Impacts of the 2019/20 Bushfire Crisis

I thank the member for Wagga Wagga for bringing this important motion to the House. Those people we hailed as heroes for months while our State burned are not made of steel, and after the fires were put out they did not go home, have a big meal, a sleep and wake up okay. They suffered financially, emotionally and physically for days on end to protect lives and homes. We must ensure that they, alongside the burnt communities across New South Wales, across the Snowy valleys and Wagga City Council areas, also recover.

Just a few weeks ago I met with some of the emergency services personnel who battled blazes in those areas. I travelled through and to Tumut, Wagga, Adelong, Batlow, Tumbarumba and Maragle, as well as visiting my old stomping ground and family farming land near Kyeamba and Humula. I met people who were tough and resilient, people who gave everything they had to their communities. But they were also people the Government thought it had dealt with through the offering of a bit of financial compensation—tick a box type stuff—but it is not enough. These people tell me that the compensation scheme that the Government set up is difficult to access, it is clunky. Most emergency service personnel either are not eligible or do not have the energy or time to jump through the hoops. It is a cheap and easy way for the Government to be able to say that it is supporting firefighters in this recovery period.

It is not about actual recovery, it is about having something to point to when it gets asked what it is doing to help firefighters recover. A serious approach to recovery would have seen the establishment of a traumainformed counselling package that has the capacity to deal with the horrors and fatigue that has been endured, particularly for our emergency services personnel, their families and communities. I understand that a proposal to do just that was put to the Government, but has received no response. I wrote to a couple of Ministers requesting they fund it, but have received no response. Failure on that front will have awful consequences and I urge the Government to look at trauma-informed counselling for emergency services personnel.

The next bushfire season, much like the recent one, will probably start early in many parts of New South Wales. This means that Fire and Rescue NSW, the RFS, the SES, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and forestry firefighting teams in the Riverina and across all of New South Wales, will need to be ready to go again in just a few months' time. Many volunteer firefighters will barely have recouped the leave they lost over recent months, let alone be able to step into another three-, four- or five-month statewide firefighting campaign. Many paid, professional firefighters have barely taken a breath. As we know, our National Parks and Wildlife teams are too few. We need more fireys and they need reliable, efficient equipment—trucks that will not melt to the ground, adequate respirators, replacement appliances, hoses and uniforms, to name just a few. Recovery must include preparedness.

I have spoken with hundreds of fireys and other emergency service personnel. I have watched and heard grown men sob. I thank those brave and broken souls for their courage in speaking the truth after this prolonged and catastrophic disaster. A lot of these people out in the country are not my people; they vote for members opposite. They tell me that those on the front line have been stripped of their autonomy in decision-making; that it is a case of the dead hand of bureaucracy. All fireys will tell you of the "hurry up and wait" mantra in terms of management of fire response. There is much for us to address. This closing-in of fire seasons, this shortening of winters and lengthening of summers, the dryness, the heat, are consequences of climate change and they are all leading to catastrophic fire conditions and unpredictable fire behaviour, consequently deeming our firefighting capabilities to be under-resourced and unsustainable.

As stated by Greg Mullins and the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, whom our conservative governments have ignored, the best thing our national government and our States and Territories can do is to look hard at the hundreds of unfunded recommendations from previous bushfire inquiries and set about listening to the people who are on the front line: reduce emissions and cease the burning of fossil fuels. Continuing to burn coal, oil and gas is sending us down a pathway to an even hotter, drier Australia where conditions will get worse. We must drive change in fire management and suppression practices. To continue to ask our firefighters to stand on the front line summer after summer, while doing absolutely nothing to tackle climate change as the root cause of this extreme weather, is shameful.