Bushfire and environmental protection failure

Published on Mon 15 February 2021 10:42am

It’s bewildering that in these circumstances, the government has no interest in acting to address Australia’s failed environmental protection framework. Instead it seeks to maintain the status quo –a weak and ineffective set of national standards, with no monitoring and compliance agency to enforce them.

Mr Wilson (10:42am) – Last summer’s unprecedented bush fires – our first national climate change disaster – were of course concentrated in Victoria and New South Wales.

While there were significant fires in Western Australia, including blazes in Cape Arid and Stirling Ranges National Parks, we were fortunate that last summer human communities in Western Australia were little affected.

This summer we’ve not been that fortunate. There have been numerous fires that have threatened residential suburbs, including in Cockburn in my electorate, and of course the fire that raged through the Perth hills a fortnight ago that was devastating for those communities.

Eighty-six homes were destroyed as the result of an inferno that tore through 11,000 hectares. Power was cut to 600 residential and business premises, it’s estimated the damages bill will run to more than $40 million.

Deputy Speaker, as you will know, the response from fire and emergency services was incredible – and the conduct of community members in terms of following advice and supporting one another was crucial facing that emergency. Since that time the outpouring of support from the wider Perth community, especially through the Lord Mayor’s Relief Fund, has shown exactly the kind of solidarity and generosity of spirit that we rightly value as part of our character in WA and in Australia more broadly.

I particularly want to acknowledge the 500 professional and volunteer firefighters, and the SES volunteers, without whose work we may well have seen loss of life, and we certainly would have seen much greater loss of homes and natural habitat.

I know that volunteer firefighters from my electorate, coordinated through the Jandakot and South Coogee Bushfire Brigades, put in some 800 hours of work in hot, blustery, scary, exhausting conditions over the course of 12 days.

And I say thank you to all those people.

I am glad these efforts ensured the fire didn’t affect the two critical sanctuaries, Karakamia and Paruna, that are operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy in the Perth hills. Our biodiversity is in such a bad state that we really cannot afford to see these vitally protective ‘exclosures’ harmed.

It should be a reminder that the climate change disaster we saw last year in eastern Australia resulted in the scorching of 12 million hectares and the loss of 3 billion Australian animals. We already have so many species close to extinction – these fire events that can push endangered animals close to the brink.

It’s bewildering that in these circumstances, the government has no interest in acting to address Australia’s failed environmental protection framework. Instead it seeks to maintain the status quo –a weak and ineffective set of national standards, with no monitoring and compliance agency to enforce them. And that’s despite the clear recommendations by Dr Graeme Samuel, who was appointed by the government to lead reform of the EPBC.

Deputy Speaker, the fires in WA, which coincided with a COVID-19 lockdown, have made it a very difficult start to 2021 for the communities that you and I and our fellow colleagues represent.

But Western Australians have faced those challenges by living up to our values; by showing great resilience and forbearance; by supporting and caring for one another; and facing dark days together with as much energy and laconic good humour as possible.

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