In January 2011, Queensland had devastating and deadly floods. The Premier at the time Anna Bligh gave a rallying call to all Queenslanders that inspired and encouraged a nation. She appealed to the tenacious survivor spirit to rise above the waters. In my own state this week a natural disaster has been treated like a political football. Here is a speech Anna might have given if she was in South Australia this week.
Mother Nature rules, and at times like this we are reminded her place in the scheme of things. While we might tame her and guide her to use her energy to keep us warm, safe, fed and housed – there are going to be times when that is not going to happen. This is one of those times. There have been more than 80,000 lightning strikes this afternoon and evening. Electricity towers designed to withstand all weather conditions we normally face here in South Australia could not withstand the cyclonic forces and while over 90% stood tall those that fell over tripped the national grid. This safety measure ensured we could all get power restored as quickly as humanly possible – and there’s the rub – even the super human efforts of our super hero emergency service workers facing the elements of wind, rain and hail, will not get everyone back up with power within a few hours. I am so proud of the efforts and goodwill of South Australians. Despite traffic lights being out all across our capital city not one single accident was reported. This is an astonishing testament to the social cohesion in our community – in times of trouble we respect each other and give way so we all get home safely.
While the grid and connectors are being restored, I am calling on my political allies and colleagues from all persuasions to step up and join me in congratulating our ability as a State to rise to this challenge and keep the lights on. Let us suspend judgement on why this happened and get the facts first, to look at them in the clear light of day, with a clear head, before we go jumping to conclusions, pointing fingers and worst of all blaming our commitment to renewable energy and being brave enough to work with the power freely given to us by Mother Nature, and while we are all still learning how to manage a national system.
No one was killed on the roads, no one has died from flooding, no one has been killed from a tree falling on them, back up generators kicked in, friends and families gathered around old school transistors to keep up with news and there was plenty of evidence of conversations and board games being re-discovered by candle light all around the State.
Evacuation centres are now in full swing in those parts of the state where flood waters are rising. As always volunteers are at the ready helping in all sorts of ways – filling sand bags, feeding and supporting emergency service teams, making and receiving calls on hotlines to ensure people are safe and feel supported – this is the spirit of South Australia.
We are famous for being the driest State on the driest continent and so when we are faced with these climatic conditions our systems are stretched beyond their limits. We are in unfamiliar territory. We are unaccustomed to seeing torrents, burst banks and overflowing gutters. Our international friends will be shocked to see this as anything strange – but for us it is. The national grid locking us out of power at a time when we might have most needed it – is not a disaster – it was a safety measure built in the system and we were up for the challenge. The danger of being out in the weather was heeded and I thank you all for being sensible and staying away from rising waters, crossing flooded streams and being off the roads as much as possible.
Finally I want to say one thing to my political colleagues who have been swift to blame South Australia’s race towards renewables as being in the mix for the power going off. Friends, we will not go backwards. South Australia’s colonial beginnings were experimental, we have always incubated new ways and been prepared to innovate and take steps forward to address and indeed herald the future. This storm tripping the system is Mother Nature’s nudge to get us to all work together to ensure we have secure energy for all Australians – not just those who are using old world power sources or live on the east coast. We are leaders in renewables and will be bringing all of the rest of the country with us. In the not too distant future, we will be thankful this happened first to a State with the capacity and tenacity to fix a problem quickly and move past the pain to solutions so we can all have a future where the best engineering, technologies and systems will deliver energy that powers a nation more dependent on the elements.
Thank you once again to the crews all across the State who are working in this recovery period to restore what has been lost and keeping us safe.