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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1080


Mr IRONS (9:31 PM) —As we all know, it has been a summer of natural disasters for Australia, a summer of floods, fires and storms. I am sure the thoughts of all Australians who were not affected by these disasters go out to the families of those who have lost their lives, their livelihoods and their homes through the disasters, whether that has been by flood, fire or storm. I think all Australians in general have been impressed with the resolve and the character that the people affected by these disasters have displayed during this most difficult time.

Western Australia has not been untouched by natural disasters. On the weekend of 5 to 7 February fires destroyed at least 72 homes and damaged 32 others in Perth’s eastern region. It is thanks to the evacuation plans and the speedy work of our firefighters, police force and emergency services that there were no lives lost in those fires. Those communities have been badly shaken, but I am sure that they will bounce back. In the meantime, we need to provide them with as much support as we can.

My electorate of Swan did not escape unscathed from the weekend of fire damage in WA. During the weekend a fire started in Cannington and spread across the wetlands, burning through much of the Canning River Regional Park. I visited the wetlands to inspect the damage, and it is extensive, particularly on the Ferndale side. I have a map, provided to me by Russell Gorton from the Wilson Wetlands Action Group, which shows the affected areas. I would like to put on record my sympathies for all the volunteers at the park, who have witnessed the burning out of large areas which they have spent years rehabilitating. The area patrolled by the Canning River Regional Park volunteers has been severely affected. The area in Ferndale near the Willcock Street bridge, where the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and I last year helped some green army volunteers clear weeds, was within that fire zone.

In the aftermath of the fires I held a meeting with one of the local environmental groups and we discussed the way forward. The most immediate problem will be controlling the weeds that will try to recolonise the bare ground where native vegetation had been planted. This is going to take a vast effort, as the affected area is so large. The West Australian reported just after the event that the police suspected that arson was the cause of that particular blaze. There has been plenty of speculation in the community that arson was the cause. Arson is one of the worst crimes imaginable. Plenty of residents live right on the edge of the wetlands in areas close to the edge of the fires. There were reports that some people were forced to evacuate their houses. Fortunately, in this instance the fire was well contained within the park, thanks largely to the efforts of the firefighters. However, the fact that someone could deliberately have started a fire that might have threatened homes and lives is inexcusable. I believe that arsonists should be charged with attempted murder or murder.

Of course that was not the first fire of the season. Local groups said there have been at least four other spot fires recently. It is not known whether or not they were deliberately started, but we must be vigilant about the build-up of dead grass and weeds in the park area. When I walk around the wetlands with environmental volunteers, they frequently point out areas of dry, tall grass and dead material which need to be cleared. The volunteers are very good at reporting these problems to the rangers; however, it is impossible for them to cover the whole park. Many Lynwood residents are concerned about a build-up of fire fuel in the Bannister Creek area. The Bannister Creek catchment, which feeds into the Canning River Wetlands, passes within five to 10 metres of some Lynwood houses. After the prolonged hot weather in Perth, the floor of the bush contains a fairly thick covering of dry leaves and branches. Local residents are calling for these areas to be cleared. The recent fires that swept through the park show that the area is like a tinderbox at the moment. We certainly must do everything we can to protect these houses and lives.

In conclusion, I would like to once again extend my sympathies to the victims of the natural disasters across Australia’s summer. I will be working with the people of my electorate and volunteer groups to make every effort to see that the fire affected areas recover and that we make sure that we minimise the danger of built-up fire fuel in the parkland area around the residential suburbs of my electorate of Swan. I seek leave to table the map showing the extent of the fire damage in my electorate of Swan.

Leave granted.