05 February 2020


I rise today to extend my condolences to all those impacted by this unprecedented bushfire crisis. I'm sure I speak for all Greenway residents when I say how deeply moved we are by your experiences and how devastated we are, having seen the impact of these fires. But I also say this: we stand with you and are prepared to support you so you can get back on your feet as soon as possible.

I had but a glimpse of the aftermath of the devastation caused by these fires on a visit to the electorate of Macquarie with my good friend Susan Templeman. It was so confronting to see homes destroyed, small businesses empty and the environment absolutely scorched. But what moved me more was the spirit of the local residents who had survived these fires. They were open, generous and welcoming, despite everything they had been through. They were optimistic about the future and determined not to be broken.

I remember, in particular, going to the home of Billy and Sarah in Mount Tomah. They had a beautiful garden that was absolutely scorched. Their home, thankfully, survived, largely thanks to their preparation but also because where they were the fire had literally stopped, so theirs was the house that survived. The garden around them was completely destroyed but, while we sat in their lounge room with a few of their neighbours talking, we all started looking out the window because all of a sudden out of nowhere beautiful coloured parrots started appearing in their garden. They'd started putting out seed for these parrots, and it was like we were seeing the seeds of new life. We all went outside and carefully watched and tried to take photos of these parrots. They absolutely lifted our spirits.

These communities are something special, and we must never forget that. I want to acknowledge the many local residents from Greenway who have helped to support those people who have lost so much. It moves me to know that our community is compassionate, generous and selfless without fanfare or recognition. It's impossible to mention everyone locally, but I would like to thank the members of a couple of groups, including suburb based Facebook groups like the Glenwood community group, the Stanhope Gardens and surrounding suburbs group and the Quakers Hill and surrounding suburbs group. These groups coordinated countless food hampers and clothes drop-offs to bushfire affected areas. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These groups are utilising technology and connections to change the way that communities organise and grow. The volunteers who run these groups put in so much work to create that sense of community, and I extend my gratitude for everything you do.

I also acknowledge the many Australians outside of my electorate who donated generously to bushfire relief: Australians like those at the Grassy Head caravan park on the mid-north coast who, when my daughter Octavia, largely coordinated by her friends and our extended family, held a mini fete—including a cordial stand, hair braiding and massages—raised over $2,000 for the Yarrahapinni Stuarts Point RFS. Together, Australians like these have raised millions of dollars to support survivors and the RFS, and for that I say thank you.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge our amazing charity sector. Before Christmas I visited the Foodbank New South Wales processing centre in Western Sydney and saw its fantastic volunteers in action. They were busy then and they are even busier now. They are continuing to deliver relief to those people on the ground who need it most. Thank you to Foodbank and to every single charity that has risen above and beyond in the face of this crisis, and, of course, to their donors and supporters.

I want to offer a similar acknowledgement to people from a variety of faith and cultural backgrounds who have pulled together to offer hope and support—organisations like Turbans 4 Australia, which organised a convoy of trucks to deliver food to the South Coast of New South Wales under the motto 'Mates helping mates'. I also want to acknowledge the Sydney Murugan Temple and Kamban Kazhagam Australia, who raised over $20,000 for the New South Wales RFS at their respective fundraising dinners. Special mention should also go to the Kerala Friends Club Northwest Sydney, who sponsored with Foodbank to collect non-perishable items across locations in Stanhope Gardens, Kellyville Ridge, Riverstone, Schofields, The Ponds, Quakers Hill, Marayong and Blacktown—such a tremendous effort. I thank all of you for showing your leadership during this time.

I also commend the work of our media sector in providing emergency broadcasting, information and extensive coverage of the bushfires over these difficult months. Print and online media made bushfire related coverage freely available. Television broadcasters delivered live Auslan interpretations of up-to-the-minute emergency information. And radio broadcasters provided vital warnings and updates, including when all other means of communication were down as a result of fire damage to infrastructure such as powerlines and mobile phone towers. The tireless efforts of our public broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, and our community broadcasters as well as local commercial radio stations have been, and continue to be, central to the emergency management effort.

Local radio stations, in particular, support their communities before, during and after the threat of fire. They provide the latest updates from authorities and advise which roads are closed and which shops remain open. They reconnect families who become separated. They become drop-off points for donations and they host community fundraisers. Interestingly, ABC Friends National recently released the interim report of a survey of ABC emergency broadcasting in bushfire affected communities, which found that over 90 per cent of respondents said that this coverage was important to them during the crisis. We pay tribute to the many staff and volunteers in the media sector for their service to the nation.

I want to acknowledge the significant commitment of the telco sector, including Telstra, Optus, NBN Co and Vodafone. They have worked tirelessly over the bushfire season to restore the availability of networks across the country and help communities regain access to essential telco services. As is often the case with natural disasters, these unprecedented bushfires—in both their duration and intensity—have had a significant impact on infrastructure and service availability. I acknowledge the industry for their efforts to provide updates about network impact and thank them for the constructive discussions we have had in recent weeks, in particular, about the issues and learnings which can inform future preparations.

The member for Macquarie and I visited various communities across the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury who had to grapple with mobile towers and local exchanges losing power, and instances where infrastructure had been destroyed and would require a rebuild. At Telstra's global operations centre in Melbourne, I saw firsthand the professionalism and sophistication with which Telstra mobilises resources and assets across the company to manage natural disasters. There is undoubtedly room for improvement in making telecommunications networks more resilient and ensuring that services for the community are restored more quickly. Nonetheless, it must be said that Australia is fortunate to have a telecommunications sector with such an embedded commitment to public safety during times of natural disaster.

I want to conclude by acknowledging the tireless efforts of the emergency service personnel, volunteers and Australian Defence Force members and reserves. You are truly heroes. You gave up time with your own families to keep at-risk communities safe over Christmas and the New Year. You put yourself in danger and, in some instances, abandoned your own properties to defend those of your neighbours. Your selfless service and willingness to defend complete strangers in some of the most horrifying conditions make us all proud to be Australian. Thank you in particular to the Schofields Rural Fire Brigade in my electorate, which last year celebrated its 75th anniversary. For all that time, you have been keeping Western Sydney safe. We are deeply grateful for all that you do, and you are truly the very best of Greenway.

Finally, to those firefighters who lost their lives keeping us safe: we are forever in your debt. On behalf of my community, I extend my condolences to the families and loved ones of these brave heroes. Words cannot describe the pain and heartache you must feel, but I hope you take some comfort in the knowledge that we grieve together as Australians. The heroism of your loved ones will never be forgotten.