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Statement on the Bushfires in Bradfield
I rise today to speak on the devastating bushfires that have been impacting much of New South Wales and Queensland and indeed other states over several weeks. Our emergency services have once again shown their skill, dedication and courage in the face of very difficult conditions. I thank all of the career and volunteer emergency services personnel who have been fighting these fires. Our government's first concern is for the safety and needs of those directly affected, particularly those who have lost their homes and, worse still, have lost loved ones. Although conditions have eased, the threat is not over yet. Elevated fire danger conditions will continue over the fire grounds in north-east New South Wales and South-East Queensland. As we've seen, these fires can flare up quickly, and I urge people to stay informed and monitor conditions.
I want to speak about the impact of the recent fires in my electorate of Bradfield. On the afternoon of Tuesday 12 November, residents of South Turramurra received an abrupt and unpleasant reminder of how vulnerable to bushfires the North Shore of Sydney can be. Thanks to the quick response from the Hornsby/Ku-ring-gai Rural Fire Service, the fire in South Turramurra was contained within one hour and spanned only five hectares. Two strike teams comprising five trucks were deployed to handle the fire, while two aircraft and one air tanker brought the fire under control from the air. The impact of the air tanker in particular was extremely impressive. The fire caused minimal damage to houses; some houses suffered minor damage as fires reached their roof cavities.
Let me express my thanks on behalf of all of the residents of Bradfield to Inspector Rolf Poole and all of the team at the Hornsby/Ku-ring-gai Rural Fire Service for their work on this occasion and for the ongoing service they provide to our community. As the Prime Minister observed on his visit to the fire affected communities across New South Wales and, indeed, other parts of Australia, Australians are at their best at difficult moments like this. They show great spirit, heart and generosity.
Only a few streets away from the fire the Guru Nanak Gurudwara Turramurra Sikh Temple was preparing to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary for Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru of Sikhs and the founder of the Sikh faith. Many Sikhs from across Sydney were coming to Sydney for these celebrations. Mr Pritpal Singh Bhatia, a resident of South Turramurra and member of the Turramurra Sikh Temple, evacuated from his home and went to the temple to inform other members of what was going on. When Harbir Bhatia, Pritpal's brother and president of the North Shore Sikh Association of Sydney, heard what was happening he said, 'It just clicked that there are volunteers and other firefighting professionals who are working hard to save the properties and putting their own lives at risk. Let us do what our religion teaches us—at least give them some food and water.'
A team of men and women from the temple began to pack langar, a community lunch, for those who were fighting the fires. Three types of rice and vegetarian curries were packed, water bags were picked up and two cars were driven back towards the evacuation zone to distribute the food to the firefighters. It did not take long before a continuous supply chain was set up between the temple and the firefighters, as more vehicles and volunteers with food and water were dispatched. Supplies were also offered to local residents who had evacuated from their homes. May I say that, having myself had the opportunity on more than one occasion to enjoy a delicious meal at the Turramurra Sikh Temple after visiting there for a service, the food is remarkable. I'm sure everybody who was privileged to enjoy it had their spirits lifted.
Many volunteers from the Sikh temple helped on the day. Not all can be named, but there are a few people I would like to single out in particular: Harbir Pal Singh Bhatia, Pritpal Singh Bhatia, Tejinder Singh, Parneet Singh Bhatia, Charanjeet Singh, Devpal Singh, Sehajdeep Singh, Manjit Singh Sidhu, Satinder Singh, Amarjit Bhatia, Jessie Bhatti, Neelu Singh and Ichha Kaur Mannat Kaur.
It continues to be the case, of course, that fires are burning across large parts of north-east New South Wales and in other parts of Australia. These fires have now burnt through more than 1.4 million hectares in New South Wales. As at 8:30 this morning 129 fires were still burning across the state. Firefighters have faced extremely demanding conditions over these past weeks. Dozens of people have been injured, including many firefighters. Tragically, four people have lost their lives as a result of these fires, and I express my sympathies to their families and loved ones at this difficult time.
Evacuation centres in New South Wales remain activated to support fire-affected communities. More than 1,600 firefighters and support personnel, along with 95 aircraft, have been battling these fires. Can I inform my community in Bradfield that there are a number of supports available to those affected by bushfires. For those in the Ku-ring-gai local government area, the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, jointly funded by the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments, have been activated. This assistance is administered by the New South Wales government. Anyone in need of assistance should contact the New South Wales government Disaster Welfare Assistance Line on 1800 018 444.
The Australian government's disaster recovery allowance has also been activated for the Ku-ring-gai area. This payment is a short-term income support payment to assist individuals who have experienced a loss of income as a direct result of the bushfires.
Anyone who has been adversely affected by the bushfires in New South Wales can contact the Department of Human Services and test their eligibility for the payment. Let me also take this opportunity to note that only two weeks after the electorate of Bradfield experienced an emergency bushfire warning, our community was yesterday battered by a severe hailstorm, causing significant damage to homes and property and creating extensive blackouts. Ku-ring-gai SES volunteers are actively responding to over 500 requests for assistance. I would like to express my gratitude to Unit Controller David Catterall and all of the volunteers who sacrificed their time to help our community in this time of need. I spoke to Mr Catterall today, and he informed me that SES units from our local area, supported by some from surrounding regions, started work shortly after the storm hit yesterday and were still going at midnight last night, before being back at work this morning. If you require assistance in a storm related emergency, you are encouraged to call the SES on 132500. Of course, if it's a life-threatening emergency, please contact triple 0.
I conclude by thanking all who have worked to respond to the threat of bushfires and other natural disasters over recent weeks. I thank them for their courage and for their service to our community.