Speech: South Australian Bushfires

The Hon. C.L. WINGARD (Gibson—Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services, Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing) (15:26): I also rise to support the Premier's motion: as the Premier rightly said, a motion no Premier ever wants to move. As Minister for Emergency Services, people often ask me about matters relating to stations, trucks, hoses, PPE and helmets. But what I want to talk about today is what is behind all that—that is, the people.

Without the people to staff the stations, jump on the trucks, hold the hoses and wear the PPE and helmets we have nothing. We have all the state-of-the-art equipment in the world, but without the people standing on the front line with the equipment it is all of no use. While I cannot mention all those people now, I have met many and will continue to get around and meet more and thank them for their service.

Prior to the Christmas break, as the weather warmed up, members in this place reflected on the important roles of our emergency service men and women, volunteers and paid staff who do not just give up their time but also their safety to protect our state when called to do so. At that time, no member in this place could have anticipated the true scale of destruction and devastation that was to come in the weeks that followed.

In the 55 days since we last met in this place, South Australians have battled through some of our darkest days in recent memory. Whilst there is no question that the greatest impact has been seen on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills, and indeed is still being realised, we have also seen substantial fires and damage at Keilira and Bunbury in the South-East, Angle Vale in the north, Miltalie on the West Coast, and, of course, Yorketown on Yorke Peninsula.

As we left 2019, many were excited at the prospect of a new decade. Heartbreakingly, many South Australians are now faced with the reality of starting 2020 from scratch. One thing they can all be assured of as they rebuild their lives piece by piece, brick by brick, is that all South Australians will be with you every step of the way. You are not alone and you never will be.

The stories of pain and suffering and loss are immense, but these stories are vastly outnumbered by the stories of hard work, dedication, commitment, perseverance and sacrifice by so many South Australian men and women. I have been very fortunate to travel throughout the state in recent weeks to meet with many locals—many who have lost everything.

On Christmas Day, as I drove through the Adelaide Hills I was blown away by just how many volunteers were out on the front line. Every corner you took there was another CFS truck hard at work. I was fortunate to join CFS chief, Mark Jones, and other volunteers on Christmas Day at the Gumeracha Oval, and special thanks to all the volunteers from the Salvation Army who put on lunch for our firefighters, as well as all the local volunteers who baked cakes and delivered food for those volunteers.

When catching up with members from the Morphett Vale, Blewitt Springs and other CFS brigades that day, Danny Burns told me how that morning he had video called his daughter from the fire truck to watch her open her Christmas presents. I asked him, 'Why did you come out and fight the fire today? You have every reason to stay at home. Your young daughter is celebrating Christmas.' And he just looked at me and said, 'Well, if I don't who's going to?' That attitude is just embedded in our CFS, and I commend everyone for it. It was at this time that I realised that this was the spirit of Christmas and what it is all about: self sacrifice and giving to others. Nothing we can say or do will ever repay these heroes. They are just outstanding people.

More recently, on Kangaroo Island I visited the Western Districts footy club. I have fond memories of playing footy out at Wonks as a boy and having to move the cows and kangaroos off the field before games. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the damage that was done. The oval served as a place of last resort for a few people at the peak of the Kangaroo Island fires, and the stories they shared were quite horrific.

On other visits, and on this occasion as well, I went to Parndana, and we have heard Shane's story, but every time I went to the Parndana CFS I would catch up with Johan Kuchel. He was there every time. Like so many others, he was living out of that place and just giving back to his community. Everyone there are just wonderful people.

Whilst down at Stokes Bay last week, I met up with Kate Stanton, who the Deputy Premier talked about, as well as Danielle Bowden and another team from that community at their community hall, which had been levelled by the fires. Kate also took me to her house and showed me the devastation there. It was heartbreaking to see, but they are very resilient people on Kangaroo Island. If you know anyone from there, you will know that and that they are determined to rebuild.

Going to that local community hall where they met, where they congregate, where they gathered as a community, you could see the people there were torn between rebuilding their own personal lives, getting clothes to put on their back and rebuilding their homes and also building their community hall again and having that meeting place where they could all come together and bond. They are wonderful people, they are resilient, and we will be working with them every step of the way. They are people who have lost so much. They are people focused on rebuilding their community and people we will continue to work with every step of the way to help them do it.

At Cudlee Creek the other day I met with local CFS captain Mark Hawkins and the crew, along with the federal member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, and I acknowledge the importance of her involvement working so closely with the members for Morialta and Kavel, who have been doing outstanding work in their community. Both of them, I know, have missed many hours of sleep, and I think that the member for Kavel is still looking to catch up sometime later this year. He has just done an outstanding job.

As we have heard, there have been stories along the way of local surf clubs, like the Robe Surf Club, raising money for their local community. I mention again the great work of the member for Kavel at the O'Leary Walker Bushfire Relief Race Day they had in their local community—again raising money and doing all they can to help out.

However, remember back to earlier in the year—and this is another example of the great people we have in our state—when our firefighters were going over and helping out in New South Wales. A group of firefighters were at the cafeteria in the airport. They were ordering food and coffee before they got on the plane, and someone just slipped by and paid the bill. They paid the bill as a way of saying thank you for what our volunteers were doing. Again, I think that just shows the greatness of our people who have come together to help at these times.

I talked before about the Keilira fire, and I went down to the member for MacKillop's electorate to meet with the locals. The fire happened on 30 December, and it was one of the biggest fires in the South-East since the Ash Wednesday fire in 1983, burning through over 25,000 hectares, and it really was a miracle that no lives were lost. I thank again the member for MacKillop and the mayor, Kay Rasheed, who took us on a tour, and other members of the Kingston District Council (including my old man) who took us on this tour. Again, we could see the devastation.

Whilst those other fires have been talked about quite prominently, it is a poignant time to say that the people of that region will not be forgotten as well—again, wonderful people. We met with local property owner Greg Fisher, who spoke of the fire there and it being the third one to go through his property in the last seven years. His story of the way the community pulled together, neighbours helping neighbours, people helping people was inspiring.

I will also talk about the remarkable contribution by the South Australian Country Fire Service, which includes at last count more than 430 CFS brigades, 66,310 volunteer firefighter deployments and 10,900 appliances attending fire events across the state. The South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service has been actively engaged in fighting regional bushfires, with in excess of 500 personnel being deployed, including firefighters and support staff. The South Australian State Emergency Service has provided support to firefighting activities, with approximately 400 volunteers and 60 staff joining the effort. The CFS aerial firefighting fleet has also been instrumental, with a combined total of 1,700 flying hours, making over 2,500 drops of water and fire retardant to affected bushfire areas.

The tireless work and countless hours donated by South Australia's emergency service volunteers can never be underestimated. Day or night, rain or shine, our first responders are prepared to swiftly respond to emergencies right across the state. They are people our state treasures. Our volunteers can have confidence that the government will continue to support them by ensuring they have the resources to do their job.

Many stories have also been told of the tireless effort of farm firefighters. For them, I have a clear message. We want to know who these heroes are. I know that farm firefighters step up without even being asked to do so. Often these people want to go unnoticed and go about their business quietly—something which makes it hard to thank them for their efforts. They are hard to track down. We want to get them the necessary gear and give them the proper equipment to protect themselves while they help other people.

I will be continuing to visit KI and the regions in the coming weeks and months to start discussions with farm firefighters to see how we can work together with the CFS. As minister, I want to make sure our farm firefighters have the proper protection and cover, like the CFS currently has in place. As minister, it is my role to ensure that anyone going on a fireground is as safe as they can possibly be. It is absolutely devastating to have lost lives and property but we must not forget the crews who have done an outstanding job protecting and saving countless homes and properties.

This has been an extremely trying time for many of our community, but I am heartened by the support and the efforts being shown by our dedicated emergency services volunteers and personnel. The logistics behind responding to a bushfire event—be it in the Adelaide Hills, Kangaroo Island or the Far West Coast—are unique and challenging. Thanks must also be reserved for all those who have worked behind the scenes across the emergency services sector to get people to and from our firegrounds. Not many people get to see what goes on behind the scenes, but I can assure you that South Australia is in good hands.

I pay tribute to Mark Jones, who was literally thrown straight into the deep end of a major emergency in Australia. Mark kept his cool and kept our volunteers safe, as his team fought and contained some of our most ferocious fires ever seen. Leaders need to be emphatic and authentic, and Mark certainly has those traits. I also thank the police commissioner, Grant Stevens, and deputy police commissioner, Linda Williams, for their support, leadership and coordination during times of emergency. I also thank Dominic Lane, our new SAFECOM chief, for his expertise and professionalism. Dom has been an excellent support to me and others since coming into the role.

Other mentions go to MFS chief officer, Michael Morgan, and SES chief executive, Chris Beattie, and their teams. But the biggest thankyou, the most important thankyou, goes the people we cannot thank enough—our volunteers. To each and every single one of you, whether you are CFS, SES, DEW, Salvation Army, MFS, farm firefighters, St John's, SAAS, BlazeAid, or if you helped bake cakes to feed the workers on the front line, thank you. You are wonderful people.

Authorised by Corey Wingard MP, Member for Gibson. Level 2, 1 Milham Street Oaklands Park SA 5046. ©Copyright / Legal / Login