International Day for Disaster Reduction

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (12:29): I rise to support the motion:

That this house—

(a) recognises that Saturday 13 October is International Day for Disaster Reduction;

(b) expresses its appreciation to all emergency services workers, professional and volunteer, who work so hard to protect our community throughout our state; and

(c) calls on the state government to work with our emergency services to ensure that they are adequately resourced to prevent and respond to natural disasters.

I am a Country Fire Service member myself, as are many members. I would also like to acknowledge, as the member for Flinders did, the millions of extra dollars that we are pouring into fire safety in this state to provide better facilities for some fire stations, including the one at Tailem Bend. I know there are some down at the South-East in the member for MacKillop's electorate. These are much needed.

As well as that, as I saw in media reports the other night, the upgraded fleet of more planes and more services for our aeronautical battle against bushfire have really changed the fight against bushfire in this state. I would like to acknowledge the contribution that Bob McCabe, who started down in Tintinara and now has a base in the Hills as well, his family, his staff and crew make towards keeping this state safe. Over time we have had the Elvis helicopters come in. Things have really improved since the terrible events in 1983 on Ash Wednesday.

Certainly I know family members of people who perished in that fire, especially down in the South-East. It was a terrible fire, ripping through the Adelaide Hills and also down the South-East. We did not have the aircraft resources we have now and certainly did not have a lot of the capabilities that our modern firetrucks have now. We had a few Bedfords running around and that sort of thing, but they were not carrying the water loads. Now we have 34s or 44s, with 3,000 or 4,000-litre carrying capacity. I know we have one each of those at the Coomandook brigade, with one stationed at Ki Ki. We also have a 9,000-litre water tanker in the shed at Coomandook as well.

We have heard about the terrible fires in 1983 and the savage and terrible loss of life of 28 people. Several of those people were firefighters. A local farmer at Coonalpyn, Ken Lutze, who has since passed on but I know his son very well, survived the fire. He was out trying to plough firebreaks, getting in front of the onslaught of the fire, and he got caught. He only survived because he jumped in a sheep trough. I was very intrigued to hear the story from the member for Mount Gambier about a man who survived just by piling sheep carcasses on top of himself. The lengths people go to survive are just fantastic. I know Ken suffered the after-effects of that fire until the day he left us. He was still with us for many years, but I believe it probably shortened his life.

It just goes to show how terrible these fires are. We look at what happened with the Wangary fire and the very sad loss of life there. I heard the chilling story about the young kids who were lost in the ute, and it tears your heart out. It just goes to show that you cannot take anything for granted, and that is why you have to have your facilities up to speed. As those of us who live in the bush all know, you cannot rely just on the emergency services. Until about 19 or 20 years ago, I used to have only an 800-litre fire tank on my mobile fire cart. Now I have 4,600 litres. I really upgraded, but it is handy. It is on a trailer, and if I hook it up to a decent tractor I am not held back by anything bar heavy scrub.

So, yes, people do have to look after themselves, but we also have to have those adequately resourced capabilities of the Country Fire Service, the Metropolitan Fire Service and, obviously, our environment department, which has a fire service as well. Many fires start out in Ngarkat Conservation Park, which goes from my electorate through to the electorate of the member for MacKillop and seems to attract lightning strikes pretty well, with tens of thousands of hectares being burnt out at any single time in Ngarkat towards the Victorian border. Certainly there have been plenty of times when the CFS, local farmers and environment department firefighters have worked hard to contain those blazes.

I think that things have really got better in acknowledging what we need to do with regard to decent firebreaks and bringing that big roll around. I know that at Keith they have some excellent machinery stationed there for action in big park fires or scrub fires. To be frank, sometimes it is better to knock a bit down to save the rest.

There was a fire—and I have spoken about it in this place before—close to around 12 years ago now, maybe more, that came out of Ngarkat. Everyone knew it was coming and was heading towards the Mallee Highway. I believe that it was a Sunday morning. It was going to come out with about 90 to 100 km/h winds. The question was whether we do a burn-back and stop the fire coming out of the scrub and burning farmland because the line of defence was to be the Mallee Highway near Lameroo.

My thoughts were that the burn-back should have been done for a lot of reasons. There was some nervousness about lighting up heritage scrub, but there are protections in the act if people do that and, quite frankly, it would have been the most sensible thing to do to save not only some of the park but also farmland because, guess what, as predicted, that was not done and the fire burst out of the park and raced through farmland, putting much property and lives at risk, but it was eventually pulled up. We have to be practical as well. We have to acknowledge the real risks and not tie ourselves in knots about the consequences of taking what should be the most sensible action on the day.

With regard to other recent fires like Pinery and Sampson Flat, Pinery was a real example not only of fire but also of what farmers can produce in a pretty good year. There were a lot of wall-to-wall crops from the Pinery area right through to the Gawler area. It is only when you drive through later that you realise that the fire had actually jumped the four lanes of highway near Gawler and that Gawler was the next town, not that far from here. It would have been horrendous if that fire had torn into the streets of Gawler. We can imagine the potential loss of life and property.

I commend the work of all our emergency services personnel, who are certainly pushed to the limit. I think, with the resources we have now and the extra money we are putting in as the Marshall Liberal government, things will be better in future, but we can never be complacent. Those of us who have lived with fire, fought fire and also used fire as a tool know that you can never be complacent because, if you do not watch it, it will not be your tool: it will be your enemy. It will not be your friend: it will be your enemy. Even though we have better equipment, I salute the training people go through and the commitment and time that everyone puts in to keeping safe not only our properties but also our lives.