Last week my region was ravaged by fires. The fires came in the dark of night, when horrific howling winds were at their peak, gusting over 100 kilometres an hour. The smell of smoke made me look outside, and all I could see was a red fire glow on the horizon and the winds bringing it our way. I want to give my personal thanks to the emergency services who have worked tirelessly to make sure the community was safe. Properties and possessions have been lost, but no lives were lost. However, many have lost their livelihoods and need our support. I am incredibly proud of the way my community has responded. From the first thing, people were there to help. There were offers of food to help the volunteers who spent 13 and 14 hours on the backup tankers to keep the community safe. Over 1000 volunteers dropped everything to form a defence against the fire front.
But many in my community are upset. Mobile phone coverage let us down badly, making it impossible to get information. They are also upset with bureaucratic processes, which at times seemed to overtake common sense and created issues when it came to the emergency response. For example, when the fuel ran out at the Hawkesdale fire shed, volunteers had to go through a Melbourne-centred bureaucratic process to get a delivery. The result was that tankers were being driven 31 kilometres down the road to the nearest petrol station, being filled up and returning to the fire front a quarter of a tank lighter instead of being brought back full. I understand that there have to be rules and regulations, but common sense, local knowledge and experience cannot be ignored, particularly in times of emergency. It disgusts me that this very week the Andrews Labor government are pushing a bill through the upper house which destroys Country Fire Authority volunteerism when the south-west fires have not even cooled.