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Wednesday, 5 February 2020
Page: 122


Mr FRYDENBERG (KooyongTreasurer) (10:55): The summer is brutal and tragic for so many Australians. Thirty-three people, tragically, have lost their lives. More than 3,000 homes have been lost and there has been extensive property damage across numerous states. More than 11 million hectares of land has been burnt, and much livestock has been lost.

There are some images from recent months that will be forever etched in our memories—people being evacuated by HMAS Choules off the beaches of Mallacoota; people looking at the sky and seeing only black, even though it was the middle of the day; and then, across places like Melbourne, Sydney and here in Canberra, a constant daily haze of smoke, which also brought with it some challenges for those local communities.

But today we pay tribute to those people who have lost their lives and say to their families that we are thinking of them. In particular, we pay tribute to David Moresi, Geoffrey Keaton, Andrew O'Dwyer, Samuel McPaul, Bill Slade, Mat Kavanagh, Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick DeMorgan Jr, firefighters who lost their lives. They battled the blazes to save property and lives but tragically paid the highest price.

The Prime Minister recounted the funeral of Geoff Keaton, where his son, Harvey, only 19 months old, placed a mug on the coffin which said, 'Daddy, I love you to the moon and back.' That's how I speak to my son, who is only three years old. I tell him I love him to the moon and back. And now little Harvey is without a father. Geoff Keaton was from the Horsley Park brigade, and he perished with Andrew O'Dwyer, his good friend, whose daughter, Charlotte, almost two, will no longer have a father. This is the human tragedy of these devastating bushfires.

It has been a time when Australians have rallied together, and that is another story from these bushfires. Australians have given generously through the charities, thousands volunteered to be members of their local emergency services and we have all watched on as the ABC have done a wonderful job keeping us up to date with the latest developments. People have opened their homes to provide a bed to those who have lost their homes, and there has been much more support.

The role of the Defence Force has been remarkable. The Defence Force has not only given tangible assistance on the ground, doing what they do best—transporting people to safety, clearing roads, providing medical assistance and using their Chinooks and other helicopters to ferry emergency service personnel into the most difficult terrain; that's what they do best—but also provided a degree of assurance to the nation that help had arrived.

The Prime Minister's decision to call out the reservists with a compulsory call-out—the first time we have seen that—I think made a real difference on the ground. Not only has our operational response been unprecedented but our financial response has been unprecedented. We have established the $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund, led by the former Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin, which is an initial and additional contribution over and above normal payments and allowances that the Commonwealth pays after disasters through the states. We have made significant announcements already, such as $76 million for mental health support, because the scars of these fires will continue not just for days and weeks and months but for years and maybe forever. I was with Sussan Ley out at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to announce a $50 million package to support the wildlife, which has been so badly damaged. Many lost their habitat. Our native flora and fauna were badly injured.

Small businesses are going to get help to get back on their feet, with up to $50,000 grants to those businesses that have been damaged, and with up to $500,000 loans, interest free for the first two years and then with an interest rate of half the 10-year Commonwealth bond rate. That will provide these businesses with the working capital to get back on their feet. There are grants of up to $75,000 for primary industries, because, as my colleagues in the chamber know, those primary industries will need a lot of help getting back on their feet after having their crops burnt and their livestock destroyed.

We've also agreed with New South Wales and Victoria on a 50-50 split on the clean-up costs—costs that can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. By agreeing to a 50-50 split on the clean-up costs, with the Commonwealth and the states stepping in, it means there is going to be more money available to those people who are insured to rebuild. For those who are not insured, the Commonwealth and the states are obviously playing their parts. Family assistance is being provided to help families get their young kids back to school. We have provided individual grants of $1 million to local councils for initiatives in their area. We're providing financial counselling, which is going to be critical in supporting those businesses to get the proper structures and plans for their futures. We've given money directly to some of the charities so that they can provide immediate relief as well. So there are a large number of initiatives that have been undertaken by the Commonwealth. Earlier today I introduced into the House a piece of legislation which will provide tax exemption for the allowances that are paid, as well as for the DGR listing for a couple of important funds that are being established under the leadership of Governor-General Cosgrove and through the Business Council of Australia.

I want to commend the broader Australian community for their generosity and, as Treasurer, I will also appropriately note what corporate Australia has been doing, both in providing in-kind support—getting goods and services out to those communities straightaway—and in providing a strong degree of financial support. I would like to acknowledge the role of the Business Council.

Finally, we are living through a period of hotter, drier, longer summers. Climate change is real. We accept the science. We are doing our part as a country that signed up to the Paris Agreement to reduce our emissions. But there is also going to be a role for mitigation, adaptation and resilience to ensure that when these fires occur again—and they will, just like the floods and the cyclones will—we are able to minimise the loss of human life and the loss of property.

Members of this place, like all Australians, have a heavy heart about what has transpired in recent months. Whatever the political shenanigans have been over recent months around these bushfires, our focus has always been on delivering the support that is needed as fast as possible to those members of the Australian community who have been affected. These people will need our help—physical, emotional, financial and, in some cases, spiritual—and our support to help them get back on their feet. This is going to be a very long journey for them, and I know I speak for all members of this House, across every party political line, in saying that we will continue to provide support long into the future so that these communities can have a better tomorrow after what has been a very, very difficult and terrible time.