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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 282

Mr HORNE (10.48 a.m.) —Firstly, I would like to congratulate the honourable member for Bradford (Mr Connolly) for bringing this motion before our parliament at the earliest possible time. The subject of the motion does not give me any pleasure but I do rise with pride to support it. It allows me to express my respect and admiration for that tremendous band of workers who fought bushfires in New South Wales in the worst weather conditions in the history of our country.

  Perhaps the best way to describe the extent of the damage, the courage of the firefighters and the support of the community is to report what happened in my own electorate of Paterson. Paterson is a fairly typical east coast region, tucked in between the forests and national parks of the foothills of the Great Divide on the west and the coast to the east. It contains many hectares of native eucalypt forest and abundant native fauna, including many koala colonies. A series of good seasons has produced an extensive fuel supply, and so the scene was set for the hell that we experienced.

  During the emergency, three of the five local government areas in my electorate were declared 41.F—or emergency zones. All brigades were not only involved in fighting fires in their own particular area but also deployed elsewhere as the calls for assistance poured in. They were stretched; they were exhausted but they kept on. It is not easy fighting a fire at any time, but it certainly was not easy fighting fires in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and with a westerly wind that was fanning the blaze at more than 50 kilometres an hour. Fires were actually spotting from in excess of 1 1/2 kilometres because of these winds. Some fires of course were deliberately lit, which is very hard to conceive. When wind changes came, fires moved back into areas that had previously been considered safe.

  During the ordeal, in excess of 1,000 volunteer firefighters had to be rested and fed. Community response was fantastic. Lions and Rotary clubs, the Salvation Army and local businesses all donated supplies and their time with great generosity. Just ordinary people in the community rallied with overwhelming offers of support. If anyone ever wanted to know what Australia is about, they only had to be there. It was not a case of `Do you need help?'; it was a case of `We are here: what can we do?'.

  On behalf of the residents of my electorate I want to pay tribute to our volunteer bush fire brigades and I ask leave for a list of those brigades and their captains to be incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The list read as follows




  Malcolm McDonald


  John Shelton


  Ken Tickle


  Peter Sivyer


  John Maher


  David Horn


  Colin Sellens


  John Stammer


  Don Vickers


  Doug Eyb


  Allan Delaney



  Mr K Laurie


  Mr J Fraser


  Mr A O Smith


  Mr A Middlebrook


  Mr R S Sansom


  Mr P Summerville


  Mr J Testorelli


  Mr A Rumbel


  Mr P N Carmichael


  Mr I Bourke


  Mr N E Bignell


  Mr J Higgens


  Mr J H Hughes


  Mr R Bolton


  Mr L K Watt


  Mr A Laurie


  Mr K Shaw


  Mr K S Bolton


  Mr D R Andrews


  Mr R G Isaac


  Mr B Andrews


  Mr E Blanch



  Earle Felder


  Warren Wilson


  Keith Grey


  Ron Pile


  Neville Palmer


  Mr N Harris


  Ray Worth


  Mr K Gleave


  Allan Grey


  Mr A Witt


  Terry Griffiths


  Bob Olsen


  Neal Cook


  Allan Dunn


  Mr J Williams


  Don Russell


  Ernie Holstein


  David Melmeth


  John Taylor



  Rainer Balzer


  David Baus


  Warwick Mathieson


  John O'Keefe


  Alan Nunn


  Bob Aspinall


  Kenneth Hepplewhite


  John Johnson


  Ian Hicks


  Lou Cassar


  Brett Bowden


  Brian Chiarelli


  George Brandenberg


  Barry Sansom



  Mr D Flindle


  Mr G Lawson


  Mrs R Lawrence

Mr HORNE —I thank the House. Fire control officer Ted Murrell and David Uphill of Dungog council, Alan Hepplewhite of Port Stephens council and Kevin Carter from Bulahdelah forestry, Kam Baker of Gloucester council and Mike Pryjma of Gloucester forestry also deserve our deepest gratitude. All had to cope with section 41.F declarations. Barry Pont of Maitland fire station was spared that declaration. In his area there were very few fires but he had to send his troops to other trouble spots. Ian Stewart of Great Lakes had wild fires in all parts of his shire but, thankfully, was able to minimise property damage.

  At the height of the fire danger our firefighters were joined by firefighters from Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory. I had the privilege of being alongside half a dozen units from Victoria in fighting a fire bearing down on a mate's home. As soon as that blaze was subdued, they were off to the next. They were a magnificent team and I salute them all.

  In the Paterson electorate, compared to others, we were lucky because no lives were lost. Certainly, much property and two homes were destroyed; hundreds of kilometres of fencing worth millions of dollars and not insured has been lost. Its replacement will be a burden to farmers for years to come. Hundreds of acres of beautiful bushland have been turned into a scorched wasteland. The loss of wildlife has been devastating in spite of the mighty efforts of the native animal trust fund and the Hunter Koala Preservation Society who, with hundreds of volunteers, undertook a rescue operation for injured koalas, wallabies, snakes, goannas and birds. They searched through the blackened forest and cared for and relocated the fauna that survived. The effort was coordinated by a young woman, Kim Gaudry, who left her family and home for two weeks because of her concern for the suffering of our native animals. Glen and Lynda Stephenson held open house for traumatised animals before passing them on to trained carers or relocating them in a safe area. How can our community repay this dedication?

  Management techniques will be needed to restore the burned areas when the flora regenerates, even though the animals may not return. Many areas have lost their native animal population completely. As they were in isolated pockets of bushland that are now surrounded by development, we will need to ensure that native animals go back into those areas.

  There are lessons to be learned from the horrendous experience in New South Wales. Fires will come again. Lives, property, livestock and wildlife will be threatened. The scarred land and ruins of homes will go, but there are some tragedies that will never be forgotten. Australians have always lived with an environment that is both beautiful and dangerous. We live with its risks and therefore we must be prepared. Many brigades are underfinanced and have inadequate equipment. Throughout my electorate many bowling clubs have organised a series of fundraising galas, which the community has supported

with enormous generosity and enthusiasm. Firefighters need better training and the opportunity for debriefing, evaluation and assessment. The state member for Port Stephens, Bob Martin, and I will be conducting a seminar next weekend and all captains in the Port Stephens area will be there to address this particular need.

  Survival techniques need to be taught in schools. The build-up of fuel, particularly in forests and in open space corridors, must be controlled. Building design should be thoroughly researched and the use of fire resistant building materials encouraged. Studies should be carried out into the effect of fuel reduction burns and their effect on native flora and fauna. The back-burns that took place at night in my electorate were far less destructive than the uncontrolled wildfires in similar areas. Above all, we must be prepared as a nation to invest in research and development for firefighting techniques. Already two inventors in my electorate have come forward with sound ideas that I will be presenting to the Minister for Resources (Mr Beddall).

  There is also a unique opportunity for green jobs. It makes economic sense to employ people in environmental control, specifically for the reduction of fire hazard. I am sure that there are many people out there with unique ideas that these fires allowed them to employ to defeat a fire. Actually, when we consider the situation, the amazing thing about the fires in New South Wales is that more property was not lost. As I indicated, it does give me great pleasure today to support this motion. With new measures we can minimise risk, and I sincerely hope that the feeling of helplessness that pervaded much of our community during our recent experience will not be repeated.

  Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! During the course of his remarks the honourable member for Paterson sought leave to incorporate certain material. Leave was granted. I should advise the House that, under the strict guidelines that the Speaker has used, this material may not have been allowed to be incorporated, but I think that, given the significance of the motion before the House, the House would be quite agreeable and the Speaker would be quite agreeable to allowing the request of the honourable member for Paterson to be acceded to.

Mr Connolly —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I gave permission on behalf of the opposition because of the reason you mentioned, but would you also be agreeable to allowing other honourable members who spoke in this debate to incorporate in their speeches, if they wish, the similar details from their own constituencies?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —We will take that on board.