South Australian Premier Steven Marshall will take-over as tourism minister — booting David Ridgway from the job — in a bid to “rebuild the economy” on bushfire-ravaged Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills.
- About 215,000 hectares has burnt on Kangaroo Island and 25,000 hectares in the Hills
- Premier Steven Marshall said he’ll focus on re-booting tourism in fire-ravaged communities
- He is amazed there hasn’t been greater losses to life and property
On Kangaroo Island, about 215,000 hectares of national park, farmland and forestry has been scorched since December 20, as well as 56 homes destroyed and significant losses to livestock and wildlife, threatening some endangered species.
Two men, bush pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old surgeon son Clayton Lang, were killed in the blaze.
The bushfire continues to burn on the 4,400-square-kilometre island, off southern South Australia, as the Country Fire Service (CFS) battles to get it under control.
In the Hills, the Cudlee Creek bushfire killed 69-year-old Ron Selth, destroyed 87 homes and burnt about 25,000 hectares of land.
About one-third of the Hills wine production was wiped out.
Mr Marshall — who is on Kangaroo Island today — said bushfire recovery in those two tourist hotspots would be his major focus as new tourism minister.
“When these fires go out, it’s not like we’re going to be walking away — in fact, that’s when all the hard work begins to try and rebuild the economy,” he said.
“As I said to the Prime Minister last week, Kangaroo Island is a pretty special place.
“From an economic recovery prospective, we have two major sectors on the island — agriculture and tourism, and they’ve both been hit for six.”
He said he would take control of the state’s $7.6 billion tourism industry to ensure South Australia flourishes in the wake of the devastating bushfires.
“Ever since the 20th of December, our fortunes have changed in South Australia and it hasn’t been good — I think we’ve been kicked in the guts in terms of what mother nature has thrown at us,” he said.
“But I’m always amazed at how resilient the people of South Australia are.”
‘Let’s change the narrative and talk about saves’
He said the 2007 bushfire that ripped through the Flinders Chase National Park was slow-moving, allowing key assets to be saved, but that was not possible during the recent fires as it moved so much faster.
“The embers were jumping two, three, four, five kilometres in front of the [fire] front and it was a very difficult fire to contain,” he said.
“Obviously, it was a tragedy two lives lost on Kangaroo Island, and another one up in the Adelaide Hills.
“I’m amazed that we haven’t had further losses.
“Often in the media we talk about losses, but I think we’ve got to also change the narrative and talk about saves — if you think about what the CFS, MFS and SES have done in terms of their fire fighting effort, they have saved countless lives.
“They’ve saved a huge amount of property and livestock, and for that we should be very grateful.”
Opposition ‘not surprised’ by premier’s new role
Shadow treasurer Stephen Mullighan said it was “no surprise” Mr Ridgway had been booted from the tourism portfolio.
He said the former tourism minister had been responsible for the “Old Mate” advertising campaign, which depicted “an octogenarian weeping over poor life choices”.
“We’ve also had massive cuts to the tourism budget and we’ve also had a significant reduction in the number of international visitors who are staying here,” he said.
“These are all massive black marks against the tourism performance in South Australia, and they’ve all been overseen by David Ridgway.”
But Mr Marshall said Mr Ridgway had been a good tourism minister but spent a lot of time overseas looking after his trade portfolio.
On Saturday, CFS incident controller Ian Tanner said crews were working on “flare ups” and a “patch of scrub burning” towards the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, which houses hundreds of injured and non-injured animals.
“But we’re confident with current conditions that our fire suppression vehicles and firefighters will be able to extinguish that as it runs out into the paddocks,” he said.
He said there would be smoke in the air, but crews were continuing to build control lines.
The RSPCA has been working with staff at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, near Parndana in the centre of the island, to help treat about 50 injured koalas.
“When we first arrived there was no electricity or water,” RSPCA veterinarian Gayle said.
“We were treating koalas in a kitchen in the dark with just torchlight to see by. Another team was out under the patio. Very sadly, some koalas were simply too injured and had to be euthanased to end their suffering.
“Most koalas had burns to all four feet — and at least 40 had severe burns. Some had burns inside their nostrils, inside their ears.
“All of them were dehydrated and in poor body condition. The majority were mating females and a couple had joeys.
“There are also a couple of orphaned joeys at the park that wildlife park staff are bottle feeding.”
Adelaide Zoo keepers are also caring for koalas that were injured in the Cudlee Creek blaze before Christmas.
Zoos SA veterinarian Sarah Alexander said one of the koalas, named Four Paws, was recovering well, and now only required bandages on two of her feet.
“She’s making amazing progress,” she said.
She said the zoo was now in a position to care for a further 15 koalas.