How the bushfire emergency threatens our unique ecology


More than a billion animals have been killed by fires across the country, with thousands of hectares of habitat destroyed. We need a climate and environment policy that is fit for the crisis we’re in.

By Sarah Hanson-Young

It’s been a horrific few months with climate fires burning across the country since September. The new year only brought more horror – and there's still two months of summer to go.

I have taken so much heart from the wonderful community spirit that has shone during this crisis. With fire having torn through my family’s property in East Gippsland, I experienced firsthand the shared grief, anger and determination. People have banded together, volunteered, donated and given each other a shoulder to cry on.

I went to Kangaroo Island in the first week of January. The fire-ravaged landscape looks like a warzone. Homes destroyed, lives torn apart, forest decimated and dead animals everywhere.

Communities are in shock. We have never seen anything like this and we weren't prepared for it. Locals and firies on Kangaroo Island told me the ferocity and intensity of these fires were like nothing else. It is as if the landscape has been vaporised. My own dad said to me, “we’ve had fires before but nothing like this”. This is what scientists and fire experts warned the government of. Tragically, these predictions have come to pass.

On Kangaroo Island, like in other fire-ravaged areas, there are immediate needs for emergency relief for people who have lost loved ones, homes and jobs. Firefighters and volunteers are bracing for the next wave of dangerous weather. But alongside the short-term needs, people are telling me they want policies and actions that will make our climate safer and protect our environment.

Our role in the crisis

As the Greens’ Environment spokesperson, I am doing all I can to put our movement at the front of this national push to protect our native wildlife and precious places. Through my role as Chair of the Senate's Environment Committee, I will move for the Faunal Extinction Inquiry to examine the impact of the catastrophic fires across the country on endangered wildlife and flora. The already-established Inquiry gives the Parliament an opportunity to immediately get on with what needs to be done to protect our native fauna and flora in the wake of the fires.

Before the fires started, Australia already had one of the worst extinction rates in the world. Now, more than a billion animals have been killed by fires across the country and thousands of hectares of habitat destroyed – and we are only halfway through summer. We don’t have time to waste.

Species like the Kangaroo Island dunnart and black glossy cockatoo, koalas, and even mainland quokkas in WA, have been killed, injured and suffered huge losses to their critical habitat. I know so many of us are feeling heartbroken by this suffering and understand the actions needed to prevent it from happening again and again.

We cannot rely on this anti-environment government to get this right. They haven’t committed anywhere near enough money for fire recovery, announcing this week just $50 million to wildlife affected by the bushfire crisis. This is nowhere near enough and should be at least ten times as much.

When Celeste Barber can raise as much money as the Federal Government has committed to this tragedy, it shows their heart’s not in it. The Greens called for a Fighting Fund for the Environment – but $50 million is petty cash. We need significantly more money and a proper commitment from the Government to the restoration of the environment and ecosystems, or we may just lose some of our precious wildlife and flora for good.

Far-reaching effects

Last summer we were also devastated by the mass fish kill at Menindee, and while the experts warned it would happen again, the latest reported kill stretching some 70km in the Macleay River was caused by ash and sediment from the fires.

It’s terrifying that our precious water resources are not just threatened by drought but also as a consequence of the fires.  I have written to state and federal water and environment ministers urging them to meet as a matter of urgency to coordinate a joint effort across fire-affected states to ensure safe, clean water supply.

Right now we are seeing one ecological disaster after another. This is what the climate emergency looks like. The Federal Government was warned and failed to adequately prepare for the consequences of climate change. They cannot – and we cannot allow them – to continue to be so complacent.

We need a climate and environment policy that is fit for the crisis we’re in.

Sarah Hanson-Young is the Greens’ spokesperson for the environment.

BAck to January issue