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18 November 2020

The impacts of climate change loom large across the Eden-Monaro landscape.

Climate change is a day to day reality from Tumbarumba to Tathra, from Bungendore to Bombala.

At the end of the hottest and driest year on record - sparks of lighting lit the fuse on a defining chapter in our history. 

I’ve spoken often about the 750 Eden-Monaro homes destroyed in the angry flames that followed, but I’ll use this opportunity to explore a couple of other experiences. 

400 people died of smoke inhalation as a result of our Black Summer – 4,000 people were hospitalised.

The sky was orange and the air was thick with smoke as I stood in evacuation centre after evacuation centre with thousands of people during January.

Time and time again people asked me about the health impacts of breathing in air from our traumatised environment. 

Our volunteer firefighters were also worried.

The women and men who went running into that smoke often did so without the very best protection. We even saw crowdfunding campaigns spring up to buy local firefighters better quality breathing protection.

These are questions and situations we really haven’t had to comprehend on this scale before – but as climate change bites these are the shoes we will walk in again – we need to know more and have better protections in place.

I recently met with some researchers from the Australian National University in my Queanbeyan electorate office.

They are looking at the effects of prolonged bushfire smoke exposure on the physical health, mental health and lifestyle of residents in Eden-Monaro and the ACT.

The health impacts on pregnant women and their children is a particular focus and an area of work that remains unfunded.

The findings of this study will be used to influence health advice and procedures for future events.

Researchers are currently looking for people, especially women who were pregnant at the time, to take part in the research – details are available through the ANU website.

Human health and the health of our environment go hand in hand.

In parts of Eden-Monaro, around 75% of our National Park estate was burnt out.

You don’t need to travel too far to see this harsh devastation for yourself.

I recently visited the Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary at Peak View near Cooma.

Tragically three American aviators lost their lives trying to protect Two Thumbs when their massive firefighting air tanker crashed to the ground in January.

Since that time James Fitzgerald and the tribe of volunteers at Two Thumbs have rescued 41 koalas from their burnt habitat. But as James told me on he estimates hundreds more perished.

In the days that followed the flames, he remembers hearing koalas crying out in pain at night-time.

A ‘Go-Fund’ me campaign has contributed $100,000 to an ANU koala research project that is also being supported by the Minderoo Foundation.

The project will examine how koalas recover after fire and how fire impacts their habitat.

It’s knowledge that we need now in order to safeguard the future of this precious species – but I fear the momentum of climate change might beat us to that knowledge and the work we need to do to protect the koala.

This research shouldn’t need to be funded from a ‘Go Fund Me’ account.

It should be properly funded and backed by the Morrison Government.

While the people, environment and economy of Eden-Monaro have waited for this government act on climate change, koalas and their habitat have burned.

While the people, environment and economy of Eden-Monaro have waited for this government act on climate change, our lungs have filled with deadly smoke.

Countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and even Fiji have moved towards a decarbonised economy.

And they are reaping the benefits with almost 400,000 new jobs created in the UK’s new low carbon economy.

I look forward to working with anyone and everyone to prepare our community for the impacts of climate change, to limit the toll climate change takes on our health and environment and to make the most of the jobs and opportunities that come with action on climate change.

Photo: With James Fitzgerald and Ben the koala at Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary.