay particular credit to the role of Australia’s defence forces. They have been magnificent. Many local reservists in my electorate were called up, including two local ministers in their roles as Army chaplains—Reverend Craig Potter from St Aidan’s in Longueville and Reverend Tim St Quintin from St Peter’s in Cremorne. I spoke to Tim about his experience on the South Coast during his deployment. He commented on what a reassuring presence the Army has been for communities who have lost so much. It meant they knew they were not alone in their ordeal.

I, like so many, have been inspired by the generosity shown by individuals and organisations across my electorate. I’m proud of the help that they have been providing, and they deserve to be recognised today. So many children and young people have been leading those efforts—from Northbridge Public School students Zachary Fisher and Luca Myerson, who raised over $1,000 at a stall in Castlecrag, to Laura Campbell and her friends from North Sydney Girls and North Sydney Boys, who raised over $1,200 selling cakes in Northbridge Plaza, and the dozens involved in a kids market to raise funds at the Willoughby Park hall. And across my electorate Scouts have been selling bushfire recovery badges.

In addition to the kids market, Willoughby Living’s Naomi Sheriff led a massive collection of essential items, which received an overwhelming response from residents. And In the Cove’s Jacky Barker raised funds through the collection of Christmas trees. Our multicultural communities have also been playing their part. The local Chinese and Japanese communities have helped fundraising activities, and the Armenian Relief Society led efforts in the Australian Armenian community to raise over $7½ thousand. In one evening the Northbridge Golf Club raised over $60,000 for BlazeAid, while the Kirribilli Club raised over $10,000 through an Australia Day charity auction. Many local pubs are also contributing. For example, The Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay is holding a bushfire charity long lunch. Lavender Bay resident and OzHarvest chef Mark Hamilton and his fellow chef Renzo headed to Cudgewa to cook a special meal for those affected by the bushfires, while Bottlebrush Honey in Chatswood raised funds for farmers who had lost their beehives. So many have donated to help the recovery of wildlife, including through the animal rescue co-op based in Gladesville. These are just a few examples I’m aware of. I’m sure there are many, many more in my own local community.

There will be many lessons from the unprecedented bushfire season. The federal government’s role in disasters such as this will increase. I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Prime Minister and other ministers in putting in place what has been the most significant Commonwealth response to a bushfire crisis in our nation’s history. There are also undoubtedly lessons for resourcing and hazard reduction activities. Underlining all these things must be the recognition of the impact of climate change and our resolve to ensure that Australia plays its part in meeting this global challenge. These have been horrific days for our nation, and they are not over. But in their midst we can be so grateful for the bravery and generosity of so many Australians. It makes us all proud to live in this great nation.