Bushfires & Local Government

(Question Time, 12 November 2019, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

 

Mr ALEX GREENWICH (Sydney) (15:07:52): My question is directed to the Minister for Local Government. How are local councils supporting communities impacted by the bushfires?

 

Mrs SHELLEY HANCOCK (South CoastMinister for Local Government) (15:08:08): I thank the member for Sydney for that very sensible question—as all the questions have been today—and for the care that he is showing for all the members affected and their communities today and over the past few weeks. The question indicated that bushfires are not an issue that divides city and country at all. I know that the member for Sydney and other members who traditionally feel safe in events such as these bushfires are thinking of the rest of us, including the members who are not here today because they are in their electorates doing what they can. We all do that when we are facing bushfires.

I note the contribution made by councils. Many local councils, the City of Sydney in particular, are indicating that they are going to direct some of their resources to bushfire efforts. I am grateful for the Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney and her council for doing that. It is important that people living in the city can do something. People want to do something but they do not quite know what to do. It is up to councils that are not so affected by bushfires to try to direct as many of their resources as possible to help. Water trucks and waste water trucks are being directed to bushfire-affected areas.

The other 128 councils throughout the State do what they can on a daily basis to deal with bushfires. Preparedness for bushfires does not happen in only the one or two weeks before an event when we know it is coming but throughout the year. Councils are at the forefront of organising their emergency management committees. All areas have those committees. As the Premier said earlier, this is where we bring together all the government agencies, including the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and—in my case—Surf Life Saving NSW, Marine Rescue, the RSPCA and Family and Community Services. I have visited many of those agencies in the Shoalhaven area. They all come together and cooperate. That is what is happening out on the firegrounds—all of those agencies are coming together. I know they have done that.

Those of us living in affected areas—including the member for Kiama, the member for Heathcote, the member for Goulburn and myself—are now dealing with a catastrophic fire risk. Being here does not feel very good for many of us. We would rather be home doing everything we can, but the business of government goes on. We will go if we need to go. Very often when we turn up at our emergency evacuation centres it is the councils that are leading the way to set up some of those recovery centres—along with the clubs that we heard about earlier. They are doing what they can. There are 55,000 people employed in local government and all of them are doing what they can. Who do we often see on the television at night and who do we often hear on the radio? The mayors of the councils, talking about their areas. They often know best about their areas, where the fires are and where the fires are going. They talk about what they can do.

I pay tribute to the extraordinary leadership of the Premier over the last few not only days but also weeks. I thank also the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and the Deputy Premier for their extraordinary dedication to regional New South Wales. I pay extraordinary tribute to Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service Shane Fitzsimmons. I know the commissioner very well because the Shoalhaven has experienced bushfires on a pretty serious scale in the past. He has a handle on where the fires are and what they are likely to do. He shows strength, commitment and dedication in the face of enormous uncertainty. I am sure the commissioner will not be listening, but hopefully sometime in the future he will hear this shout-out from everybody in the Parliament to him and the leadership he has shown. He will continue his work in the days, weeks, months and years ahead—as the Premier said—as we head towards recovery.

These are serious events but, as I said before, local councils are at the forefront of leadership. I am heartened to know that the City of Sydney, which would normally consider itself immune from these events, is not isolating itself from the solutions. It will be involved. I reiterate what the Minister for Police and Emergency Services said that there have been no budget cuts. The commissioner pointed that out yesterday. I noticed an extraordinary tweet by NSW Labor in the past 20 minutes. I reiterate that RFS will receive a 12.9 per cent increase to its budget. Fire and Rescue is receiving an additional $51.9 million increase to its budget. There are significant increases to budgets. Apart from that, the Government has purchased extraordinary equipment in preparation. I ask NSW Labor to take the tweet down. It is misleading the community and it is a lie.