Viewpoint – Courage under fire

Like many of you, I’ve had the luxury of basking in the great Kiwi Summer these holidays. I have particularly enjoyed being home in Rodney, spending time with friends and whānau. Looking around our beautiful region, of course, did get me thinking about the destruction that’s befallen our friends across the Tasman.

Despite a distinct chilling of the Australian Government’s policies towards New Zealanders domiciled there in recent years, they still are our best friends. There is no greater evidence of this mateship than in times of crisis, so it’s good to know that despite the rhetoric and the political posturing we still have each other’s backs. At least we have theirs. The New South Wales bushfires have been in our news every day for weeks and we’ve all felt incredibly sad at the loss of human life, animal life and the devastation to the landscape and property. In the face of such a force of nature, it’s hard to think that we mere humans might be able to do something that would have any impact on stopping those wildfires.

Perhaps the climate change discussion for another time.

Meanwhile, thank goodness that here in New Zealand we have fire personnel with incredible skills and knowledge who are willing and able to offer their expertise to their Australian counterparts. Fire and Emergency New Zealand has deployed 208 personnel to Australia, since September. That includes 172 firefighters, eight liaison officers, and 10 air operations personnel. The New Zealand contribution has also included resource sharing managers, incident management personnel, Geographic Information System specialists, safety officers, and heavy machinery supervisors.

So, it really is some comfort to know that we can help NSW in their time of desperate need. And I’d like to acknowledge that some of the help comes from Rodney locals, with two personnel from Puhoi Fire Brigade and one from Kawau. It may surprise some of you that volunteers make up 80 per cent of Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s personnel, and they’re the ones who are first to the scene at over 31,000 incidents each year. The work of the country’s nearly 12,000 volunteers was acknowledged by NZ First’s Tracey Martin last year with the announcement of a $4 million government reward and recognition package for volunteers, aimed to cover costs and provide other health and training benefits.

We can only hope that as the planet warms, New Zealand does not experience anything like the fires which have gripped Australia. I have no doubt that New Zealand will continue to help Australia in the coming months, as the true toll of these latest fires becomes more apparent in their aftermath.

A big “thank you” to all the volunteers in our region for your dedication and invaluable work that you undertake to keep us all safe.