Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Wahroonga Electorate Emergency Services

Alister Henskens SC MP speaking to RFS and SES

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Wahroonga) (18:35): Unfortunately, when wild weather hits our State, it often does so with such a vengeance that at times it even outstrips the scientific predictions and analyses of our own weather experts. If not for the volunteers in the emergency services selflessly placing themselves in harm's way to protect our communities, no doubt we would not make such resilient recoveries following extreme weather events. I therefore acknowledge our emergency services, both locally and across New South Wales. The NSW Rural Fire Service is the world's largest volunteer fire service, made up of more than 70,000 dedicated volunteers across the State. Similarly, the NSW State Emergency Service is a volunteer emergency and rescue service numbering over 10,000 volunteers, who assist our communities in times of natural and man-made disasters.

Locally, the Wahroonga electorate is home to the Ku-ring-gai, Hornsby, and Westleigh brigades of the RFS, as well as the Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby SES units. Sadly, our local community has been dealt its fair share of bushfires and violent weather events. I think all the way back to what is called "The Storm", the cyclone in 1991 that tore through large parts of St Ives, Turramurra and Wahroonga, or the incredible firestorm of the summer of 1993‑94 that engulfed so many communities in our State and the fantastic national parks in my electorate. More recently, I think of the Turramurra bushfires in 2019 or even the storm of 2019 that swept across our community, bringing down trees and powerlines across the former Ku-ring-gai electorate and the Davidson electorate, including those near my own home.

As destructive as those extreme weather events were, I am incredibly grateful to our local emergency services, both the SES and RFS, whose tireless efforts saved lives and homes on multiple occasions. But their selflessness extends beyond our communities. During the 2019‑20 bushfire emergency, members of the local Hornsby Ku-ring-gai district RFS were deployed across New South Wales, playing an integral part in the firefighting response. Likewise the Ku-ring-gai SES was on the streets of Newcastle during that city's shocking and deadly earthquake in 1989. Before that the Ku-ring-gai unit had a presence at the evacuation of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in December 1974 and was on the scene of Australia's worst ever train accident, at Granville.

Considering all that, I was honoured to be invited to the tenth anniversary of the Ku-ring-gai emergency services compound in North Wahroonga on 27 May this year. The compound houses both the Ku-ring-gai RFS brigade and the Ku-ring-gai SES unit. I always enjoy the esprit de corps of our local RFS brigade and SES unit when I meet them. It was a truly special occasion. Just like many of the structures our emergency services save and help bring back from the brink of destruction, the headquarters at North Wahroonga is somewhat of a phoenix story itself. The Ku-ring-gai SES used to be headquartered in the Golden Jubilee playing fields, in a compound alongside the Ku‑ring‑gai Rural Fire Service. Due to structural issues arising from the instability of the land on which those buildings were located, the units were forced to relocate so that the old headquarters could be removed and new structures developed. This process of demolishing and rebuilding took over five years.

In 2013, within just two years of the election of the former Liberal-Nationals Government, the compound was finally completed thanks to $3.3 million in funding from various levels of government. The facility was commissioned by none other than former local member and then Premier Barry O'Farrell, who was my parliamentary predecessor. I am pleased that after years of structural issues and patience from our emergency services, the facility was eventually built. The complex was a credit also to the local community, which helped to raise more than $160,000 to build this community asset. I thank inspector Alex Mackay, commander of the SES Ku-ring-gai Unit, and captain Nic Lyons, brigade captain of the Ku-ring-gai Bush Fire Brigade for leading those great community organisations. I thank also past and present volunteers for everything they have done, both locally and throughout New South Wales.