Australian Bushfires - Condolence Motion

4 February 2020

I rise to speak in support of this condolence motion honouring the many lives lost over the course of an unprecedented bushfire season—a season that will be remembered as one of the longest, most ferocious and most devastating that Australia has ever endured. As a nation, we are still counting the horrific cost of this bushfire crisis: the human cost, the economic cost and the cost to our environment and our unique landscape. Over 11 million hectares have burned and are still burning. Around a billion native animals have perished and 3,000 homes have been lost, with that number sure to grow as damage assessments continue. There have been devastating impacts to livestock, farming infrastructure and prime agricultural areas across the country. Too many businesses, particularly small businesses—the backbone of our regional communities—have perished in the fires or are very much on the brink. Workers who have lost jobs due to the bushfires and their families are also facing dire circumstances, and they very much need to be properly supported by government.

The scale of this crisis requires not just an adequate response but a response by government that allows workers, businesses and communities to recover with dignity and without unnecessary hurdles placed in their way. To do any less would only compound the trauma and mental anguish that so many are living through. The full cost to our communities won't be known for some time, and there is much rebuilding, regeneration and, ultimately, reckoning to come.

Today we pay our deepest sympathies and mourn the terrible loss of life across Australia. Thirty-three lives have been lost over this catastrophic summer, in tragic circumstances, and many more have suffered terrible injuries from the fires. Almost a third of the people we have lost were volunteer firefighters, protecting vulnerable Australian communities from the onslaught of towering walls of fire. We owe them the deepest debt of gratitude. To all the firefighters and first responders who have worked tirelessly throughout this summer: we thank you. We acknowledge the enormity of what you have had to deal with and will continue to deal with, bearing witness to scenes that can only be described as apocalyptic, long after the fires have been extinguished. While the devastation is widespread, it could easily have been much worse if it had not been for firefighters' heroic efforts as they battled dangerous and shocking conditions to save homes and lives.

South Australia lost three of its sons in the fires that devastated Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills. Today I want to pay my respects to the Selth and Lang families from my home state of South Australia, who are still coming to terms with the loss of their much-loved family members. Ron Selth died on 20 December, defending his Charleston property in the Adelaide Hills from fires that broke out at Cudlee Creek and quickly spread, in blistering heat and strong winds, to Lobethal, Lenswood, Woodside, Harrogate, Charleston and nearly everything in between. His family have described Mr Selth as a loving, optimistic and generous man who valued his relationships with family and friends more than anything else. Mr Selth built a highly successful engineering business that contributed to the design of thousands of buildings in SA, many in the Adelaide Hills. He leaves behind his partner, Suzy; his children, Johanna, Luke and Jasmine, and their partners, Lachlan, Jo and Scott; and his six grandchildren.

On Kangaroo Island we lost pioneering outback pilot Dick Lang and his son Clayton, who lost their lives helping battle the ferocious bushfire that tore through the west of the island, burning most of the pristine and world-renowned Flinders Chase National Park. It was a fire so ferocious it was described as virtually unstoppable. A well-known adventurer, Dick Lang was a beloved bush pilot—described as a modern-day Indiana Jones—who very much opened the outback to tourism in 1965, with his wife, Helen. Together they started Desert Trek, their weekend, four-wheel-drive safari business, which began with daytrips to the Flinders Ranges and grew to longer trips exploring the notorious Birdsville Track and the Strzelecki Desert. Desert Trek became the biggest four-wheel-drive adventure company in the world, with 10 Land Rovers, a large bus and two aircraft. More successful businesses followed, which saw Dick Lang embarking on tours and safaris around the world, such was his love of adventure, desert landscapes and the uniquely beautiful Aussie outback.

Dick's son Clayton Lang was a leading Adelaide plastic surgeon, specialising in reconstructive hand surgery. The highly respected surgeon worked in both the public and the private sector. Like his father, he lived life to the fullest and was described as having a larger-than-life personality. Dr Lang was a senior staff specialist at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woodville and had a private consultancy. He set up a combined clinic managing advanced melanoma surgeries and trained future plastic surgeons. He still had way more to contribute and will be sorely missed by his colleagues, patients and family. Dr Lang leaves behind his wife, Christie, and two young daughters.

The father and son are described as having Kangaroo Island in their blood. Such was their passion for the island and how entrenched they were in the local community. They died trying to protect the community they loved. We honour these men, pay tribute to them, and pay our sincere respects to their families. We will continue to honour their memories by embracing the community in which they lived and which they very much contributed to, passionately and enthusiastically as they did.

What was once farmland, forest or vineyards is now just charcoal. The swathes of blackened earth are a terrible reminder of catastrophic climatic conditions that have devastated much of Australia. We can help by not turning our backs on the fire-ravaged communities around Australia, and particularly in my home state, in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island. Instead, we can turn out in droves to help in the clean-up, to visit and buy their famed produce at the farm gate, cellar door and elsewhere—or at the local supermarket. Each and every one of us can help in the rebuilding of fire-affected towns and communities, even in small ways. With those words, I commend the motion.

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