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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2050


Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (11:32): I rise to speak on private members' business relating to the government's response to the Blue Mountains and Central Coast bushfires. It is a shame, and I will say that I am shocked that the member for Chifley neglected to point out in his motion that the bushfires also very much affected the Lithgow region, a very important part of Calare.

I am also shocked that somebody like the member for Chifley, who would not know what a bushfire was if it bit him on the backside, would get up and say this. I realise he is young and ambitious and wants to make a name for himself, but this is not the way to do it. I am pretty disgusted, to be honest.

I concede that what happened in my part of the world was nowhere near as bad as what happened in the electorate of Macquarie or the Blue Mountains, which was horrific. It was an amazing thing that there was no loss of life. But there were enormous losses to people. In my part of the world we lost half a dozen homes or so, but it was nothing like what happened further up in the mountains. Even so, we did lose about 30,000 square kilometres, burnt out, but the member for Chifley would not really be aware of those sorts of things.

I spoke about the local response in parliament only a few weeks ago. I have to say again that it is a shame that the opposition are trying to make political points when this fire was as well-run as any I have seen. In my part of the world, I have to say that the response by the bushfire brigade, particularly the rural bushfire section, did an extremely good job. They worked with the council, the police and everybody. It was as good as anything I have seen. They could focus on joining with us, both federal and state governments, to help those communities rebuild, repair and regenerate.

As my colleague the member for Macquarie has already mentioned we are committed to working with the state—in fact, we are contributing half of the cost of recovery. That covers things including the demolition of damaged houses and removal of debris, as well as emergency food, clothing and accommodation for people impacted by the bushfires.

About the clean-up: I know that the Army obviously has a part to play in this. At the minute the railway contacted me about their problems I put the Army in contact with them, and they made themselves available to them to help to the nth degree.

During the height of the fire threat for the Lithgow region I visited the various centres in town and I can, as I have already said, attest to the support that was being provided by everybody. The 23 RAAF Base Glenbrook volunteers assisted with the clean-up at the Zig Zag Railway at Lithgow. They sorted bushfire-damaged scrap and salvageable items. Further assistance was available locally from the RAAF Base at Glenbrook, and non-emergency Defence assistance to the civil community could also be provided.

In general, the Australian government has activated the disaster recovery payment and the disaster recovery allowance—obviously with the payment being the immediate payment and the allowance continuing on for weeks for those who have lost income as a result of the bushfires. Sadly, I know one person who is very aware of what bushfires can do, and it is a bit rich for the opposition to criticise when it was actually the Howard government who designed the disaster recovery payment to be a flexible assistance measure. When in government, Labor also adopted this approach by activating different criteria for different disasters. Small businesses whose assets have been directly damaged by the bushfires may also be eligible for concessional interest rate loans of up to $130,000, jointly provided by New South Wales and the Commonwealth.

Our government will do what it should do for people who are affected by fire which, by its suddenness and what it does, is worse than flood and drought. I come from a part of the world which was probably the most bushfire affected in New South Wales back in the seventies, eighties and nineties. It does not seem to have had so many lately—maybe the seasons have not been quite as good.

I stand by what the government has done and will do so in the future. I am absolutely disgusted that somebody who is young and wants to make a name for himself wants to make a name for himself like this.