Main Image

03 November 2020

The final report from the Bushfire Royal Commission is another emotional trigger for the fraternity of deeply traumatised bushfire communities across Australia.

The communities I serve in Eden-Monaro stand with country towns right across our wide brown land – many of which still bare the scars of the Black Summer of 2019/20.

Some bushfire survivors won’t want to face this report right now – their headspace and internal coping mechanisms just won’t allow it.

And we need to respect that. For a moment, walk in the shoes of a bushfire survivor.

Imagine that the gates of hell have opened on you, your family and your home – nothing is left, and you feel lucky to be alive.

You overcome the uncomfortable need to ask for help and are required to register with different government agencies in order to access assistance – telling your story of horror, loss and grief over and over again.

You wait for an overwhelmed system and public service to respond, all while you work out how to restart your life or business.

Figuring out the intricacies of the rebuilding and planning process, while you live in a caravan with no water or sewerage connection.

Where will your next meal come from and how will you cook it?

New government programs are announced along the way; incentives like the Home Builder Bonus. But given the unworkable 31 December deadline and the myriad of building decisions to navigate (not to mention the deep despair you continue to feel) you realise you will miss out.

One morning, you wake to news of another bushfire season, not realising the last one had even ended.

The days are warming up and your anxiety rises with it.

These are difficult shoes to walk in.

So while I understand that many survivors simply can’t face this report at this time, those who can, and those of us with a responsibility to serve, need to bear witness to the experiences of these survivors and commit ourselves to the action that must follow.

The truth is that many in our community of Eden-Monaro didn’t want this Royal Commission.

It was announced while tree stumps were still smoldering in the ground; and the immediate reaction I had was – not another bushfire inquiry.

One of my predecessors as Member for Eden-Monaro, Gary Nairn, oversaw the House of Representatives report entitled ‘A Nation Charred’, which focused on the four million hectares burnt across the six Australian states and territories in the summer of 2003.

Mr Nairn’s report is just one of more than 240 formal analyses completed since 1927, resulting in thousands of findings and recommendations.

Now that we have the findings of yet another bushfire inquiry, it would be more than unforgivable not to act.

As one bushfire survivor described it to me this week on the lawns of Parliament House - it would be criminal not to act.

My big fear is that the destruction wreaked upon so many communities and what needs to be done will be lost and forgotten in the glare of the COVID-19 spotlight.

We’ve already heard this government use the pandemic as an excuse not to address critical work, but more than that is the real-world experience of people at Towamba, Tumbarumba, Bombay and Cobargo.

At a time when these communities, and many like them, wanted and needed to come together in the aftermath of these fires; COVID-19 stopped them.

No hugs, no cups of tea, no community meetings, no formal support services – all sidelined by the need to control the spread of this frightening disease. 

COVID-19 has taken time, attention and effort away from these shattered communities across Australia.

Now is our chance to truly turn the spotlight back onto bushfire-affected communities.

More than 1,700 submissions were made to this Royal Commission – those people and their often-heartbreaking experiences can’t be for nothing.

While much has been achieved since those terrifying fires bore down on us; so much more work is needed.

We may have rolled our eyes at the need for this Royal Commission, but now that this tremendous body of work has been done – it needs to be fully acknowledged and its recommendations realised.

This document is now our document, it belongs to the communities left charred and scarred by bushfire.

Those impacted need to see action because otherwise disaster will strike time and time again to another person, another family, another community.

The Prime Minister was late to show up during the crisis and his Government has been too slow to assist ever since.

It will cost money; it will be hard work – but the experiences of our Black Summer must count for something.

Artwork: 'Burnt Gums' by 5 year old Ottilie Richardson of Towamba Public School