Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:17): On behalf of the Reason Party I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the recent bushfires across our state, the men who were defending us and died in that service, David Moresi, Mat Kavanagh and Bill Slade, and the beloved community members, Fred Becker and Mick Roberts.
I have so enjoyed hearing, and feel privileged to have heard, from my colleagues here in this house, who have told us more about these men, and I have learned more about them through the media, but certainly today I have been getting some insight into the character of these true heroes in many ways. My thoughts are with not just the families but also those communities that are mourning their friends, their families, their colleagues.
I travelled through these areas just before Christmas. There was a sense of looming danger as I drove through Metung, drove through Mallacoota, drove across the New South Wales border to Eden, and Malua Bay, did my Christmas shopping at Cobargo and stopped in many of the towns like Bredbo that now have been devastated by these fires.
Today I am still refreshing Fires Near Me. The fire near my property in the Brindabella Valley outside Canberra is on watch and act, and it has been on watch and act or high alert, catastrophic, since 24 December. We left the property, we went back, we left it again and at the moment we are just doing the best we can with the fantastic Brindabella brigade that have all been called back to the station. They are all reuniting tonight, and they will be preparing to do whatever they can to help defend my property.
I am really, truly humbled by what we have seen over this season: the generosity and the devotion to the community that our volunteers, our firefighters have given us. I am absolutely in awe of that commitment, dedication and bravery. All of them have shown that through this crisis—the volunteers, the CFA, the SES, the Forest Fire Management Victoria crews, Victoria Police and the MFB. Just after Christmas I visited one of my local MFBs and one of my local CFAs up in Mill Park.
I heard about these brigades and how many of them had country blocks. They would do their shifts and then they would go and volunteer for another shift. These were remarkable people who supported their community in ways that are just absolutely magnificent.
I think what we also saw, as many of us were glued to the television, was the unity amongst our first responders. We saw the SES next to Forest Fire Management Victoria, the MFB and the CFA. Not only were they united in the way that they worked together but they united the communities that they were protecting.
When I spoke to one of my relatives who has just returned to Buchan she said what was amazing about the moment—and they are still ready to respond; they are still waiting; they are not over this, but they are looking at the recovery—was that sense of community that is greater now than it was prior to these fires, the fact that the rugby club was getting together with the vegetarian club, for example, that people who possibly may not have shared a beer together were absolutely doing that.
We heard from the leaders of our first responders about how they focused on the community. I have a fire looming down on my property. It is 300 000 hectares. Now, we are not going to put that out. Firefighters are not going to put that out; nature will put that out. Nature started it, and nature will put that out. I thought that was wonderful to hear. When fires are at these unimaginable sizes, with 1.5 million hectares of land burning or having been burnt, we have to focus on our communities and we have to focus on the way we protect our communities.
I know many of the contributors here today have talked about Mallacoota. I heard those first responders saying, ‘We always knew that the people in Mallacoota would be safe because we had done the work—we had doorknocked, we had evacuated, we had got out there and protected’. I, like everybody here today, am in awe of them.
I was sent photos of my grandchildren, who had been evacuated to a beach on the south coast at Broulee. They were wearing the ridiculous goggles that I bought them for Christmas—one pair had hundreds and thousands around it—but they actually protected their eyes. While they may not have kept the water out, they certainly kept the smoke out.
The way our communities came together and the way our first responders, our volunteers, our communities protected each other is something that we will never forget. I would also like to acknowledge those from the international community who flew halfway around the world to help us. Some of them even died trying to help us. We saw those three American pilots lose their lives while getting ready to fight fires actually just near my property.
We saw the 6500 Australian Defence Force personnel, along with the reservists, out on the ground in this crisis: thank you. This was a remarkable response. It was a remarkable response from our leaders; it was a remarkable response from our communities.
I promise and vow that I will visit as many communities as I can during this year to show my support. I will bring many an esky; I will bring wine racks—empty ones, of course. I will visit as many as I can to show my support, to do what I can.
To turn to the wildlife, in 2003 the fires went through our property. While the heirlooms were melted, they were gone, the image that still is in my head and is in my head right now is the red of the road and this kangaroo that had died almost mid-motion as it was trying to scramble up the side of the road to get away from the fire as it came down. That is etched. I know that so many of us have memories like that that are etched now forever. Particularly for the country colleagues here today, many of your constituents will never be able to feel a westerly wind in the same way as they did before.
I mourn the summer holidays that many of our schoolchildren never got to have this summer and may never have again. Our summers have changed. This has changed. Climate change is changing us, and we need to act and we need to act now. We now are facing the extinction of so many threatened species. To think that for these rare creatures over half of their homes, of their habitat, of their land has been burnt. It is unimaginable devastation.
I mourn, and I pay my thanks to all of the people who have helped to keep our communities safe. I continue to act and watch in our community, but I know I have a volunteer fire brigade up there who are ready to do whatever they can to protect my property and my community’s properties.
I am thankful that last night I heard that a Victorian fire brigade is actually sending some trucks up to the ACT and up to fight the fires that we are facing at Rolling Ground, Scabby Range and Dunns Road. Those fires are still growing, they are moving and we are seeing them change.
I would like to thank all the members here today who have told the stories of their communities, who have told the stories of the heroes in their communities. I have been really affected by today’s motion. Again I would like to extend my condolences and my heart to those who have lost loved ones, who have lost their stock, who have lost their farms, who have lost their homes, who have lost their businesses. We will do what we can to recover, and we will recover.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Condolence motion 4/2/20