TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
BUSHFIRE CONDOLENCE MOTION
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 4 FEBRUARY 2020
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One of the first things new visitors to Australia notice is the quality of our light. It’s so vibrant, so intense, so distinctive to this country.
When the British novelist DH Lawrence travelled here in the 1920s, he wrote of a land where the ‘sky was pure, crystal pure and blue, of a lovely pale blue colour: the air was wonderful, new and unbreathed’.
Tragically, this has not been our experience this summer.
This terrible season of fire, burning at a scale we’ve never seen before, has replaced that familiar blue with a hellish orange haze which has lasted months.
Few of us have been untouched by the crisis.
Whole communities have been driven from their homes.
Businesses and property have been destroyed.
Worst of all, 33 people have died tragically and before their time.
Each left behind a grieving family. Children have lost parents; parents have lost children. Loving partners had their worst fears realised. Many communities are grieving. Our nation is mourning.
Many of those lives lost belonged to people who could have avoided danger, but instead felt it their duty to help when help was needed.
We are eternally grateful to them, and to their families.
That’s what today is about, and I hope those who have lost so much take some comfort from today and more importantly from the love and tenderness our whole nation feels for them and will continue to show them.
I’m also thinking of the thousands of anxious hours of people caught in the fires, not knowing whether they would make it out; or losing touch with a loved one caught in the fires.
That fear doesn’t heal overnight.
We have to make sure we support people until it does.
Over 3,000 homes across Australia have now been destroyed. That's 3,000 families with lives thrown into chaos.
Kids went off to their first day at school with no home to return to in the afternoon.
Losing a home is devastating.
Again, this loss doesn’t heal overnight.
I remember when bushfires ripped through Como, Jannali and Bonnet Bay in 1994, where I grew up.
One woman tragically died while taking shelter in her swimming pool.
Years later a friend whose family home burnt to the ground said to me it still struck her, years later, at the most unexpected moments: “I think – that pair of socks would go with this outfit – oh no. They’re gone.” She would forget for a second, then remember all over again, that everything from her childhood and teens was lost.
We have to be with people as they rebuild; we have to make sure our insurers do their bit, and every level of government helps. We have to do our bit to help with the tradie shortages and supply shortages which will emerge.
Many have lost their livelihood.
Businesses are closing because tourism has dried up – right in the middle of the summer high season.
Orchards have burnt down. Vineyards are experiencing smoke taint. Livestock lost.
The members who have spoken about the economic impact on their communities should be listened to. They know what will make a practical difference immediately.
But we can all help – book a weekend away; take an esky and fill it with local produce.
At least 11 million hectares of land has burned so far – an area larger than Portugal.
Thousands of firefighters, including full-time professionals, volunteers, and international brigades have been at it for months.
They have been supported by countless people, paid and volunteer, offering logistical support. Community organisations, charities, ordinary citizens.
Without pause or hesitation, people have accepted their duty to each other as neighbours, as Australians, as fellow human beings.
It’s been genuinely inspiring to watch.
Our thanks go to all of them, and we should not imagine that when the fires are over the trauma is done with. We should not let this be a passing moment. It can’t be something we do in summer and forget by winter.
When the ash settles, when the news reporters finally move on, bushfire communities will be rebuilding for years. We need to be there with them as they do.
As a federal parliament, we have an important role.
Over the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years, we need to ensure no one is left behind by these fires – that no one is forgotten.
We also must accept that the world is looking to Australia now.
We have received extraordinarily generous support. We are so grateful for that solidarity.
As we see the real cost of climate change economically and environmentally, we must renew our own commitment to real action on climate change – and instead of being an embarrassing laggard, take a leadership role in ensuring global temperature increases stay well below 2 degrees.
We can’t afford continued inaction. Our people can’t; our animals can’t; our landscape can’t.
I join the parliament in extending my deepest condolence to everyone caught up in the bushfires – and everyone still worried about their homes and families.
This crisis is not over yet. There are still fires burning 30 kms to our south.
To those still facing these dangers: listen to your emergency services, plan ahead, and look after each other.