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Speech: Victims of the bushfires can't wait

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 15 Jun 2020

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. The devastating bushfires of last summer ripped through communities across the country. Lives were lost, livelihoods were lost, acres upon acres of bush was lost in flames, and more than a billion animals were killed. I travelled up and down my state of New South Wales and heard tragic heartbreaking stories from people who have lost loved ones, lost homes and lost businesses they have built from scratch. Many talk about the intensity of the fires and how climate change is at the forefront of their minds, about how the climate crisis has fuelled the bushfires and about how angry they are at the Morrison government for not taking action.

It's been six months since the height of the fires, and people are not getting the support they need and they are not getting it fast enough. And now they are dealing with the devastation left by the bushfires and the pandemic all rolled into one. And yet this government is trying to lead us backwards. The government and the COVID commission talk about a gas led recovery. While it might be exactly what the Liberal Party's donors are after, doubling down on fossil fuels would be no recovery at all. It would take us further away from the targets that we desperately must meet to avoid the worst of the climate catastrophe. It is criminally irresponsible. Not only is the government planning to double down on carbon emissions, but they haven't even had the decency or the ability to follow through on the promise of support for bushfire victims. We watched the apocalyptic scenes unfold in real time this summer. It is now an entirely unavoidable truth, even for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, that the climate crisis is already here. Catastrophes like these fires, the drought, the floods, the extinction events and the water shortages will keep happening as the climate crisis intensifies—more frequently and more ferociously.

On the weekend, I met with people in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, which bore the brunt of so much damage during the bushfires. In February, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported that the fires had burnt 365,000 hectares in the Bega Valley and 270,000 hectares in Eurobodalla. That is 58 per cent of the Bega Valley's land mass and 79 per cent of Eurobodalla. People are trying their best, of course, to rebuild. They are showing real courage and resilience, but they need support.

There is soon to be a by-election in Eden-Monaro, and the bushfires and climate are at the top of the minds of people in that electorate. They want investment in their communities because they know that we can recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we can rebuild after the bushfires and we can tackle the climate crisis. While we are doing that, we can also create thousands of much-needed jobs in our communities. We could choose an investment-led recovery plan, where we rebuild an economy that actually helps people by constructing public housing, by providing caring roles in the community in the public sector, by vital post-bushfire environmental restoration jobs and by jobs in renewable energy. We have the means to do this; we just need the political will.

The psychological trauma and devastating economic and environmental impacts of these fires won't be forgotten in Eden-Monaro or, in fact, across the country. But in Eden-Monaro people have a real opportunity to send a strong message to the Morrison government on 4 July and to reset the political agenda to one that actually works for people, not for the fossil fuel vested interests that have so influenced this government. I hope that they use their democratic right to do exactly that. It is simply unacceptable and cruel that the government is sitting on resources so needed by bushfire affected communities. People need support now. Victims of the bushfires can't wait, and neither can our climate or our planet.

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