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- Start of Business
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (IDENTITY CRIMES AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA AMENDMENT (CRIMINAL JURISDICTION) BILL 2008
- DEFENCE LEGISLATION (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL 2008
- TRADE PRACTICES AMENDMENT (CARTEL CONDUCT AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008
- Mr William Marshall OAM
- Franklin Electorate: Health Services
- HMAS Voyager and HMAS Melbourne Collision
- Page Electorate: Workplace Relations
- Hume Electorate: Telstra
- Victorian Bushfires
- Start of Business
- Fadden Electorate: School Leaders
- Charlton Electorate: Nation Building and Jobs Plan
- Barker Electorate: Millicent North Primary School
- Gallipoli Memorial
- Pearce Electorate: Food Labelling
- Blaxland Electorate: Primary Schools
Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises
- Dobell Electorate: Toukley and District Senior Citizens Club
- Gaza Strip
- Petition: Central Coast Radiotherapy Unit
- Pearce, Christopher, MP
- Shorten, Bill, MP
- Hunt, Gregory, MP
- Vamvakinou, Maria, MP
- Costello, Peter, MP
- O’Connor, Brendan, MP
- Johnson, Michael, MP
- Thomson, Kelvin, MP
- Moylan, Judi, MP
- Cheeseman, Darren, MP
- Irons, Steve, MP
- Melham, Daryl, MP
- Jensen, Dennis, MP
- Kelly, Mike, MP
- Wood, Jason, MP
- Dreyfus, Mark, MP
- Secker, Patrick, MP
- Marles, Richard, MP
- Gash, Joanna, MP
- Burke, Anna, MP
- Vale, Danna, MP
- Tanner, Lindsay, MP
- Byrne, Anthony, MP
- Procedural Text
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services) (4:40 PM) —I rise to support the condolence motion on behalf of all the people in Maribyrnong, whom I know would wish to have voice and express sympathy and, indeed, their helplessness at the tragedy that has unfolded. At this time it is hard to know what to say exactly. Fires are burning still and people are suffering still. I understand that no words can compensate for the loss of loved ones or fill the holes of horror that people are experiencing. We have all seen the pictures and the footage and heard the anguish in the voices of people caught up in this unexpected disaster. We are in a state, I believe, of disbelief at the fatalities, the injuries, the scale of the destruction and the speed and violence of the fires. This is a tragedy that started with nature but finishes with people. There are too many people today who are grieving the loss of irreplaceable individuals. Despite this, I am amazed also by the courage that people have shown in the face of this disaster. The desire to help and the willingness to risk life to save neighbours that has surfaced during this disaster are a tribute to the human spirit.
I know this area. I have spent time there throughout my life, both for work and for pleasure. I attended school camps at Marysville and I remember the beers I had as a university student at Flowerdale and St Andrews. To witness the beautiful town of Marysville destroyed has shocked me deeply, as it has others. As a young AWU organiser I tried to sell union tickets at Lake Mountain and throughout the district. I have handed out for Labor at Alexandra, the town that is now at the centre of the evacuation effort.
Like most Victorians and many Australians, I have spoken to friends and colleagues who have lost their homes or suffered worse. To face the catastrophe of losing your home is a dreadful, bewildering shock. This is a feeling being experienced by at least 5,000 people in Victoria right now. People have lost so much: clothes, books, photos, the school lunch boxes, the children’s water bottles, pets, livestock, mementos, the old sheds full of the archives of lives richly lived—all the things that together add up to a life. There are the lost homes, which were a testament to life savings and future plans, and the lost lives, which are a testament to things that can never be.
My sympathy goes out to all of those people, but amongst them I wish to record some whom I have been friends with for a long time and who have been caught up in this: Perci and Mala Pillai, who lost their house in Kinglake on Saturday night; Cesar and Jane Melhem, who had a fire come within metres of their farm at Glenburn and who reported to me today that the fire is again within two kilometres of their farm; Denise Power and the others helping out at the Diamond Creek community centre; and Barbara Stephens, who lost her house at Kinglake and experienced a harrowing drive to safety past scenes of death and destruction. The parents of Annette Hibberd, who works in my electorate office in Melbourne, had prepared themselves to lose their home in Bendigo, only to be saved by chance and the help of neighbours and the CFA. Annette has written to me:
My father, Eddie, woke up on Saturday morning to weather conditions he had never experienced in a lifetime in Bendigo. The intense heat and blustery wind conditions made him and his wife, Maureen, question the possibility of fire, question their safety and the safety of others.
The police had swept the area asking locals to evacuate, unless they were prepared to stay and defend their homes. Maureen started to pack together some valuables and load up the car, preparing for the worst by packing torches, blankets, food and water. With the power out, Maureen and Eddie decided on where she should evacuate to, and a meeting place if things got worse.
At this stage Eddie’s friend Yilmaz arrived, and his wife, Mijgam. They had just fled their property and at this stage thought it had been ruined. Mijgam was traumatised as the crowning fire had engulfed their street.
Yilmaz is a 73-year-old, born in Turkey, who had recently suffered a heart attack, and who thought he had just lost his home and his life’s work. Still he automatically helped to defend my family’s property. For this, my father and family will always be grateful. He was a true Aussie mate.
The fear of the unknown was crippling, without communication and the unpredictable nature of fire, only time could tell what lay ahead.
The men on the street then proceeded to defend their properties against the falling embers and erupting spot fires. In a time of the unknown, the street came together to help each other. Neighbours who barely knew each other fought to save each other’s homes.
The men could see the fire getting closer, but fortunately for this area a massive cleared section was holding off the flames. Then the wind changed and the fire quickly began to move away from their homes.
In the bigger picture of the last few days, this is a minor story and one with a happy ending, but it is one of thousands of cases of people selflessly helping each other through the disaster. Many of the stories of heroism will perhaps never be told. I would like to acknowledge all the fire and emergency services and all those volunteers and others who support them in the community. I would like to mention members of my old union who were constructing the north-south pipeline, who turned into firefighters over the last three days.
I particularly wish to draw attention to the efforts of the green-overalled DSE firefighters, who I, along with Ben Davis, Cesar Melhem and Sam Beechey, represented during my time with the union. Sometimes they do not get the coverage which their efforts deserve. These firefighters who are tasked with defending national parks are employed by the state government of Victoria. They have been working 30-hour shifts during this disaster. They have routinely been in highly dangerous and unpredictable situations. They drive bulldozers, trucks and other heavy machinery. They do hot refuelling, chainsaw operation and rake-hoe trails. In short, they are at the frontline of all major firefighting operations, cutting fire breaks, protecting houses and guiding people out of danger. Indeed, cutting fire breaks involves rappelling out of a helicopter, down into four-storey walls of fire and cutting away the vegetation at the front of the fire.
With the severe wind changes on Saturday, it was reported to me that the fire front would often jump over the control lines, leaving firefighters to shelter on the lee side of their trucks while the fire roared overhead. One firefighter reported that the external fittings of his vehicle melted as he outran the fire near Kinglake. All of this was done in the knowledge that their own homes were in harm’s way of fire and could be lost. Indeed I know that the DSE firefighters in Marysville, as many others, have lost their own homes while saving others. Two of my old delegates—Rod Lynn and Mick Appleton—fought to save other homes while not knowing if their own homes were safe. I am pleased to say that in the case of these two gentlemen their homes have survived.
On top of physical risk, the frontline firefighters carry the psychological burden of dealing with a tragedy of this scale. The project firefighters from Warrandyte were among the first into Kinglake and found dead and profoundly injured and burned people. I record my sympathy and give thanks to the team and their crew leader, Con Kosmas. They saw scenes that they will never be able to forget. They share this with all firefighters and volunteers, shire and council workers, hospital workers dealing with burns victims and traumatised people and indeed funeral workers. These people do not leave when the media leaves but are left dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy for many months and years to come.
These marvellous people—both the volunteers and the professionals—do not do their good deeds for money or recognition but because they are professionals who want to do the right thing for the community and for their mates. Thousands of Victorians have gone above and beyond the ordinary over this weekend and will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead. All of them are heroes. As a community we cannot thank them enough but we have obligations to them which we can honour. We must ensure that all are supported in dealing with this catastrophe. We need to ensure the workers have proper equipment, proper conditions and proper wages. We need to ensure that there are enough staff in winter as well as in summer to do the clearing and the fire prevention measures. Many employers are extremely supportive of their workers volunteering, but this can still be improved and strengthened.
Those who have lost loved ones or homes in this tragedy must get support from their insurers, who must be encouraged not to take the low road of litigation and cost saving. In the future we will need to again look at building design, not so that we can avoid the peril of bushfires, because that cannot be avoided, but so that we can ensure that to the extent humanely possible we minimise the damage that fire does to our communities. Just as the schools in the Dandenongs were rebuilt in the 1980s after Ash Wednesday, we need to look at whether and how we can make homes safer, whether we need to look at the role of fire bunkers in private homes in bushfire prone areas. I am also aware that we need to incorporate the needs of people with disabilities into our evacuation and fire management plans. Premier Brumby, who has been decisive in this terrible hour, has called a royal commission into the Victorian fires. This will follow the line of inquiries into Ash Wednesday in 1983, Black Friday in 1939 and other inquiries held after tragic events. Let us ensure that we line up all the lessons we have learned from our history in this fire-prone country and ensure that the next time fire strikes we have done all we can to save lives and our homes. I believe that by learning from this and from lessons of the past we will simply be repaying our debt to the victims and the heroes of these terrible fires.