Condolence motion on the bushfire crisis
05
February

By Adem Lewis / in , , /


I thank the Prime Minister for agreeing to
the proposal for today to be devoted to this important motion of condolence and commemoration,
and I honour the families of those who have lost loved ones who are joining us here today. We are united in shock and in sadness. Lives lost, dreams shattered, homes destroyed,
communities devastated, native animals pushed to extinction, livelihoods gone up in flames. So much of our country has been consumed by
fire. And yet amongst this terrible loss, we have
seen bravery, we have seen courage, and we have seen resilience. We have seen our fellow Australians up against
the inferno. We have seen our fellow Australians on the
beach in unimaginable scenes, huddled together in midday darkness with nowhere to turn but
the sea. A horrific illustration that this was anything
but business as usual. The impact of our changing climate tragically
played out before us. Those directly affected, but also those who
were far away from the flames, but who could see, smell, and indeed touch its fallout. We do yet not know fully what we have lost,
because we are still losing it. It is not over. Australia is still burning. It is significant that in the past some of
our worst fires have been after the date on which we commemorate this motion. On the weekend, the fires burnt their way
into yet another month on the calendar. This catastrophic fire season, which stretches
right back across summer, but began in spring, has taken so much. It has taken lives and it has taken loved
ones. For those who’ve been lost and those who’ve
lost partners, family or friends, it has stolen the future. For many who have seen their homes and the
physical, sentimental accumulations of lifetimes gone up in flame, it has robbed the past. It has hit the economy, but just how greatly
is something we cannot yet piece together. It has hit our society. It has taken a toll on mental health, and
we will be feeling the reverberations for some time yet. It has taken so much of our unique wildlife
that it is going to take us a while to even measure the full scale of the calamity. But through it all, we’ve seen our brave
firefighters. They do not want to be there, but they feel
compelled. They feel a powerful sense of duty. They feel driven by that overwhelming notion
that when it comes to defending their communities, their country and their fellow Australians,
their contribution matters. That their contribution counts. That their contribution can make the difference. We’ve been humbled by the arrival of so
many foreign firefighters who’ve come – not to defend their homes but in the name of humanity
and in the name of friendship. And we’ve been amazed by the crews on the
planes and helicopters attacking the fire from above. As we have been reminded so tragically, it
is a dangerous task. We are awed by all of them, by their courage
and their sacrifice. It is an awe that has taken on a terrible
sense of regularity, but the awe never feels just routine. Our brave women and men who get into those
trucks and those aircraft have no illusions about what they’re up against, and yet they
keep going. Day after day, week after week, month after
month they head back into these hellscapes. They live with moments of fear, they live
with long stretches of boredom. They live with exhaustion and moments of adrenalin. They witness suffering, both human and animal. Those who haven’t experienced the fires
directly get glimpses of it through video footage of fire trucks dwarfed by ember storm
and fireball. Even when it’s shrunk on to the small screen
and viewed from the safety of our homes and workplaces, it is simply terrifying. The devastating impact of a changing climate
seen around the world and felt, touched and smelt by Australians hundreds of kilometres
from the fires. We offer our deepest gratitude to their families,
who are also put through it again and again and again. We cannot doubt how proud these families are of the firefighter in their midst. And indeed, as I’ve travelled around the
country, that is the sense that you get. And indeed in the morning tea hosted by the
Prime Minister this morning, these extraordinary family members in mourning of their loved
ones but proud of their wonderful contribution to their fellow Australians and the sacrifice
that they have made. Alongside the professionals, so many of our
firefighters are volunteers. I’ve met them around the country. One of the things that strikes you when you
meet them is just what extraordinary Australians they are. Meeting people in Bilpin. One gentleman in December, on Christmas Eve,
who’d begun fighting fires in Tenterfield in September in northern New South Wales. A Firefighter Mike, in Cuddlee Creek in the
Adelaide Hills, who when I said to him ‘So how long have you been going here for, have
you had a break at all,’ He’d been going for a couple of weeks, he said. Just a couple of weeks here. I said that’s pretty tough. But he said ‘Oh yeah, but before then,’
and went on to outline he’d been in the Hawkesbury, he’d been on the North Coast
of New South Wales. When I was with Susan Templeman on Australia
Day in the Blue Mountains we went to Glenbrook, and there the head of the local Rural Fire
Service, who we were chatting with there, said ‘Not all the brigade are here today,
because some of them have gone off to Maria yesterday.’ These are men and women who have been fighting
fires for months, protecting their own homes and yet going to help their fellow Australians. I met people in Nowra, in the Hawkesbury,
who were there protecting other communities but were worried about what was happening
where they lived. But in the meantime, from travelling to another
destination, the fires had then been brought much closer to their own homes. But they stayed. They stayed protecting strangers’ homes. Quite, quite remarkable. And it is important and I support very much
the proposal that we honour these Australians with appropriate recognition into the future. When our brave volunteers keep giving us so
much over such a long time at such a cost to themselves, it is time also though, I believe
we will have to consider expressing our gratitude in a more practical way in the future. It is not sustainable for people to not receive
an income over such a long period of time and I am pleased that that was recognised
during this crisis. But we do need to, in any assessment, look
at what the changing climate and the changing expectations of future events mean for the
way that we structure our response. So through this bushfire crisis, it has been
an honour, and very humbling, to engage directly with people in these affected communities. Firefighters, volunteers, small business owners,
defence personnel, local government, men, women, girls and boys. I have listened to their stories and heard
their practical suggestions. Throughout this crisis Labor has been constructive
in forwarding proposals for national coordination, for resources and support for our firefighters
including our volunteers and affected communities. I want to acknowledge the fact that Minister
Littleproud has returned every call and has responded to every request I have made, which has been
pretty regular, it’s got to be said, working with our Shadow Minister Murray Watt. We are guided by a single thought – that
as Australians, we are all in this together. Working together is our only way forward. I have every confidence that as Australians,
that is what we will do. That is who we are. We have been tested in so many ways. It will not surprise anyone that the toughest
of times has brought out the very best in Australians. I have been humbled by it as I’ve travelled
through the fire zones. It is what so many of us across Australia
have seen. And indeed, it is what so many have lived
through. Neighbour helping neighbour. Friend helping friend. Stranger helping stranger. Human comforting animal. Through the long hell of this bushfire season,
we have held each other. We have lent each other our shoulders. We have pushed through. Communities have pulled together. We must acknowledge the crucial work that has been done by the ABC, a proud national institution, in keeping communities informed and up-to-date
in what is often a dangerous and fast-changing environment. To say our national broadcaster has been indispensable is simply an understatement. Likewise we must acknowledge the vital and
tireless efforts of the personnel from our parks and forest management bodies. We also thank all or our maritime workers and our Defence personnel who have thrown themselves into the effort. We have done everything in our power to hold
on to hope. Just as we have seen hope rewarded, we have
seen it defeated. As this season of fire has reminded us, none
of us is invincible. Each death leaves a terrible hole in a community. Each death is the cruellest of blows to a
family, one that inflicts a hurt that may one day soften, but will never fade. We feel each one of them in our hearts. As a nation we have lost our own. We have also lost those who crossed the sea
to help us. We embrace them as our own. We think of the names – that tragically
growing list of names. Each one of those names belonged to a human
being who was the centre of a universe. Each one a name that no one will answer to
any more. But we hold on to them. Among those we have lost: Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer. Firefighters. Also young fathers. I got to meet Geoffrey’s son Harvey before. A wonderful young boy. And Andrew’s daughter, Charlotte. They were born just days apart. Our hearts break to see children so small
and so young, attending their fathers’ funerals. Firefighter Samuel McPaul, whose child is
due in May and will only ever know him second hand. His wife Megan will never see him holding
their baby. She will never see him give his first fatherly
kiss. They will not share the first steps, the first
words, the first birthday or the first day at school. But that baby will grow up knowing they are
the child of an amazing man, and one who we’re all proud of. Bill Slade, a veteran firefighter who picked
up his first fire hose in 1979. A husband. A father. A proud member of the Australian Workers Union. He fought fires on Ash Wednesday and Black
Saturday before he threw himself into what would prove his final fight in the East Gippsland
blaze. His heartbroken wife Carol said via a relative:
“I will miss him. I will miss the great times we had yet to
come.” Dick Lang and his son Clayton Lang. Dick was a pioneering bush pilot and a safari
operator. Clayton was a talented plastic and reconstructive
surgeon. Father and son had been fighting fire on Kangaroo
Island for two days when they lost the fight. You will not be forgotten. The three Americans lost in the crash of the
Lockheed C-130 Hercules air tanker: Captain Ian Mcbeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson
and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jnr. They came for us. We talk about friendship between nations – this
was that friendship expressed at the profoundest level. Father and son Robert and Patrick Salway. They stayed to defend their home in Cobargo
and their precious, hard-earned farming equipment. Patrick’s wife Renee wrote: “We are broken.” Our hearts embrace Patrick and Renee’s young
son, who will grow up with a father who lives on in memory and the stories told by those
who knew him and loved him. There have been so many. We mourn each and every one of them. As the fires finally leave, communities are
left to deal with the aftermath – physical, financial and perhaps most importantly, emotional. Then there is wildlife that, having miraculously
survived the inferno, is left in desperate need of the second miracle – namely, finding
food and shelter amid the desolation. So what now? Yes, fire is part of who we are. Our recorded history is heavy with its grim
poetry: Ash Wednesday. Black Friday. Red Tuesday. Black Saturday. But we are at a turning point. This is not business as usual. This is not even fire as usual. We can no longer fall back on the poetry of
Dorothea Mackellar and comfort ourselves with the thought that it’s always been like this. That this is the price we pay for living on
a beautiful but sometimes harsh and unforgiving continent. Nor can we soften reality with the fiction
that we had no way of predicting this. We have no choice but to turn to face the
harsh new reality. The scale and intensity of the fires has been
unprecedented. But the responses to the fire from our fellow
Australians has been completely as expected. There has been toughness. Resilience. Generosity. And, amazingly, through it all, there has
been a sense of humour. All of these qualities have been to the test
during this time of fire and Australians have shown their true character. In this time of upheaval, the only certainty
we have is that they will be tested again. We must be ready. I pay my respects to all those today who have
lost loved ones. I pay my respects also to those who are still
suffering physically and mentally, and say that we as a Parliament will provide every
assistance and I’m sure we can all agree on that. I also pay tribute, in conclusion, to all
those extraordinary men and women who have in the face of incredible danger to themselves
have put their fellow Australians, their communities, and their nation before their own interests. We thank you. We praise you. We honour you.


3 thoughts on “Condolence motion on the bushfire crisis

  1. Anthony Albanese has lead the country in the absence of the leadership of the Prime Minister. A genuine leader and eloquent speaker. This is my PM.

  2. Albo, the firefighters say it's climate change/green house effect/global warming in agreeance with a number of Australian climate scientists. Would you please join the greens on a coalition of the left to protect our environment? Not just reducing emissions, would you reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere? Thank you.

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