South Australian Bushfires

18th February 2020


Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.I. Lucas: 

That this council— 

1. Expresses its deep regret at the loss of life as a result of bushfires in South Australia so far this summer, and extends its condolences and sympathy to the families and loved ones of those killed; 

2. Records its sorrow and support for those who suffered injury and who lost their homes, property and personal possessions; 

3. Praises the work of firefighters and other emergency services, volunteers and community members for their courage and sacrifice in responding to the fires and protecting our communities in this time of need; 

4. Recognises the profound impact on those communities affected and the role of governments and the South Australian community in assisting them to recover and rebuild at the earliest opportunity; and 

5. Appreciates the great generosity and support to the affected communities by all those who have contributed to the State Emergency Relief Fund and other appeals. 

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (16:36): I rise to associate myself with the remarks of the Treasurer in moving this motion, and also the remarks of the Minister for Human Services and others in relation to the matters covered significantly in the Treasurer’s motion but also the depth of the response from not only the government but right across the community. Only on the weekend we saw the extraordinary amount of truckloads of hay arriving at Cape Jervis to be taken across to Kangaroo Island to feed stock that has no feed at the moment. 

I made a number of references to bushfire recovery efforts, and particularly the mental health aspects of that, in my Address in Reply speech earlier today and I do not intend to repeat them. However, I would like to indicate here my sincere thanks and appreciation to all the firefighters and emergency services workers, all the other people and the first responders who came out and supported the fire control and recovery efforts. 

That great level of appreciation was highlighted in my mind when I drove through a great deal of the Adelaide Hills area that had been affected by fires some time afterwards. As has been alluded to by other Liberal colleagues, what I saw on Kangaroo Island—having spoken to a number of residents of both regions, and of other regions in South Australia that I mentioned earlier today, they perhaps have not had as much publicity in the media but are still people who are affected just as much in many cases. 

Driving through the Cudlee Creek area reminded me very much of my experiences in the Adelaide Hills in 1980 and 1983 on the two Ash Wednesdays. One thing about being on Facebook is that sometimes it puts up memories. The other day, it brought up a memory of a post I put up seven years ago, when it was the 30th anniversary of Ash Wednesday II, as many of us call it. 

My recollections from then are of being in the Millbrook Reservoir and Kersbrook areas, the extraordinary nature of the conditions and the remarkable behaviour of that fire. That was something I saw the other day and shared again, because it will always bring back the need for us to support the communities in the fire areas and support the people who get out and endeavour to deal with them. 

As I mentioned earlier, the nature of the fires is indiscriminate. So many times, I have seen one property completely untouched when all the properties surrounding it are burnt down. That will always be a mystery to many of us. It is just the way the weather is, the winds and other matters to do with vegetation. It also impacts the people who are untouched as much as those who are badly burnt out. 

While on Kangaroo Island, at the suggestion of Mayor Michael Pengilly, I drove up the Gosse-Ritchie Road from the South Coast Road up to the Western Districts sporting facility, which had been very badly impacted, and then onto the North Coast Road. That was not indiscriminate there—it was just a blanket of fire that had gone through. It is something that will take a long time to recover from as a community. 

I think there has been a great response from state and federal governments and obviously from local government. There is counselling, community grants and a whole range of other things that the Minister for Human Services has outlined earlier today. When we were on the island, the Minister for Human Services, the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Premier and I all met with a group of chaplains who had been working in the field. They raised a number of issues, but particularly one about the amount of work—I think one said that I had to do—that we as a government have to do in the mental health area. That is very evident in the statistics that were brought to me recently by the Chief Psychiatrist about work that is being done globally. 

When there has been a major disaster in an area, the level of suicide or attempted suicide can rise between 10 and 13 per cent, and the chaplains raised their considerable view that we need to be very much active. Yes, we need to support people now, but it is in the coming months and years that that work needs to be done. I think there will be people in the Pinery region that are still going through difficult times as a result of that significant fire. 

As part of that work, the Adelaide Hills council area and the Kangaroo Island council area are two that do not have suicide prevention networks, so I have made contact with both of the mayors in those areas in relation to the development of networks with their community, with their councils, in the coming months. 

There is much more that I could say, but I think we all know that as the Governor said in his speech, resilience is there. We just need to back that up with the right effort at the right time to make sure that we do everything we can for the people who have been impacted by the terrible bushfires that we have experienced in the last few months in this state. With those remarks, I support the motion.