Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie has told the House of Representatives in Canberra that every area needs a designated emergency centre.
Federal MPs used the first day of Parliament to mourn, honour and reflect on the devastation of the bushfires so far. Dr Gillespie said that on November 8, his electorate became the epicentre of a ferocious bushfire season that hit the region and continued across the nation incredibly hard.
250,000 hectares were wiped out, including 100 homes, Bobin Public School, and many businesses, and sadly, one Johns River resident died. The Rainbow Flat Rural Fire Service building and three bridges were also destroyed.
Further north, in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area, 37 homes were destroyed or damaged. Facilities included a couple of sawmills, two bridges and 68 outbuildings. More than 500 rural landholders had their properties impacted in some way.
"After the fires, the recovery has commenced," he said.
"But the true recovery will only commence when people see the burnt-out buildings being cleared and removed and the new buildings literally rising from the ashes. The accepted feelings are and have been that, even though this has been really devastating for so many people, it could have been so much worse.
"We were lucky when our fires came through, because it wasn't as hot as it has become over the height of summer and because of all the forces that were marshalled into MidCoast and Hastings, and then up into the Coffs Harbour region. If the fires had started simultaneously with what's been happening on the South Coast, it would have been totally overwhelming and the losses would have been far greater," he said.
"Whether they are RFS or SES volunteers, council workers or people volunteering their help and support in Rotary and Lions clubs, so many people are so grateful to so many people who put their lives on hold to come and help."
Dr Gillespie paid tribute to visiting firefighters from around Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to the Australian Defence Force, to BlazeAid, local charities, councils, service club, schools and tradies, and people who acted bravely and selflessly to fight the fires, and to support people devastated by the blazes.
"I also think of a local Wauchope volunteer firefighter, Ryan Channells, who, despite being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer only a day before the major bushfires struck, went out to fight fires and help save many, many homes and properties because he thought he would just prefer to help other people, and that's what firefighters do.
"Heavy smoke had clogged the local area for months beforehand, because, before the devastating fires, we'd had a couple of peat fires in dried-out wetlands. The electorate was really grateful for the support it got from the Prime Minister and emergency services and from the Premier, who visited," said the Lyne MP.
"I can say that the speed of the response from the Commonwealth services during this bushfire crisis was exceptional. We've seen other natural disasters take weeks to get a disaster declaration and an emergency declaration passed through the machinery of local government, to state and to federal, but these processes were completed by the Sunday after the fires had started," added Dr Gillespie.
He said local country halls are a treasure for the community and often the epicentre of the recovery effort. He said the government's rollout of $100m in assistance for farm, fishery and forestry businesses was really appreciated. He said they all should have battery-powered radio contact, a diesel generator, satellite phones, and emergency refrigeration.
"MidCoast Council and Port Macquarie-Hastings Council-have both been helped with the up-front $1 million emergency payments. Also, many small businesses are going through the work of obtaining the financial assistance that the Commonwealth has put up, including low-interest loans and cash payments for affected businesses. Many volunteers have accessed the $300-a-day payment, because many of them have done weeks-months now-of service as volunteers."
Dr Gillespie said the mental health issues from these bushfires will linger, and the support they will need through the beyondblue initiative and other mental health agencies that the PHNs are running will be really important, because the scars will linger for a long time.
"What we learned in this fire crisis was that the number, the extent and the breadth of the fires were overwhelming state capabilities and local capabilities. What we have to remember is that we here in Canberra can't do it all," said the Lyne MP.
"I'm advocating that every area should have a designated emergency centre, because we've had massive floods on the north coast in the last few years where whole townships were isolated, like Bulahdelah, and showgrounds become an emergency gathering spot. A lot of horses and animals that were saved from certain death had to go somewhere.
"The caretakers of the Wauchope Showground - impromptu, without any organisation - turned themselves into a constant holding bay for all these evacuated animals."
He said the timber industry needed to recover from this disaster, and that the knock-on effect of the bushfires on tourism has been devastating. He called on everyone to take a three-day break in a bushfire-affected area.
Dr Gillespie said Indigenous burning practices made life a lot safer for the Indigenous people and our flora and fauna benefit from regular low-level burns.
"There are so many things we can learn from the Indigenous in this regard. The old foresters and the old graziers all used to look after their bit of bush on their land. It was common practice every winter for landholders to put a little fire through their stand of trees or the 20 or 30 acres of forest that hadn't been cleared because it protected their property.
"It also helped keep weed and invasive species down, because after a fire the native species flourish quicker. The smoke after a fire actually causes the seeds to open. For the last 40,000 to 60,000 years or more, Mother Nature has included Indigenous practices. The idea that we lock our national parks up and leave them to nature doesn't protect species.
"You've now seen many threatened species, unfortunately, die because the fire is so big and so large and the forest litter hasn't been cleared. The natural history is that low-level fire regularly through these areas will help the forest, not take it out like these supercell fires do," he added.
"We should take note of and learn from what has been observed in former royal commissions. There have been so many royal commissions after bushfire crises. All the recommendations are a recurring feature, and we need to take stock of them. If they had been followed, we wouldn't be in the situation we are in now.
"The areas are so large and have been built up so much with forest litter and debris, and road access has been lost because national parks have been locked up that it is very hard for anyone in the middle of winter to do a controlled burn. You need access roads to do that, and you need to do it low level and regularly," said Dr Gillespie.