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Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Page: 5198


Senator WATT (Queensland) (19:54): As I've previously noted in this chamber, over the past few weeks we've seen pretty much every state in Australia hit by devastating fires. Tragically, as a result of these fires, four people have lost their lives and hundreds of people have lost their homes. Reports from the Bureau of Meteorology predict that the worst is yet to come, with no signs of the fires abating over this summer. We know from fire chiefs that the destruction we've seen at the beginning of this bushfire season is unprecedented in our country's history. Sadly, this is what Australia must expect from coming disaster seasons. Across Australia, fire seasons are starting earlier and finishing later. The government's own scientific adviser, the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency leaders with decades of experience fighting fires all agree that, due to climate change, extreme weather events will only increase in severity and frequency. There will be more and more-intense bushfires, more and more-intense cyclones hitting parts of our country that haven't previously seen cyclones and more floods—many, many more.

Labor has approached these bushfires in a bipartisan spirit, recognising that the primary task at hand has been to ensure lives and properties are kept safe. We know that all approaches to natural disaster preparedness and recovery must be a coordinated effort between governments, disaster relief organisations and emergency services. That's why the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, recently wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting an urgent COAG meeting be held to ensure that Australia is disaster ready. With all of this advice that we face more disasters and more-intense disasters in the future, the sensible thing to do is to bring different levels of government together and ensure that we have a plan for the future.

This COAG meeting would be an opportunity to bring together all levels of government and provide us with a chance to develop a new national strategy for disaster preparedness, ensure proper funding for national park services and emergency services and expand the capacity of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre by providing more water-bombing aircraft in response to calls for the same from emergency leaders. It could discuss investing in national disaster response, recovery and mitigation. It could discuss measures to attract and retain volunteers, who are already exhausted from their efforts so far before the traditional bushfire season has even started. A COAG meeting could develop an action plan around climate adaptation and bring forward disaster mitigation funding.

Labor was willing to work with the Commonwealth and state governments in any way required. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has arrogantly dismissed this call for a COAG meeting. This is just the latest proof that the Prime Minister isn't interested in ensuring the country is ready for the future, and it's more proof that this LNP government is so frozen by their own infighting over climate change that they are incapable of coming up with a plan to make sure that Australian communities are kept safe. The Prime Minister wouldn't even meet with former fire chiefs to discuss Australia's disaster preparedness. They have repeatedly sought meetings simply to provide him with their own expert opinion built on decades of fighting fires, and he arrogantly refuses to meet them. These emergency leaders have dedicated their lives to protecting others. They actually know a bit about fighting fires and they know a bit about what we need to do to make sure that Australian communities are protected in the future. That's exactly why I joined our leader, Anthony Albanese, to sit down with these emergency leaders, these ex-fire chiefs with decades of experience, to discuss what needs to be done to prepare for this summer and our longer term future. They warned us, again, that more needs to be done to prepare Australian communities for the increasing disasters which will be brought on by our changing climate. They warned us, as have the Red Cross and other organisations, that Australia is simply not ready for the level of disasters that we face in the future due to climate change.

Unlike the LNP, Labor isn't afraid to listen to the people on the front line, who know what it is like to battle these fires. Much more needs to be done to protect our communities, and Labor stands ready to assist in any way we can. I ask the government, I ask the Prime Minister to please listen to the experts. Put aside your ideological issues around climate change. If we have experts in the field advising us that we face more disasters, the least we can do is make sure we're prepared.

Senate adjourned at 19:59