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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 361

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (16:39): I rise today to speak about the recent bushfires that have ravaged the electorate of Macquarie and in particular the community of the Blue Mountains. The impact is significant, visibly and tangibly, but the impact is also in the unseen. There is psychological and social trauma for the individuals, families and business owners touched by bushfires.

On 17 October the Linksview Road fire burnt hot and fast through the communities of Springwood, Winmalee and Yellow Rock, destroying 193 homes. On the same day the Mount York Road fire burnt out more than 8,000 hectares of bushland and destroyed 10 homes in Mount Victoria. The State Mine fire started on 16 October and burnt through more than 50,000 hectares, impacting the communities of Mount Wilson and Mount Irvine, resulting in one home lost and another damaged. This fire also had significant impacts on the Hawkesbury, with evacuations and road closures. Overall, 191 homes in addition were damaged.

From that terrifying day on 17 October there have emerged stories of survival and unimaginable terror as residents rushed to escape the fires. One family in Yellow Rock had over 50 people shelter in their home as the fires ripped through. Employees at Oasis Nursery sheltered in the lunch room, fearing for their very lives.

I spent most of Thursday evening in the Springwood evacuation centre with families and individuals, many unsure if their homes were still standing. Early Friday was very emotional. Escorted by police I stood with members of the community in front of their homes, which they had just lost. The president of the local RSL was just one person I shared this pain with.

Many have lost businesses, their means of survival and income, and are doing it tough. Mr Joe Mercieca is the owner of Blue Eco Homes, whose business was destroyed. Yet Joe has demonstrated the spirit of many of those affected by putting his hand up to become part of the recovery committee.

The economic impact of the bushfires on a community that relies so heavily on daily visitors and tourism is enormous. In the days following the disaster it became clear, however, that the community would not be beaten by this. The response from the community as well as the emergency services has been outstanding.

A special mention must go to the Springwood Sports Club and to Richmond Club. Both of these clubs opened their doors to families and became evacuation centres, at a huge cost to their own business. The work of emergency services must be acknowledged, in particular the NSW Rural Fire Service, National Parks, RAAF bases Richmond and Glenbrook, NSW Fire and Rescue, the SES and the NSW Police. I will be forever grateful for the work of these courageous men and women, many of them volunteers, who worked day and night to protect their communities in the face of extreme danger.

I also wish to acknowledge the work of all involved in the recovery centre, which has provided a one-stop-shop for those affected. I owe thanks also to my colleagues, to the Prime Minister, who came to visit the worst affected areas the day after disaster struck, and to Minister Payne and Minister Keenan, who were with me on the ground within days following the disaster. Their work to quickly activate much needed disaster relief funds and assess what else was needed on the ground was much appreciated.

Since this disaster struck I have not stopped making representations on behalf of the people of Macquarie to the Prime Minister, the Assistant Treasurer, the Minister for Human Services, the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Small Business, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Trade and Investment. I also thank and acknowledge the state member of the Blue Mountains, Roza Sage. She and I have worked tirelessly together.

Minister Payne organised a mobile Department of Human Services office, which was set up on the ground to help people access payments quickly. The defence force has been on the ground to help with the clean-up and the clearing of properties. Last week I initiated a meeting with Phil Koperberg and Habitat for Humanity to see what other assistance could be offered, particularly during the rebuilding phase.

Our priority has been to bring immediate relief to those most in need, and within 24 hours. We activated the Disaster Recovery Payment to assist families whose homes were destroyed or damaged, and those who were severely injured or lost loved ones. Fortunately, not one life was lost in the Blue Mountains. Under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, we also contributed to the cost of meeting the immediate needs of those affected by the bushfires, including emergency food, clothing and accommodation.

It has been disappointing to observe the behaviour of Senator Doug Cameron. Under the guise of caring for his community Senator Cameron has taken every opportunity to throw political darts and stand back and criticise. One worker from the Winmalee neighbourhood centre approached me in the street to complain about the senator's behaviour at the recovery centre. In a genuine spirit of bipartisanship, the Minister for Human Services offered assistance to any residents who contacted Senator Cameron's office. He has failed to respond to this offer. In closing, I acknowledge that the people of Macquarie have suffered a huge blow. There is a long journey ahead, but I believe that through joint effort that is being undertaken locally and nationally we will see this through.