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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2051


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (11:37): The bushfires that affected the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and the Central Coast regions of New South Wales in October and November this year were truly devastating. At the outset I want to join with my Labor colleagues in acknowledging the tremendous work of our emergency service personnel and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, including the thousands of volunteers that helped limit the devastation that was wrought across the state.

While my electorate of Newcastle was spared extensive damage, blazes in Salt Ash and those that came perilously close to our airport and the RAAF base at Williamtown were worrying, and certainly affected a number of residents and businesses. My neighbouring electorate of Shortland experienced major fires in the Gateshead and Catherine Hill Bay areas, and my colleague Jill Hall has worked tirelessly to support her constituents at this time of need.

Hundreds of properties were under threat from the various blazes for a number of weeks. However, thanks to the preparation and mitigation work before the blazes hit, and the tremendous response efforts of various bodies, few properties were in fact lost. The community of Catherine Hill Bay, just south of Newcastle, was not totally spared, and did lose a number of historic properties and businesses, notably Woollahra House, an 1887-built homestead that was on the market to be sold for the first time, was destroyed. And a service station on the link road between the Central Coast and Newcastle—more famous, perhaps, for its giant prawn that its petrol—was also destroyed.

Aside from the recognition already given to the Rural Fire Service, I would also like to make special note of one of the forgotten heroes of disaster management, the RSPCA. They played an important role in the evacuation and care of domestic animals and wildlife, creating specialised services at evacuation centres reuniting pets and owners that had been separated because of the fires.

Make no mistake, however, the fire mitigation and response activities helped to limit the loss of property and life. The weather forecasting and other early warning systems developed by CSIRO helped residents prepare their properties and evacuate dangerous areas well before fires hit. CSIRO's forecasting is now so precise that I have no doubt their skills and expertise have saved many properties and lives.

As already acknowledged, the disaster response efforts of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and other emergency bodies also saved property and lives. On the other hand, the recovery effort in New South Wales has been haphazard and continues to cause trauma to the lives of hundreds of residents and local businesses.

It is with dismay that I stand here today to speak on this motion. It has been more than 50 days since the bushfires raged through New South Wales and, to a large extent, the clean-up effort has only just commenced. Squabbling between state and federal governments has prolonged the trauma for residents and businesses, and it has to stop. Action is required. I note that efforts have been made over the past few days to commence the demolition, clearing and rubble removal that is required to start the rebuilding process, but it has taken far too long and the process has been flawed.

Residents traumatised by the loss of their homes and possessions had to take to the media in order to get things moving and to have their cases dealt with properly. The mental and physical trauma experienced by those affected residents and businesses cannot be quantified. However, the economic costs can be.

Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism have estimated the region is down $47 million in revenue already. Their estimates show day trips alone have dropped by more than 144,000, resulting in flow-on losses of about $13 million for local businesses. Small businesses are the lifeblood of these communities but their recovery is being held back. Just last week the Minister for Small Business wrote to my Labor colleague Senator Doug Cameron confirming the circumstances in which disaster recovery payments are made available. I quote: 'People who have significant hardship, including the loss of a loved one and serious injury, or those whose homes have been significantly damaged or destroyed, are to be the priority areas.'

Minister, I can assure you that the small businesses of the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast are going through significant hardship and could benefit from the full range of disaster relief payments including, as promised, the consequential concessional loans to small businesses struggling to recover after the fires.

As a nation, we are getting much better at prevention and mitigation. But we need to remedy this situation to assist everyone to fully recover as soon as possible. That is the intent of this motion. (Time expired)