Australian Bushfires

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (12:09): It gives me no great pleasure, of course, to be here speaking on this condolence motion, but it gives me a great deal of pride. The bushfires have taken a terrible toll in this nation, and for six days now members of this parliament from across the political spectrum have been on their feet to talk about the great sacrifice—one would have hoped an unnecessary sacrifice, but a great sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice—made by so many people who gave their lives in service of their nation. Indeed, it was not just their nation; we had those visiting airmen from the US who came to give a hand here in Australia and lost their lives as a result. So we pay great tribute to them.

It's also an opportunity for us to pay tribute to the many thousands of Australians who have helped during this terrible summer of bushfires across the nation, from the east coast to the west coast and down into Tasmania. We've had our small share. Luckily there have been no fatalities in Tasmania this year, but we've certainly had our share of bushfires. There are thousands of volunteers who support our firefighters and our emergency services personnel. We've got to give a shout-out to the people who make the sandwiches or donate the funds, including the children who have created donation funds. A young man in Hobart was raising funds for bushfire relief out the front of his house, and I came across his Facebook posts because it used to be my house. I don't know the family but I did have a little sense of pride. It is wonderful that a house I used to own is now lived in by a wonderful young boy and his family who have gone out of their way to do their small part to help the relief effort.

It's been an incredible time this summer, a terrible summer in terms of loss, but this summer has also shown the Australian spirit at its very best. I know many members and senators have spoken about this, about how this terrible tragedy, this terrible event in Australia—not the first and certainly not the last—has helped forged a greater Australian spirit. Australians have come together in their millions to pay tribute to and to support our firefighters and our emergency services personnel. The comedian Celeste Barber has overseen an outpouring of support for bushfire relief—$30 million, I think, at last look, in $5 and $10 donations from Australians, many of whom are doing it tough themselves but are putting their hand in their pocket to do their small part to help this incredible national relief effort. We pay tribute to them.

In my electorate I've got fire brigades who have helped out in the fires that have broken out not just in my electorate but across Tasmania. But brigades who have been fighting fires in Tasmania—and this is not a unique story; I know that—have travelled from Tasmania to the mainland to help out here. Just last week, indeed, Rick Birch and his team from the Orielton fire brigade and the Tea Tree fire brigade were out on the South Coast, down Batemans Bay way and around Bega, doing their bit. I'm pleased to say they were caught up in the rain, so they probably had a little bit of an easier time of it than they were expecting, and I'm sure they would have very much welcomed that. They have now flown back to Tasmania. But here I was in Canberra for work here, and there Rick and the team from Tasmania were, volunteering—not being paid but volunteering—to come and fight fires for their fellow Australians.

I pay tribute to all those who have done such magnificent work over this summer—the volunteers, the support personnel, the men, women and children of Australia. I know this has consumed people over the summer. Lessons are to be learned out of it. We do hope that next summer we'll be better prepared and that we can acknowledge that this is probably here to stay and perhaps have a better nationally coordinated response. That is absolutely no criticism of the fire and emergency services organisations that we have now, but I certainly think we can do much better in terms of resourcing those organisations and those people to make sure they have every single bit of support they need. I say thank you to all those volunteers and personnel over the summer and for the next few weeks and months ahead. On behalf of the people of Lyons, thank you.